Friday, August 23, 2013

Transition Time in Puerto - Reflecting Back to Zicatela Sunsets

The neon sun just hangs there, an orange ball so playful it looks like a child’s drawing – like it’s painted onto that spot, against a field of lavender, an inch above the swatch of navy blue. But it’s on the move.  It passes through a wispy curtain of clouds and melts into an impressionistic blur.  

In the foreground, heads bob in the dark velvety ripples, trying to catch the perfect wave. One silhouetted surfer is up on his board, but the wave slides beneath him and crashes onto the shore in a fury of white foam.

Fishermen pace by with nets draped over their brown shoulders – even they take time to cast glances at the sun’s show – or maybe they are fish-spotting.  One wades in up to his waist and tosses his net out like a lasso – it lands in an oval on the surface of the sea – he cinches the rope and drags it in – holds it up his sack and little silvery fish dangle like ornaments, luminous in the waning light.

A half-sun now rests on the sea. It’s going quick. I glance down then back up from my page and it’s a mound, like a cupped hand, then a sliver. Now it’s a spark that’s extinguished in a blink.  
Another day done. 

Sunsets are useful; they make you take account. I’ve seen each one since I’ve arrived – ten of them already, time slipping by here on the Oaxaca coast – not the slow dripping Dali clocks of Rioverde time.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Transition Time in Puerto - The Italian Connection

Been hiding out in Hidden Port, on the southernmost end of Mexico’s Pacific coast – a place infamous for the Mexican Pipe, both winter and summer breaks, attracting pro surfers from all over the world.The town was memorialized in an Italian cult film called Puerto Escondido – the story of a man who witnesses the polize commit murder in Milano – then escapes Italy to avoid his own assassination, hiding out in Puerto and falling in love with the laid-back Oaxacan lifestyle – until he’s eventually tracked down by the police who discover paradise here too. In the end, they all decide to give up the chase, expatriate, and  luxuriate in the Puerto sun.

Well, I’m not sure I’m staying; but while I’m here for the month recuperating from two years in the rancho, I am certainly taking advantage of the riches.  Beyond the expansive empty beaches with world-famous breakers, idyllic fishing coves and stellar sunsets, the gastronomy is out of this world.

Turns out that little indy film’s attracted a load of expat Italianos over the years – so you can get the most authentic Sicilian pizza, esperesso, gelato – the other night I ate a homemade fetuccini loaded with shrimp and calamari and octopus in a rose sauce with fresh sprigs of basil; and last night I stopped by the opening of a new Italian bakery and got to taste their focaccia fresh out of the oven.  

And then there are the local delights. The sea brings fresh tuna, snapper and mahi-mahi – shrimp, logostinos and fresh oysters you can eat on the beach as the divers are pulling them out of the water in nets. The Oaxacan tradition brings coffee, mezcal, chocolate and the infamous mole, a thick chocolate-based chile sauce that combines up to 100 different ingredients and adorns plates of chicken, pork, even eggs.

The market in the Centro is vibrant and enticing – on my first trip I bought spices and a mocajete to grind them in so I can do some cooking in my studio bungalow. I bought bulbous tomatoes and fist-sized radishes and jamaica flowers and honey to make tea. I stuffed my mesh bag with limones and chiles, a bunch of cilantro and a half kilo of jumbo shrimp to make ceviche.

Yes, it won’t be hard to settle into this lifestyle for a while – 2x1 cocktails every evening at the beach bars on Zicatela – blues night at the Rockaway lounge by the pool on Tuesdays and Salsa on Fridays.  
And for balance, I’m practicing yoga in the mornings at Vida Yoga with Sofia, downward perrito on the rooftop cabana overlooking the ocean, ahhh. Then a run on the beach and dip in the sea at sunset when the temps have cooled.

We’ll see how long it takes me to get bored with nothing more on my to-do list – except to catch a sunset.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Attending to Endings – Put in the Effort & Let go of the Result

Every change is about a gain and a loss, a new beginning, but an ending too. For one door to open, another must close.  It’s important to face the truth of that and get closure on the past so you can move with focus and conviction to the future.

For me, in Peace Corps Mexico, it was about concluding my Viva Viveros project with the Mexican EPA and the women of Zamachihue, and tying up loose ends on my many relationships, secondary projects, and my Mexican life.

But what did closure really mean?  I had the vision of my new DC life all mapped-out; and images of this interim place I would go to decompress were revealing themselves in my journals:

I cracked open my Lonely Planet for the first time in a year and realized ALL of Mexico I’ve missed out on. But really, I did not come here to travel: I came here to work, to learn, to make a life. Now the time is coming for me to explore.  And I’m starting to feel excited about being a traveler in Mexico – with command of the language and comfort with the bus system and all the difficulties lifted off me, lessons I’ve learned the hard way.  I feel ready to takeoff with confidence and wanderlust.

And Oaxaca does seem to be calling. Reading in Kingsolver’s novel about Frida, the Little Oaxacan Queen, has made that place so real, so enticing. I want to touch the textiles and taste the mole and sip the mezcal - enjoy all the things I don’t have here in this hardscrabble, landlocked rincon of Mexico. Yes, I owe it to myself to find it out – to see another Mexico before I go – to know Professor Edgardo’s ‘Many Mexicos.’  And in this exotic place, take the time to write-out this book before I cross the border and get sucked into life in the fast lane, USA. 

I envision a beautiful quiet posada by the sea. I’ve saved up some money. I'll treat myself. After my three buses from Rioverde to DF, I'll catch the puddle-jumper to Puerto Escondido rather than the 12-hour throw-up bus over the Sierra Madres. Hidden Port will be a great place to hide-out.

The map of my ‘heart’s desire’ is unfolding. 

My yearning for this place was strong; but I was not there yet. I had lengthy and multidimensional to-do lists. My calendar printout was packed with trips to the campo, report deadlines, meetings in the capital, and final sessions of my university classes and English salons. It was almost illegible for the schedule change cross-outs, scribbles and arrows. 

It’s one thing to go with the cultural flow when you have two years;  but with two months left, I had no more time for Mexican Time.

We still had 20,000 trees to sell! They were mature and popping out of their bags. If we didn’t close a deal before I left, I was sure the seedlings would wither in the greenhouse, and the Zama Mamas would never realize their return on investment. But our leads were taking us down rat holes - enthusiastic prospects stopped returning phone calls. And after six months jumping through bureaucratic hoops with La Hacienda (the Mexican IRS), we still had not gotten closure on the official tax ID that would make or break the deal with our prime prospect, CONANP, the agency for parks and protected areas.

I found myself drifting to Puerto Escondido, fantasizing about running along the beach, watching the sunset over the Pacific, swimming in the sea and eating fish tacos!

But I had to reign in the fantasy and come back to the reality of here and now. 

Here and now, how the hell would I get it all done? What if I couldn’t?  I definitely wouldn't!  It was time to face the truth.  Coach Leslie helped me with this, first by helping me see all that I HAD done.  I brainstormed a list packed with over 20 big items like:
  • Secured/completed USAID SPA grant funding for Viva Viveros.
  • Created Pyramid Model of Sustainability. Applied/documented along the way.
  • Presented Sustainability workshops for municipal government of Rioverde, citizen’s groups, universities, conferences – to get the word out at broader/system level. 
  • Wrote posts about my experience for Anneseye Blog and published articles for The PiƱata.
  • Profesora invitada at at UPSLP school of industrial engineering.
  • Led local community classes and events:  yoga, abs class, English Salon, CODI orphanage soccer balls program, EcoFeria Puente!  
  • Built meaningful friendships with Rita and Sergio, Christina and Flor and Roberto in SLP, Chuya and her daughter Lupita, Ricardo and the folks at Echo-logical, Mike, Drew, Sarah and other PCVs...
Wow, that was a lot. My Peace Crops service had not been a cuerpo de passeo, a stroll in the park, as it was jokingly referred to at PCMX headquarters office, a Mexican play on words.

Leslie helped me thank myself for all that. No matter what happened over the next two months, I would leave my mark on Mexico and the Mexicans on me. And in that small space of acknowledgement and acceptance, I was able to let go of some of the striving. I took a list over 100 to-dos and narrowed it down to 3 big ticket items, following my three-tiered Pyramid of Sustainability Model as a guide:  
  • At the personal level, I was: Being intentional about closing my service and my relationships (both personal and professional) with Appreciation, Grace, Sustainability, and Possibility; acknowledging the sadness, but appreciating everything that I have given and received.
  • At the group/community level I was: Realizing the schedule, remaining focused, not adding any new projects or tasks, recruiting help, preparing and conducting the final three community training sessions in Zamachihue to xfer knowledge on finances, bylaws, sustainable practices, meetings/roles, sales.  And Celebrating!
  • And at the system-level I was: Conducting closing meetings with my Peace Corps bosses and my SEMARNAT counterparts to present the truth of my challenges, accomplishments and recommendations powerfully so this information might serve other/future PCVs and projects.
Yes, there was still a LOT to do.  And I didn’t have full control over making it all come to closure.  But I could really see what was important – and it was not ALL about selling the trees.  It was about the human element.  

It was also about:   Putting it the effort and letting go of the result.

The mantra which helped me through two years of ups and downs in my Peace Corps service would carry me through to the end.

Closure, I learned on this journey, is about accepting things as they are – appreciating all that you did accomplish -  and honoring and celebrating with those who supported and humored you along the way. Then, and only then, are you ready to open up to what’s next.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meridian Hill Morning - Peace in my First World Life

There’s a bird building a nest in the juniper bush behind me; a pair of boys races up the Italian stairs, taking long strides on the flats between the little steps; tall reeds along the fountain’s bank sway in the light morning breeze. A man and his dog pace by, surrounded by reflections.

And me, seated in this pebble alcove, the cool stone against my back and thighs, I’m breaking my mold, getting out of my 4-square with the ceilings crumbling over my head and into this sanctuary in the middle of the city.

Rush hour traffic pulses around me – but I feel safe and distant from it in this place, the meridian, a pathway along which vital energy flows. 

What’s calling?

A new roof over my head – four flat roofs and two mansards, to be exact.  Over two and a half years away, water has found its way through every crevice.  Plaster puckers on the walls like gaping mouths trying to say something.  Fix me, attend to me. 

The Vision for my New DC Life didn’t exactly spell-out a new roof – and certainly not in my first six months back. And evaluating the bids I realize I’ll have to dip deep into savings for this.  But do I have an option?  A solid roof over my head, maybe a cool roof, a solar roof?

My Vision did include ‘a sustainable house renovation’ – so here’s my chance.  

Maybe that’s what those crumbling walls are whispering:  Sustainability begins with you.