11 years in Oaxaca, Mexico - Personal Discoveries
by Arion DIaz
I’ve been living in Oaxaca for over 11 years now and I feel more at home here than in the Big Apple where I was born. When I first got here, I was going back to the States once a year but now I haven’t been back there for over 6 years and, to tell you the truth, I don’t even miss it. All the creature comforts that people have in the States are mostly absent here in middle-class living. Hot water is a luxury that most don’t have, nor need, forget about carrot peelers or TiVo. I can’t even remember what it’s like to have a long hot shower, not only due to the absence of a water heater but also due to the permanent water shortage here... turn on shower and get wet – turn off shower and lather up – turn shower back on and rinse off – turn off shower and dry up. No Jacuzzi with jasmine bath salts in my near future but... so what?
Oaxaca compensates for all the luxury lacking with a sense of freedom that you seldom feel in the States. Freedom to not worry about the rent today, freedom to take time to visit a good friend without looking at your watch, freedom to enjoy a walk with your loved ones and give them all your attention, ultimately...a freedom to be and to stop doing for a while. I hope I’m not being too abstract but I think you get the point. Living in Oaxaca is the perfect amalgamation of a hard 80-hour work week and a lengthy Caribbean vacation. Not too hard, not too soft. Just right!
It doesn’t matter what your education level is in the States, if you come to Oaxaca or Mexico
in general, you already have one of the most sought-after and desirable abilities around: you speak English. This opens up so many doors down here it’s ridiculous. I don’t think you could be mediocre if you tried. You are treated with a deference immediately upon meeting people (in most cases), and whether you are shaking hands with the shoeshine man or a senator you are respected equally just for being a foreigner from a non-third world country. Whether this is merited or not, I don’t know, but it sure makes life here easier to say the least but beware! You will also be seen as a “possible possibility”. What? That’s right. What do I mean? Well, people will want to take advantage of you thinking that you have what they want: money. Taxis may charge you more, beggars will seek you out more, pick-pockets will target you more, etc. The trick here is to play yourself down. Get into the Oaxacan rhythm. Dress casually by buying clothes from local stores. Leave your big straw hats and cameras at home and try to memorize the city map in your house and avoid pulling it out on the street corner.
am a lucky man. I don’t have blond hair and blue eyes so I can blend in, stay undercover. Even when an American comes up to me to ask me for directions, I don’t answer them in English, I respond in Spanish, (unless they are really lost ;). But even I have been treated as a tourist. The other day I was filming a trip to the second class bus station in the Central de Abastos, (a place where you really do NOT want to go), and just because I was holding a camcorder, a not so well groomed, and most likely, drunk man, yells out to me, “Hello, how are you?” in English, as if we were life long friends. “Fine thanks” I responded as I quickly walked away but not before almost sharing a friendly hug. So you see, Oaxaca is small and the ways of the Oaxacan people are very much, well... Oaxacan. So an outsider can be spotted from a short kilometer... unless you blend in.
When you come down here you will find that Oaxacans are extremely friendly and wary at the same time. They are quick to open their doors to you but their guard is never down. I can’t blame them though, foreigners are quite unusual. They dress funny, they walk funny, they smell funny, they talk funny and, above all, they think they’re funny. Which brings me to my next subject... “Double Meaning” Spanish. American humor is very different from Mexican humor so you might as well take your best party jokes and throw them into the garbage. Mexican humor, and Oaxacan humor especially, is based on double meanings, commonly referred to as “Alburear”. Sometimes rated “G” but mostly rated “R”, albureo is not taught to much extent in the local Spanish schools here and can only be learned with the passage of time. YOU WILL FEEL LIKE AN IDIOT at least once or twice when everyone is laughing at you and you have no clue as to why but don’t despair, once the rules of the game are learned, a good offense and defense are close by.
Oh, by the way, another warning... the Oaxacan people can be extremely sensitive so try not to say anything that could be construed as offensive because the party will go on and they will laugh and drink with you but the next day when you call them on their cellphone they’ll give you the busy signal as many times as needed until you get the point.
You will definitely meet a lot of people here in Oaxaca and of these people not all will be able to handle your strange foreign ways, but the few who do will become close and loyal friends that will always be there for you through thick and thin. This is the Oaxacan way. With this I say goodbye. Adios.
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