Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crime and Punichment Mexico Style

Wow, I was able to witness the Mexican Judicial system third hand today. The learning experience this year is amazing. A typical vacation to Mexico consist of beaches, swimming pools, good tacos and Diet Coke. This year it has been a steady flow of running to the paint store, negotiating maintenance contracts, shoveling gravel, tropical landscaping, and today I spent traveling with some friends as they worked out a deal for one of their close friends. I consider myself very lucky to just be an observer of the system and hope to never find myself on the other side of the corruption. It started off by picking up another man who according to others had quite a bit of power in this local area (not to mention he is about 6'6" and 260lbs mostly all muscle). This is not a guy you would want to have on your bad side, however I found him to be quite likable and he even tried to sell me his products for construction. Let's call him Hector (real names are omitted to protect identity and me). Hector took us to the local police station where Paco (my friend) handed Hector 3000 pesos (about $300 usd). After a brief wait outside and seeing some slimy looking attorneys hanging around out front out came Hector with a big smile. Once all in the car he proceeded to tell us that the officer wanted 45000 pesos (about $4500 usd). Apparently Hector was the right man for the job because when it was all said and done the $3000 pesos were just enough to cover it. The officer kindly wrote up a ticket for $2000 pesos and slipped the other $1000 in his pocket and that was that. To some this probably sounds pretty slick but the scary thing is if they know you have it they will just say whatever the mood is for the day. Also not everyone has $3000 pesos just lying around their house. Today I had a nice talk with one of my good friends. He and his family are trying desperately to buy a house. When I asked how much the house cost that they were interested in he told me it was $7500 usd and the banks don't really have mortgage loans. It makes you realize how much we take for granted at home and how much more we could be doing for others. Instead of buying a latte everyday for 6 years you could buy an entire family a home and this is in an expensive area of Mexico. Today's tour made me happy to just be a passenger. Hopefully no one I know ever gets into a mess like this.
After dealing with the Mexican systems I was treated to a stop at the Carpenters house (a carpenter is typically a furniture maker not houses). From now on my crews and subs are not allowed to complain about the work site, or the quality of tools. These guys are taking entire logs and milling them with ancient equipment outdoors in their backyard. The wood then goes onto the rooftop to dry. Once dry they use every last piece to make some of the most beautiful furniture you have ever seen. The spray room is just off in a corner and I did notice a touch of dust in the finish seeing as how a thickness planer from the 50's is going full bore with in 15' of the finish area. Other wise this is amazing pieces. Imagine what these 2 artist could do with flat conditions, newer tools, and pre dried lumber. Most of us wouldn't be able to even afford to go to the showroom. But here a Queen bed made out of this wood with 4 drawers is about $200usd. I will post pictures when it arrives.
A quick update to the last post about patience. That night I was a bit discouraged that the furniture was a no show. I had recently bought a Mexican cell phone just for dealings down here and to communicate with Allison. At 10:30 that night just as I was heading into dreamland my phone starts ringing like mad and yep you guessed it my furniture had arrived. In my broken spanish sounding like a 1 year old I told them I was at another house and I would be there in 5 min. I hurriedly put on some shorts and a shirt and headed out the door to every barking dog in Chacala. We quickly unloaded the furniture and I placed it where I though it would go and took a couple of quick pics to show Allison if she happened to wake up in all the commotion. When I returned home Allison wanted to see the pics and once she saw them she couldn't get back to sleep so we went to the house and rearranged furniture until 12:30am. We are very pleased with what we selected. So Monday night we stayed at the house with 3 mattresses on the floor all in the same bedroom. It is like a warm camping trip. The kids spend their day swinging in the hammocks and Allison and I work on the house and swim some laps at one of the pools. Allison is very excited to have her mom come for a visit next week while I return home for a brief few days of checking on work.

Los Millers

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Weekend Wrap Up

As you can see, it is not all fun and games in the tropical life. This has been the craziest week ever. Allison has been spending most of her days taking the kids to and fro to each of their schools, gathering and cleaning school uniforms, attending parent meetings, volunteering for the weekly parent clean up teams, and arranging to start teaching a Latin fitness dance class. Every other Friday at the Kinder 1/2 of the parents clean the school and the yard which involves the ever popular yard debris fire typically started by dripping burning plastic on top. We are working on teaching environmental responsibility (these things take time). The greatest part of being actively involved, is in a town of 300-400 people if you work with 10-20 people you are now connected to the whole town. It is so wonderful to walk down the street and not just be a tourist passing through. We have really felt more accepted now that we have made a commitment to this community through ownership and involvement.
Friday night movie night was amazing. This time we spread the word through the schools and friends. Of course this is Mexico and life wouldn't be fun without a few surprises. The man that runs the water district passed away in the night and the viewing and funeral (an all day event) was the same day. There was much talk about the need to cancel but we had already told so many people we (not realizing every in town was going to the funeral) decided to show Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which was filmed in the state of Nayarit (same as Chacala). We decided to start at 6:30 and when showtime rolled around there was no one other than our 5 and a huge garbage bag of Palomitas (popcorn) that Allison had prepared for all the kids. We decided to just go for it anyhow but we switched the language back to English. Just after the opening scene 3 girls made there way back from the funeral and then the masses came. So we started over this time in Spanish. We had over 20 people mostly kids. Three boys showed up and asked if they could bring in their fresh catch (yes you read that right the fish were still wiggling) and of course sat right behind me. Allison had enough popcorn for everyone and there was tons of laughter and cheers. We came home very enthused for next week.
The house has been an amazing journey and a lesson in patience. We have slowly pieced together all of the furnishings that will get us started and allow for visitors or renters to come share in the experience here. I have always heard about the ever popular "manana". I now know first hand that expression all too well. I have learned that sometimes you have to grab a lemonade, lay in a hammock and take a siesta and the stress just disappears. You realize that all the stress in the world is not going to make something happen any quicker and the only person that it affects is you personally. I can almost guarantee you the carpenter or the gas delivery guy isn't losing any sleep over my project. Today as I had a little siesta time and I was able to reflect on the sin of worry and how terribly damaging it can be to yourself and your relationships with others. My prayer is that God will continue to reveal my purpose and more of the areas that He intends on growing me.
Today is family day and it was wonderful to have a day with family and friends at the beach. The kids are really adjusting to life here and are starting to comment on wanting to stay in Mexico. Tomorrow is the day we move into our house. Hopefully the mattress delivery and the table and couch aren't manana and if they are we will just have to lay in a hammock and laugh.


The Millers

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back to School

Wow, what a day! Owen, Elie and Grace all returned to school. At the last minute we were piecing together their uniforms but we made it. Owen returned to his 1-3 grade combined class. He has a a new teacher and seems to think she is great. It is not common for a teacher to stay in the small towns for long and from what I gather the district (which covers many towns and schools) can send the teachers wherever they please. For the parents this can be very frustrating, there is no continuity and it seems that whenever there is quality instruction that teacher is relocated. As a result many of the parents send their children to private education. After much thought we decided to enroll Elie in the private school in Las Varas (an agricultural town about 15 min away). She leaves with a friend every morning at 7:30 and gets home around 2 pm. Even with the language barrier she made tons of new friends loved going to the school snack store on recess and most of all she looked fantastic in her uniform (Allison is a happy momma).

Grace also started at the Kinder. She handled it very well. Her typical day is playing with friends on the playground, reading books, having snacks, and coloring. When I picked her up at 12:30 she said I had been gone too long and the kids only spoke Spanish to her. I am so proud of all the kids. It is not easy going into a new school with all new faces, procedures, cultural differences and terrifyingly a language that you only speak a handful of words. The hopes will be that someday they look back at this accomplishment and say "I can do anything".

We are all getting quite an education, whether it be learning the language, the culture, construction, survival, etc. Things here do not just magically appear as they do at home. The process just to have water at the house you see daily in action. There are days that I look back and can't figure out what exactly I did and then along will come my supportive wife and remind me that we are doing so much. Just getting hot water that day is an accomplishment. But the greatest thing we are learning is about what God has planned for us personally. We are able to listen instead of just act all the time in the hustle and bustle. It seems that daily we are growing closer to Him and each other. Last night I was invited to a Bible study. They were showing the movie End of the Spear. If you haven't seen it, please do. It is the story of the missionaries in the 50's that went deep into the amazon and were killed by a very confused group of people, yet through God's grace and forgiveness these families continued to share with this tribe and work together as God intends us to do. As the Wuadani tribe did, sometimes we just do what we have done for years because it is all we know or it is acceptable in our culture. This doesn't always make it right. But when we follow a path that has been laid out before us we are able to make the right choices.

Wow, I have gone way off topic from the first day at school. I need to get back to figuring out if we are having water today or not.


The Millers

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Wife's Perspective

We signed the paperwork for home ownership today in Compestella...woo hoo! Our friend Mayte drove us and was so kind to help us purchase a prepaid phone and some more housewares. She took us into the "gated area" Chacalia yesterday for a day at the pristine, empty beach and giant pool. I was especially intrigued by the lap pool and open palapa areas that would be perfect for my latin dance fitness class (still in the planning phases). Mark if off to PV so I am taking the chance to give my point of view (he's a little possessive of this blog). This picture is of a scorpion (alacran) Mark found. He squished it so it is a little concave. They've been seen around quite a bit, especially under piles of things like towels or wood. Paul sprays (where we're staying right now) so we're okay. Needless to say, Mark bought a bunch of Raid at Costco and sprayed the casa like a madman. (I know, totally gringo) and we had the inside and outside fumigated today. Elie Jo has a serious ant aversion, and we need her on board with this whole deal! I think I will buy the anti-venom shot for about 700 pesos? ($70ish) to have around just in case of an adverse scorpion reaction. (Mom, I know you love reading this).

At this point, Mark is doing a lot of arranging, planning, and working on the house. I am taking care of the kids which is a challenge in it's own right. For the most part, it is incredible. Owen has reunited with his best buddies and has had kids to over to our place and we have had gatherings at the beach. The girls are finding their own buddies, currently a little brother of one of Owen's friends who is five, but will be in Gracie's class at the kinder. Mayte's kids are 6 and 3 who speak some English, which is helpful!

I would like to see the kids use their Spanish more, right now they try to rely on me as their translator. I am trying to stay out of it so they can figure it out for themselves. The main drawback right now is that the kids are so sick of each other (and their parents). They had a week out of school for snow, a week of winter break, and now 6 weeks in Chacala in close quarters. I think starting school will be GREAT! (Wednesday). We need to get uniforms and I think Grace needs one made. I will definitely take pictures and post asap. (See... Mark wouldn't write about any of this). :)

Hopefully Mark comes home with a cute vessel sink (he and Mayte went today so it will be there for installation tomorrow). Tomorrow is three kings day. I hope I don't eat a piece of rosca with the baby Jesus in it, I have never made tamales and don't know if they sell a microwave version at Wal Mart. (Don't laugh, I make a mean pot of spaghetti!) For now, adios!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Opening Night

Friday night marked the first ever Outdoor Cinema of Chacala. It was quite a journey just to get here. After hearing and seeing the beginnings of the Cultural Center of Chacala, Allison, Owen and I saw the perfect opprotunity to share a passion of ours. The crazy thing is we have never owned a projector or showed an outdoor movie so we relied heavily on websites and any info people with experience would share with us. We learned that we needed a white screen so instead we convinced Luis to stucco and paint the east facing wall (thanks Luis and Chris it turned out perfect). We needed a projector which at the last minute we found on Craigslist and last but not least a sound system which Dutch and Tandy found in a box in their storage area. With only an hour to spare Dutch and I began setting up the theater in hopes that it would work and the trial went perfectly. We had decided to switch the movie to Jurasic Park, so Luis and Chris hopped in a borrowed truck (long story) and sound system from Coco Bongos and announced through town that the movie would start at 7pm and would be in spanish. By the time they returned to the theater we had discovered that Jurasic Park was not in spanish and we frantically sent them back on the town with PA system changing it to Star Wars.
It is now 6:50 and time to get started. I powered it all up and nada. The projector is on, the movie is showing on the laptop but not on the wall and it is pitch black. Allison and the kids arrived promtly at 7 along with 20-30 other movie goers anxiosly awaiting the show. I was at my wits end when Allison stepped in said a prayer and pushed a few buttons. I guess that 20k masters degree in educational technology finally paid off and at 7:10 in a galaxy far far away the movie rolled.
We learned a few things that night, one is show a shorter film, bring a head lamp, and ask the local kids what they want to see first. Until next Friday. We will see you at the movies.

Happy Birthday Grandpa Jim
The Millers

Thursday, January 1, 2009

First Night

Feliz Ano. Yesterday, we received the keys to our casa. I spent all day cleaning the yard, picking up paint supplies, and dreaming of the possibilities. It is hard not to just jump in and start changing everything and remodeling the whole house. I don't know if that is the builder in me or the natural reaction. One thing I know for sure is after seeing the house we will definitely need to figure out plumbing, wiring and masonry (all things I try to avoid). It is an all day challenge just to find an electrical cord with a 3 way adaptor.
Last night we cleaned up the side yard making extra special care to not disturb any scorpions or other venomous creatures. There was a ton of old wood and some yard debris that made for a perfect bonfire. We then set up the projector and the Wii for a trial run on a stucco wall. The kids had a blast playing Lego Star Wars and Disney Princess (even momma got in on the action).
Tomorrow night marks the world premier of Chacala Outdoor Cinema. We will be showing the ever popular classic Star Wars. This has been a dream for the last year and it is so exciting to see it come to fruition. Luis, Owen and I will be driving around town with a loud speaker announcing the showtime, feature and location. I guess this is considered Mexican DSL. Stay tuned for more details.

Have a Happy New Year
The Millers

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

La Casa

It has been a while since Allison and I have been down to Chacala and honestly we were forgetting what the house looked like and how big or in this case small it is. Thanks to the wonderful world of email Mayte was able to send us some pictures for our planning. Lets just say that buyers remorse just went away. In today's world and economy one has to question whether investing in a foreign housing market is a good idea or not. For us it is not about the investment as much as having something in this town that connects us more permanently. A place where our children's friends know every January(or whatever time works) we will be there. This house is our roots to Chacala and so it begins.

As you can see this is not the worlds largest home and it looks like the builder forgot to cut off a ton of rebar. The house was built about 3 years ago by an American builder. He built it with the intention of a major addition(very common in MX) on the next level. The wonderful thing is at the time he used all of the current building standards that we use here(massive footings, tons of steel, etc). This house was built to last and on the 2nd level I believe we may even see some ocean. The building in front is what will now act as our communal bedroom sleeping all 5 of us(so much for romance).
The middle building is the kitchen, living, dining and one bathroom. And the back building is storage and laundry. Someday we will add a garage, a second level and hopefully a pool but this is all just a dream at this point. For now this is perfect. I am sure it will not be without some struggles or cabin fever. Thank God for outdoor living. We are very excited to get here and start having family and friends come join us. I am sure we will not lack visitors.

Feliz Navidad