Yes, expats can vote

Did you know that even if you live in a foreign country, as long as you are a U.S. citizen who would be able to vote if you still lived in the United States, you can vote from wherever you are living now – and that includes the primaries. This primary ends on March 10th at midnight Pacific time, so if you want to vote and haven’t done so yet, the time is NOW.

I had been aware that I could vote in the presidential election, but mistakenly thought the primaries were off limits. Recently, I found out that is not true. Another question was how delegates are counted if voting from abroad, since we are not voting within the states. Well, expats around the world are like the 51st state – we have 21 delegates.

At the end of this month, I will be attending a conference where I will learn more about voting in the general election for president, so I will save that thought for a future post, when I have that information. For right now, I will focus on the primaries.

For a non-partisan site with information and help to register and to vote, you can click on and you will find instructions for military members, their families and U.S. citizens living outside the country. For Republicans, there is also the organization Republicans Overseas and for Democrats there is Democrats Abroad. Another site is for anyone who wants to register and vote.

According to the government website, this is required for absentee voting:

  1. Each year, submit a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election officials. They will:
    1. Confirm your eligibility to vote and put your name on a list to receive absentee ballots for any elections held that calendar year.
    2. Send you a blank absentee ballot electronically or by mail.
  2.  Complete and return the ballot so it arrives before your state’s ballot return deadline. OR
    1. If you have not received your blank ballot 30 days before an election, use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote.

IMPORTANT: U.S. citizens abroad must submit a new FPCA each year to vote in U.S. elections. Submit your FPCA at the beginning of the calendar year, or at least 45 days before an election, to allow ample time to process your request and resolve any problems. Once approved, your name will be put on a list of voters to receive absentee ballots.

Since there are only two more days (UNTIL MARCH 10th) to submit an absentee ballot for the primary, I have been busy this week, finding American citizens in my area and helping them to register to vote, or giving them all the information they need in order to vote. So 4 of us submitted our ballots by email and two other people have been given all the information and instructions they need to submit them from home.

There are polling places in your countries of residence where Americans can cast their primary ballots in person, but the closest one to me is three hours away, and I decided I would rather stay here, do mine via the internet and encourage my fellow expats to vote, while assisting those who needed information and help.

With my laptop, I am able to download and print documents, but am unable to scan. I asked around and found a friend who has that capability with her equipment, so we had ourselves a little “Get Out the Vote” party and scanned the ballots in on her equipment.

The battle for the right to vote was hard-fought and hard-won, with African Americans and women suffering imprisonment, physical brutality and worse fighting for this basic right. Black men were granted the right to vote by the 15th Amendment ratified in 1870. Women were granted the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, but in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down a provision of this Act that required states with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before changing their election laws. The ink was barely dry before new restrictions on voting were put into place by these states, and interference in the right to vote continues to this day.

This is why we must make every voice count and not be complacent. So – active in this process, make your voice heard and VOTE !!!!!


Life Among the Geckos

Living here in western, central Mexico in a small rural village means that I live with several roommates, as well as their counterparts in my garden. There are spiders that spin webs in the garden and house spiders that do not spin webs, but sit on the walls waiting for their prey. The house version is shy and just blowing on them will cause them to scurry away.

But by far, the cutest and my favorite are the geckos. There used to be so many in my garden until my two cats began living with me. Their names are Ginger and Peach and they are working cats, keeping my property and house free of pests, and they are excellent hunters. So far they have left me “gifts” of 3 dead rats, 2 dead snakes and I have even seen them eat a few roaches. They also managed to catch a baby chick that somehow wandered into my garden and made quick work of the poor things before I could rescue it.

And, they seem to love to catch and kill my lovely geckos, and now I rarely see any of them any more. Unfortunately, it is a cat’s nature to hunt and I cannot tell them, “It’s ok to catch this, but not that.”

There are two types of geckos here. The first is a gecko, such as what you see on the Geico commercials – solid body with a long thin tail and their toes are long and skinny like sticks. They live outside in the garden and their color is brown.

The other type is called a besucona. They have a waterlogged appearance, with pale, translucent skin and shorter, rounded toes. They live inside the house and eat roaches, spiders, scorpions and other insects. They usually keep pretty well hidden, but occasionally I see them scurry on my wall and hide behind my bamboo curtains. However, you can tell they are there by their very distinctive sound.

sound of the besucona

In my house, they get into trouble when they apparently are looking for water. I found one in my shower and have found several in my stainless steel sink. They could not climb out, and so I have to help them. One time, one poor thing somehow fell into the water chamber of my coffee maker and drowned, so I now only add water when I am ready to brew coffee.

I also was able to observe a very distinct method by which they try to escape predators. With the latest one I found in the sink, I took a paper towel and wrapped it around its body to lift it out of the sink. Next thing I knew, the tail popped off and was thrashing around in the sink like a wounded animal. The tail, no longer attached to the body, kept up the thrashing for several minutes. In the meantime, I put the besucona on the counter so it could climb up the wall and escape to safety.

Curious about this, I looked it up on the internet, and, sure enough, when they are stressed or trying to escape a predator, the blood vessels at the base of the tail constrict to prevent bleeding and the tail drops off and flops around. After a certain amount of time, the tail and spinal cord grow back. However, the tail may be a slightly different shape and color. Scientists have been studying this for clues in order to possibly discover a way to help humans with spinal cord injuries.

Here is more information about tail regeneration:

Meanwhile, one of my other “roommates” has not been so welcome. In the U.S. there is the general term “scorpion,” but here they are differentiated. There is the scorpion, which is large and black and less venomous than its counterpart, the alacrán. The alacrán is smaller, usually a yellowish color, and much more venomous, though my gardener claims he has been stung many times and is immune to it.

Both of these creatures make their appearance during the dry season. As the weather changes from chilly to hot, they may look for a place to hide to keep warm. One such time, I lifted up a garbage bag in my kitchen and one started to run away before I stepped on it. Two other times, I found them on my bedroom floor – so tiny I thought they were specks of dirt until I got a closer look. One never forgets that silhouette !

A few nights ago, I was lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep and looked up at the ceiling. I was shocked to see that silhouette – on the ceiling ! I had never seen one up there, but there it was. My ceilings are about 12 feet high. I grabbed a can of Raid and started spraying for all it was worth, over and over again. Normally Raid will kill an insect or spider within a few seconds, but this little bugger would just straighten its tail and then curl it back up. Eventually, it fell to the floor and started running away !!!!! I couldn’t believe it was still alive! Normally, I would examine any creatures I find, but with the alacrán or scorpion – nope, nope, nope. Just stamp on it with my shoe or sandal and end it quickly.

This is what was on my bedroom ceiling. I took this photo before I started spraying it with Raid.

And this is why I always wear shoes or hard-sole slippers or sandals in the house and on the property. Before taking a shower, I check the floor, walls and ceiling. And shake out my shoes before putting them on.

Well, anyway, I didn’t get hysterical, but I definitely was creeped out – a few inches to one side, it would have been directly over my bed. I’ve slept with the lights on the past few nights and inquired about fumigation.

But then, I was talking with some people and thought about it some more. In the 3½ years since I’ve lived in this house, I have seen less than 2 alacráns per year inside the house. Outside is another story, since they love the heat outdoors. Since the besuconas eat alacráns, either there have not been more than the 4 that I have seen in all that time, or the besuconas are doing their job by making a meal of them.

So I have decided NOT to fumigate, as the chemicals would also kill the besuconas. If in the future I see many more of those nasty little creatures, then I might consider fumigation, but until then, I will let my little house guests happily chow down on whatever pest they find.

So, until next time, I hope you have enjoyed this little biology class. And I would also like to add that even with the uninvited venomous guests, I still prefer to live here instead of ever living in snow country again. You may not agree with me, but to each his own.

Adios, and hasta luego !

Gecko similar to those in my garden

Are you saying what you think you are saying? A guide to hand signals in Mexico

First, I want to say Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Three Kings Day or whichever holiday you follow. Wishing everyone a wonderful 2020.

This post will be different in that I will be posting three videos. Everyone talks with their hands to some extent and I just want you all to be aware that some hand signals mean something quite different than what they mean in your home country. This could lead to someone not understanding you right up to you having just insulted them, their family or their children.

These videos are by no means thorough and exhaustive. Rather, they are small examples of how you can be misinterpreted without verbally saying anything improper.

First, a general introduction:

The next video is about counting numbers with your fingers

Next I will discuss height. This is where you could really get into trouble, and I still occasionally indicate it wrong when talking about children. I quickly correct myself and my friends understand – because I’m a gringa and still learning.

And here is my final video – my very first lesson that illustrated that hand signals did not necessarily mean what I thought they meant.

So there you have it. I hope you have enjoyed these videos and perhaps I will include more of them in future posts. Even after four years living here and having my permanent residency, I still am not aware of the many ins and outs of social interaction. Old habits die hard. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the girl and fortunately I haven’t done anything seriously offensive.

I just wanted to illustrate that when you visit another country, or even different parts of your own country, be prepared to find out through experience that all the book learning and classroom time might not have prepared you for real-life experiences. But then, that’s part of the joy of exploring the world and meeting people from walks of life different from yours.

So – have a wonderful day, and see you next time.

Creating La Catrina

Living in Mexico, I have fallen in love with the art of the Calaveras and Catrinas, and have several in my home of wax, ceramic, papier-maché and clay. So when my friend Anilu told me about a class in which we could learn to make them, I signed up right away.

My papier-maché Catrinas
My black clay Catrina, wooden Don Quixote, ceramic skulls and wax skull

The Catrinas we would be making in class were of papier-maché and were much larger than expected, but would still be a welcome addition to my collection.

First, we began with construction paper cones with the tips cut off. A small cone is then inserted into a large cone and four sticks tied together in the shape of a cross were then inserted into the cones.

Maestra Yazmín with paper cones and wooden sticks

The cones were placed on a square block of wood and with masking tape, the pieces were secured to each other. A plastic skull was placed on the “neck” and wires attached to the “shoulders.” “Hands” were then attached to the wrists of the wires which were the arms of La Catrina.

Then comes the messy part – making the papier-maché. After the first session, I realized bringing an apron was a good idea. We mixed a solution of glue and water, then cut up newspapers, then coated each piece of newspaper with the glue and covered the Catrina.

Because the wires for the arms are so thin, we needed to wrap several layers of folded newspaper around them, and tape them in place with masking tape before applying the papier-maché, and do the same with the “fingers.”

Covering the wire arms
Wire fingers
Covered fingers

Everything was covered with paper and glue, including the skull. Because of time constraints, we dried the whole thing with hair dryers, and then applied a second coat of paper and glue. This was a bit difficult, since everything looked the same; it was not like applying a coat of paint in one color and then a second coat in a different color.

I was not able to finish the two coats in one class, and so brought my Catrina home to do the second coat, which I allowed to air-dry. I was a bit disheartened regarding placing two coats of paper, but Yazmín informed us that some of her creations require six coats of paper.

Oh, I almost forgot – we also created her chest and bum. Squishing two pieces of paper into balls, we then taped them to her chest. It took three larger balls of squished paper to create the bum – one on each hip and one larger one behind. Tape it all in place and cover with papier-maché.

Catrina riding home in the back seat of my car.
Catrina having her second coat of papier-maché applied in my livingroom.

When that was done, some of the other students commented that her voluptuous body reminded them of the famous Mexican singer Maria Felix. I had not decided what type of female my Catrina would be before that point – an indigenous woman, an artist, etc. – but hearing those comments, I decided that Maria Felix she would be. And so, when I got home, I looked up photos of her to use as a reference.

Maria Felix

Then it was time to transport her to the next class for her transformation. First, create the hem of her skirt. For this we needed more construction paper cut into a semi-circle, tape it to her “skirt” and cover with papier-maché. Dry it, then coat the entire Catrina with a base coat of white paint. Now she was a blank canvas which we could transform into Maria.

Creating the base of the skirt

Base coat of white pain applied

First I painted her skin, and then decided on a blue dress, so the dress was painted next. The wooden base was painted the same color as the dress. Once again, she was dried with a hair dryer and re-painted.

Skin painted
Blue dress – check

Then it was time to paint her face – with a fine brush to paint her eye sockets, her nostrils and her teeth. For the hair, Newspaper was crumpled up and placed on a separate skull to be papier-machéd, then painted black. Then glue was placed inside and the hair was placed on the skull of Catrina.

Painting the eye sockets, nostrils and teeth
Forming the hair

Painting and drying the hair

Applying the trim
Peacock feathers, face paint and trim in place
Finished !

After that, the finishing touches of makeup were painted on her face and trim on the dress. Finally, I decided that I wanted feathers in her hair, so two peacock feathers were glued to the back of her hair.

The whole process took me three days, but it was a very nice learning experience. My Catrina is not as elegant as many of the finished ones I have seen in shops, and I know where the imperfections are, so I can now see why many of the Catrinas for sale have the price tags that they do.

And so, until next time, have a wonderful day wherever you are……

Adios amigos !

La Catrina home at last.

Medical Emergencies Abroad – Being Prepared

In the almost 4 years that I have been living in Mexico, I have become familiar with the Mexican healthcare system. You know – the normal intestinal problems, falling and twisting my ankle or falling and getting cuts and abrasions. That sort of thing.

This past week I ended up in the hospital and realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I will share this experience with you in general and if you plan on traveling or living abroad, you can apply this information to the specific country which you plan to visit.

This past Tuesday, I found myself in a hospital bed with no idea how I got there. It turns out, I had had a TIA – transient ischemic attack – a decrease of blood flow to the brain.

Before going any further, I will assure you that all is well except for remembering anything about that day, and I am taking medication and will follow up with a neurologist. Anyway, I had enough functioning brain cells when the attack began to call a neighbor to say come and get me. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts about being prepared.

First, make sure you have medical insurance and know what is covered. Investigate travelers’ medical insurance. Learn something about the healthcare system in the country to which you are traveling. When I was in Wales, I had a terrible ear infection in addition to severe back pain resulting from taking a tiny, cramped airplane that was not well pressurized and exacerbated a chronic back problem. Their system is part of the NHS, the national healthcare system of the UK. They apologized when I went to their urgent care and said I would have to pay because I was not a member of their system. Fortunately, it was only 40 pounds for the doctor and clinic and 10 pounds for the medication, so everything worked out.

If you are living in a foreign country, please invest in a good health insurance policy. I have one that covers me not only in Mexico, but also when I am abroad, whether it is in the United States or other countries. I chose this plan rather than the Mexican national plan because this one policy does cover the world. So keep that in mind as you are investigating.

Next, make sure whoever is traveling with you, or your friends or neighbors, have contact information regarding who to notify in case you are unable to communicate. My neighbor had the contact information of my son, and called him that day.

Health care proxies – who will make decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions/ are confused or unconscious? I have a healthcare proxy document in the United States, but that is not helpful here. Even if they accepted the document, it is in English and pertinent documents here would need to be in Spanish. My proxies in the U.S. do not speak Spanish, so it wouldn’t do much good anyway.

This is one thing I still need to do, but with more urgency now. I need to find out where I can get such a document and who can legally prepare it and make it official, and select two Mexican friends as my proxies. I have been trying to find out this information for quite a while, but now time is of the essence.

And for your family members or those close to you – they should make sure their passports are current. If they need to come to the country in which you are hospitalized (or worse), there will be no time to renew or obtain a passport. It’s also a good idea to know the visa requirements, if any, for that country.

And next, the medical charges. I needed cash for the ambulance to take me to the MRI, and the doctors would only take cash. Fortunately, one of my friends was with me and provided some of the cash, as I did not have enough for all of it. With other charges, credit cards were accepted.

Also, make sure you get receipts for what you pay. In the hospital bill, the doctors’ charges were listed, but the ambulance crew did not give my friend a receipt, so now we have to question the hospital regarding which ambulance service was used and then I need to contact them and try to get a receipt.

For those wondering how the medical care is here, I received excellent care. In addition, my deductible is around $1800 USD, and my exams, the doctors, three days and two nights in a private room in a private hospital – with all that, I still did not reach my deductible.

I am grateful for the wonderful care I received and the care of all my friends here. However, I don’t know when I will be permitted to drive again, as I don’t want another attack to occur, especially not when I am doing an activity where I could harm others.

One last bit of advice. It would be a good thing if you have at least one friend who is a nurse. When I was studying for my heart failure certification, I was taking an online course as well as my regular study group. I remember the Med Ed instructor named Martha saying to make sure if you are a patient to always have a friend who is “a smart nurse with a big mouth on speed dial.” and that is priceless advice. A knowledgeable nurse who can be a forceful advocate is invaluable, especially when you are sick, distracted and/or confused.

The nurses know how the system works, they are knowledgeable in the medical field and can ask the questions you are too distracted or unknowledgeable to ask. They can also help you navigate the insurance red tape, and let you know when demands for cash instead of the insurance card is not permitted.

I will be forever grateful for my nurse friend for being my advocate and for all my friends here. It is wonderful to live in such a village where everyone takes care of each other.

Fortunately, I am better now. I even baked my pies for the Casita del Cafe yesterday and took one of the new moto taxis to deliver them, since I am not permitted to drive at this time.

Had to cancel my weekend in Guadalajara for the Japanese festival, but at least I wasn’t on an airplane heading overseas when this happened. I’ll be seeing a specialist and we will figure this all out.

So, until next time – Nos vemos!

Delivering my pies in the moto taxi

Learning Japanese in Mexico

Greetings once again. I just want to begin by saying I would like to receive comments, helpful hints, commiseration, inspiration, advice regarding what I am about to say, especially for those who began learning another language whether or not that language learning included a different writing system.

I am not really whining, just venting a bit and detailing my experience so far. Sometimes I feel as if I am drowning, probably going to fail, but enjoying the experience of being a student again learning something new, and even if I do fail the course, I will still have learned a thing or two which will be useful in the future.

As some of you know, I am a member of Rotary Internation and currently in an e-club, which means we hold our meetings online, as my current club has members all over the world. One of our members lives in Tokyo and invited me to visit his family. Next year, our Rotary International convention will be held in Hawaii, and since Hawaii is roughly halfway to Japan, I will visit my friend and his family, then head off to Hawaii.

Since I like to learn at least a little bit about the native language when I am visiting a foreign, non-English-speaking country, I signed up for classes at the Language Institute of the University of Colima. The first class was held on August 3rd and will continue every Saturday until December 21st.

Before signing up, I had bought some Japanese study guides and tried to study on my own, but realized after a while that it would progress better in a more organized fashion by attending regular classes. As a result, I am now attending classes in the Japanese language in Mexico with a Spanish-speaking teacher, as the only student who is not a native Spanish-speaker.

Initially, my thought was that learning Japanese would be easier than learning another Romance language, since learning a language with the same root as Spanish would lead to confusion, as it sometimes did for me with French. Japanese is SO different from Spanish that there would be no way for my brain to confuse the two languages – that seems to be the way my brain is wired, anyway.

Problem is, there are three different writing methods in Japanese – Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, so a student needs to start learning a whole new way of writing as well as vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. and that has turned out to be a big stumbling block.

Add to the fact that my teacher speaks VERY RAPID Spanish, so it is difficult to follow her sometimes and I need to speak with her after each class to clarify what I did not understand in English, which she also speaks. And so, I am in reality taking two language classes – Japanese as well as Spanish, as vocabulary in the lessons, instructions in the lessons and classes as well as our official two textbooks which are written in Spanish and Japanese.

It’s certainly giving my brain a workout, but improving my vocabulary in both languages. One trick I use to bypass using English and while thinking of a concept go directly to the Japanese is using Post Its, just as I did when first learning Spanish. As an example, I hung a Post-It from my wall clock with the Japanese characters for clock, printed drawings of the human body and labeled the parts with the Japanese characters that we have learned so far.

Besides learning the language, we are also learning about culture in our course. For our next class we are required to give a brief talk (3 minutes) about some aspect of Japanese culture. My friend in Tokyo told me about the Obon festival, which mirrors our Day of the Dead here in Mexico, so I am researching it, then will have to give my talk in Spanish during class.

In the past, I would beat myself up if I didn’t get an “A” in all of my classes. I have tried very hard to relax, especially since this class is not part of a degree program, but only for my own desire for education. I am putting in a lot of effort to learn all that is required, and it is more difficult than I imagined it would be. I started learning Ukrainian when I was about 8 years old, including the Cyrillic alphabet (only remember one or two words in Ukrainian, but I can still read Cyrillic out loud without understanding most of what I am reading), so there is some experience of learning a new writing system, but many decades in the past – I will be 70 years old in two months (and can hardly believe I am saying that). I studied Latin and German in high school, but, again, that was many decades ago. Started studying Spanish in my 50’s, but being in the medical field and having studied Latin for 4 years helped with the learning.

Anyway, I just figured that I would share my experience so far, and would really appreciate commentary and shared experiences, especially from other adult learners of foreign languages, whether you learned a second language in your own country, a third language in your non-native country and/or also had to learn a different writing system.

Thanks for listening, thanks in advance for sharing, and now I’ve got to get back to my homework… Until next time, stay safe and have a great rest of your week, wherever you are…..


Babies make lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk, but 10,000 years ago, babies after weaning could no longer make that enzyme and could no longer digest milk.

Some time in the interval between then and now, men started raising livestock in the form of camels and cattle and over many generations humans evolved to continue lactase production into adulthood. That meant that humans were able to continue drinking milk throughout their lives. Before that happened, people would remove the lactose sugar from milk by fermenting it.

From our domesticated cattle, we receive many gifts – milk, cheese and butter. Thanks to Louis Pasteur’s experiments, the modern world has pasteurization – a process using heat to kill any microorganisms that might be in the milk. Through homogenization, cream no longer separates from the other components of commercially sold milk.

In my father’s time, growing up in the Bronx before the Great Depression, you brought your aluminum containers to a local shop where milk was ladled out of a big milk can. Later on, glass bottles would be delivered to homes. Now you buy it in stores in bottles, containers or plastic bags, depending on where you live. As with much of our food in First World countries, people have lost touch with nature and your packaged foods no longer resemble their original form (think ground beef, hot dogs, etc.).

Here in farm country, it is quite different. Your chicken was probably running around the yard a few hours ago. Fruits are picked off the trees and sugar cane is in its natural state in the sugar cane fields. And so it is with milk.

A while back, I passed a sign on one of the local roads that indicated they sold “leche caliente” (literally “hot milk”). I was curious as to why someone would be selling hot milk and was told this was what they called raw milk. It is caliente because it comes straight from the cow, and therefore is warm from the cow’s warm body.

Yesterday, I had my first taste of this milk. My neighbor and I were hiking and went up to her family dairy farm. There we saw the cats, dogs, horses and the milk cows with their calves.

It appeared that the cows were not milked dry, but some was left for the thirsty calves. During milking, the hind legs of the cows were tied together, and when it was time for them to join their calves, they were untied and shooed out to pasture.

We were all offered some leche caliente, and I was a bit hesitant at first, so I watched the process unfold. First, a little chocolate powder was placed into each glass, and then about 5 or 10ml of alcohol was added to kill any germs that might be there.

The type of alcohol that was used.

The teat of the cow was cleaned and then the milk squirted directly into the glass.

Then it was time to drink the finished product. I felt that since everyone was having it, and no one had a history of becoming sick from it, that it was safe to drink. I normally don’t like warm milk, but it tasted pretty good – maybe the addition of chocolate helped.

Enjoying my glass of milk straight from the source. For those not from New York who are curious, I’m wearing my official Mets baseball team tee shirt. The #7 is for the number 7 subway line that stops at Shea Stadium (the subway station is called Willets Point/Shea Stadium) . “Let’s Go Mets !”

Two people did get upset stomachs from it later on, but it turns out that they both were lactose intolerant and drank the milk anyway. This morning I let them know about products like Lactase that they probably can get here.

For me, this morning I had really bad stomach cramps and some diarrhea, lasting several hours, but I am fine now. Possibly from not being used to raw milk. Some foods do bother me here, but probably because my system is not used to it – such as beans (frijoles) being a staple and served with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So – such are the pleasures and pain that comes from exploring the cuisines around the world. Until next time – have a great day !

Two Cultures of Caring and Healing

Today I want to talk about another personal experience, which illustrates how we humans could be one inclusive community throughout the entire world, if only we would choose that path.

Since moving into my house at the end of 2016, I had been involved in the life of a neighbor who has a disability. Many of us in the village looked out for her and helped her out so that she could be as independent as possible in her own home.

And then she started to become sick. She was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. An advanced stage by the time it was diagnosed. Now, except for my parents and son, my experience with illness has always been in a hospital in my capacity as a registered nurse. I was sure that procedures, laws may be different here in Mexico, so I consulted with my Mexican nurse friend to see how things worked here – consents, hospice, attitudes about end-of-life care.

Meanwhile, because this neigbor had a mental disability, I wasn’t sure if there were any differences in verbal interactions with a mentally challenged adult versus one who had full mental capacity.

And for this, I am forever grateful to live in a time that has the wonder of the internet. It is not only a way to show cat photos to the world (of which I am guilty) or arguing with someone whom you have never met (also guilty) but it is a treasure-trove of information and a way for people to connect in the most meaningful ways.

There are many online groups of like-minded people who can connect for various reasons – politically, religiously, professionally. One of my groups is a network of professionals, mainly nurses, started when Joy Behar made her famous “why was she wearing a doctor’s stethoscope” remark (Keep this in mind if anyone wants to publicly impugn the abilities of a nurse. P*ss off one nurse, and you’ll be doing it to all of us.).

Anyway, I put the question out there to connect with anyone who had experience with this type of patient and two nurses answered. I seemed to have more of a rapport with one of them, so I thanked the first one and continued conversations with the second nurse, who lives in the United States.

Over the course of two months, I received advice and much-needed emotional support for which I will be forever grateful, as I was second-guessing myself quite a bit. I was better able to explain things to the family and give the family and this woman the proper kind of emotional support and explain each step of the end of life process because of my conversations with this wonderful hospice nurse. Many years ago, this would never have been possible.

My neighbor passed away in her own home, in her own bed last Thursday, surrounded by family and friends. The process here is that an ambulance was called, they came and pronounced her, and then the funeral home was called. She passed at 6pm, but the funeral home did not come until after midnight. The village church rang its bells at her passing.

RIP Irene

The next day, a tent was erected in the street in front of her house. Seats were placed under the tent where we sat, prayed, talked, while having juice and soup. Her living room had been cleared out and the casket was inside, in front of a red screen, with lit candles and flowers around it, and a picture of her dressed up for a friend’s wedding.

At 4 pm there was a funeral mass, after which her casket was put into the hearse. The hearse then proceeded to the cemetery at a walking pace, since all of us in the village who were attending walked the approximately one mile to the cemetery right behind the hearse.

Entrance to the village cemetery (panteon)

View of the Volcano of Fire from the cemetery

This is the rainy season, but fortunately it did not begin to rain until we were almost at the cemetery. For those who wished to see her one last time, the head of the casket was held open, and shortly thereafter, she was placed in her grave.

Being a Catholic country, the custom is to have the tent outside the house for 9 days, during which prayers are held every evening (a Novena). But with the rains, the tent was taken down and prayers are held inside her house. After prayers, various snacks are served, such as hot chocolate and pastries.

I like many of the traditions here, which emphasize family and caring for one another. Beginning after the death and for 9 days following the funeral, people gather to talk about the departed, comfort one another, pray, eat, give emotional support and allow grieving.

Through technology I was able to deal with being retired, being in a foreign country whose language is not my first language, and not being familiar with the customs and details of caring for a person with her specific needs.

All of humanity has different languages and customs, but underneath we are all brothers and sisters, and I am grateful for this extended worldwide family that technology and being born at the right time in history has allowed me to experience. My one wish for the world is for all of us to incorporate this feeling of “one-ness” into our innermost beings.

Poor dog has been sitting on this grave for days.

A Shout-out to all My Readers

Greetings to everyone, wherever you are. I noticed that after my last post about the eye bank I had more visits than in the more than 3 years that I have been writing this blog.

While my purpose is to alert people to the unexpected situations in which they might find themselves in a foreign country, and how I was able to handle those experiences, I also wanted to share the culture and daily lives of the people of my adopted country.

However, I know that you may have questions or wish to learn about other aspects of life abroad, or of Rotary, and so I am sending out this message to all of you – Is there any new topic you would like covered? Anything into which you would like me to dig more deeply?

Please send me your comments, critiques, and I will be happy to address them and create more content in which you are interested. That would include any comments about my writing style – I will not be offended as long as your critique is constructive.

Thank you again for following along with me in my journey through life. Take care and I eagerly await your comments and suggestions. Have a great day !!!!!

Inauguration of the First Eye Bank of Puebla and the District Governor’s Dinner

Greetings again and I hope everyone is enjoying their summer, wherever you are. Last October I wrote about going to the Mexico-USA Friendship conference in Acapulco and my committee choosing three projects for our Rotary Club to help support. In March I talked about visiting the General Hospital of Cholula, Puebla where the eye bank will be. Now I am pleased to be able to announce that the eye bank has had its inauguration, is open for business and has had its first client from day #1.

On June 28th at 4pm, Rotary club members, hospital staff and dignitaries gathered in the General Hospital of Cholula, greeted by someone in a giant eyeball costume, complete with an optic nerve protruding from the back of the “eyeball.”

Mr. Eyeball with his red optic nerve

After mingling, we were called to order and presentations were given by the people up on the stage – various government ministers, the Director General of the Hospital Dr. Francisco Javier Enríquez Reyes, the head of ophthalmology Dra. Marcela Tejeda Mondragón and the president of the Club Rotario Puebla Campestre Real Mónica (Maby) Flores.

After the speeches we were led into the eye bank. There we were able to see the culmination of all the efforts of Rotary in collaboration with the hospital administration and staff. There was a table set up with gleaming new instruments. There was a new refrigerator which enabled storage of the donated corneas.

Examination room

New Instruments

For me, the crown jewel was the microscope. This instrument did not resemble what you would think of when you hear the word “microscope.” It was a cylinder set on top of a square container next to a computer screen which was also attached to a printer. The cornea is placed into the microscope and its image appears greatly enlarged on the screen. This enables the doctors to view it in great detail at the cellular level and detect any problems which might disqualify it from being transplanted. I must say that I am constantly amazed at the progress in the field of medicine just in my lifetime, but that is a post for another day.

Microscope on the right, cornea as seen through the microscope on the computer screen and the printer on the left.

After the tour there was a reception during which we had many separate discussions with our colleagues from this endeavor. In addition, several more short speeches were made, including by Dra. Tejeda Mondragón and Mónica Flores.

Mónica Flores explaining how the project came about and thanking everyone for their help. Together we can accomplish anything.
Dra. Tejeda Mondragón

Me and Maby with the outgoing district governor
Sign for Eye Tissue Bank, brought to you by Rotary International District 4185 (Mexico) and Districts 5495 and 5500 (Arizona, USA) – and there’s my club, the Rotary E Club of the Southwest USA (RECSWUSA) district 5495

While the inauguration was the purpose, and would be the highlight, of my trip, there was still more to come. After a good night’s rest, it was time for a road trip.

ROAD TRIP !!!!!!!

Wind turbines on the way to Veracruz

View from my hotel room, Veracruz

The Rotary year begins on July 1st with dinners officially celebrating the changing of the guard being held around this time. This dinner was for the district governor of Rotary District 4185, which includes the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Morelos and Guerrero.

The dinner was being held in Veracruz, so after spending the night with Maby and her family, we packed ourselves into their car and off we went – me, Maby, her husband, son and daughter.

I slept for part of the way, and for part admired the landscape on the way, including wind farms. On arrival, we checked into the Galería Plaza Hotel, where the dinner would be held, and it turned out that I had a very nice room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The dinner started at 8:30pm so we had plenty of time to relax.

The dinner began with traditional dancers, speeches, presentation of the outgoing district governor (Ing. Cipriano Navarro Maya) and the incoming governor (Jesús Pita Barcelata). Plenty of photos were taken and a delicious dinner was served. Kudos from this gringa from New York to whomever prepared the menu. Only a single hot/spicy (picante) item, which was a crouton floating in the crab soup. The rest was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed.

Me and Maby

Thank you for being a part of Rotary and helping to connect with the world. New district governor Jesús Pita Barcelata

I don’t even remember what time I returned to my room for a good night’s rest, refreshed in the morning and ready to see some of the sights of Veracruz before returning to Colima on my 4:30pm flight.

As I said, Veracruz is right on the Gulf of Mexico, so it reminded me of many little seaside towns on the east coast of the U.S. Souvenirs had mainly seaside themes, the fresh fish was absolutely delicious and one tourist attraction reminded me of Acapulco. In Acapulco there were cliff divers who earned money by having tourists watch them dive from cliffs into narrow stretches of water. The divers in Veracruz would dive from the docks to retrieve coins tossed into the water. I noticed that when they stood up, the water was only waist deep. However, a ship was also docked a little ways away. I was told that the ground beneath the water was flat until it almost reached the ship and then there is a steep drop.

After touring Veracruz, we went to the airport, where I was told I could not take my flowers on board. Maby had given me a nice bouquet and I believed that since I was still traveling within Mexico I could take them with me. I was told by the agent that it was not allowed, that it didn’t matter if I was not leaving the country. I don’t know if she was correct or not, so Maby kept the flowers and I kept the wooden box in which they came.

So there ends my latest tale, but I will leave you with one thought. How lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful organization such as Rotary International – a worldwide volunteer organization. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful, caring humanitarians whose volunteer work makes the world a better place one person and one project at a time.

If you have a Rotary club near you, you might want to check it out, be a guest at a meeting and see what we do. If you are not inclined to join, you may want to help them in some of their activities. In addition, or even instead of, it is a wonderful experience to travel and meet other people from different countries, different cultures. You will see that deep down we are not so different after all.

And so – adiós until next time!