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Where. Do I. Begin.

This story has been brewing for some time. It all begins with one particularly brutal classist society: Mexico. Then you have a safe neighborhood, a nice apartment, and a reasonably upper middle class young couple. And when you are reasonably upper middle class, you have an unspoken duty to society. It is this: you hire people to do things for you that you can do yourself.

To me, and to many Americans I would imagine, this feels very uncomfortable. Not necessarily wrong because you’re paying someone to work, but because this arrangement has all kinds of unspoken power differences inferred, rather demanded, by the rules of the game of classism.

First, it is very racially obvious who is the “patron” and who is the worker. Sorry, but the shorter and more brown you are, the more your life is “destined” to clean someone’s house, or street, or park, etc. Of course I don’t believe this, it is a long and unbalanced history that has shaped society in this way, but I am yet to find an exception to this rule in the limited scope of my experience here in Mexico. I would love to hear somebody refute this- but I will say it is the rule rather than the exception, so much like the rest of the world, yet blatantly, painfully obvious.

That’s pretty bad, but what makes it even worse in my eyes is that there seems to be an expectation that people of the “lower class” identify themselves when mingling among the middle class. Small women walking beautiful dogs through our neighborhood still wear their work aprons, as if the owner is sending a clear message: “This is my cleaning lady walking my dogs. Those nice dogs wouldn’t belong to her!” I know that this is a cultural perception on my part: perhaps they wear the aprons because it is comfortable and practical if you’re going to be cleaning. But EVERYONE who is in this position wear them, and to me it is an accepted identity to proclaim to the world: this is my position in life. This is what is expected of me.  I’m kind of tempted to buy one of these aprons and start going around town, walking my dog, going to the grocery store, etc, just like they do. You’ll never see a middle class person doing this, even if they ARE comfortable and practical. I guarantee you that it would get a lot of open-mouthed stares!

I saw this “keeping someone in their position” very clearly within the first month living in Mexico. A family acquaintance invited us to a fancy welcome dinner in a very nice restaurant in a very nice part of town. The dinner party consisted of the two of us, three other adults, and a 2 year old. And a nanny, wearing a nanny uniform. And although we were sitting in an enormous, empty restaurant, at a huge table accomodating more people than we were, the nanny had to sit in a chair outside of our dinner circle. And wait for us to eat. Next to us. Silent. And the 2 year old sat at our table. That, in my opinion, is not how you treat another human being, whether you are paying them or not. I think the people we were eating with, at heart, did not mean anything malicious. It was perfectly part of the societal norm. It’s just that I find the norm kind of disgusting.

The power imbalance creeps into the consciousness of everyone living in this society: I observe many embrace it, many ignore it, and have yet to hear many people talk about it. Out loud. Maybe they don’t notice it anymore. All I can say is that the voices on the upper middle class side of the divide are largely silent. I’d like to know what the other side of the divide has to say when we’re not around.

So, it was within this context of confusion mixed with quiet outrage the first few weeks in Mexico that I got a knock on my door. It was Imelda, the wife of the portero (rough translation- do-everything-man for the apartment building), who lives in a cubby-sized apartment on the ground level,  who asked me if she could clean our apartment. Horrified by the idea that I have no excuse not to clean for ourselves, I politely declined. She waited another day before knocking again. And asking again. And again, being politely refused. This cycle repeated about 4 times before I finally gave in. I do believe, despite all that I’ve said before, and how uncomfortable it makes me, that this is the right thing to do. You should employ people to help you if you have the means, because you are a source of income. Even if you don’t need them. Money on the table is better than a moral highground. And even if you can’t change their social circumstances, or the fact that you are tall and white and they are short and brown, by damned you have an opportunity to pay them a fair wage and try to treat them like an equal in the couple of hours you spend together. That’s it, that’s the best I got.

So, ok Imelda, come on in. Once a week. Name your price. Stop calling me Señora. I’m Megan. No, I will not sit here and tell you every last thing that you have to do. No, you do not need to clean my floor with a toothbrush, get up please. No, I’m not buying you a ladder, I think I can handle the tops of the cabinets, being that I’m 5’8 and you’re 4’8…ok? I got that one covered. Where do we go from here?

Little did I know what lay in store from that day on…

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***Warning: extreme sappiness alert: best accompanied by a half gallon of Ben and Jerry’s***

What a delight it was to hop on a plane home to see my family this weekend. It feels funny writing “home”, because I’m not sure exactly where that is anymore. Home is still the Pacific Northwest, where I literally started crying the moment I stepped out of the airport last time I visited, because the air smells different there. It smells like, well air, but also rain, pine trees, earth, home. Ok, the NW people are laughing at me now for my sentimentality but I challenge any of you to spend a long time out of Washington and tell me that the air doesn’t smell like that when you come home. I can’t wait to see the mountain while we make the drive back to Puyallup. I can’t wait to walk in the neighborhood I grew up in, to hear birds, see deer, smell flowers and trees, see the mountain. I can’t believe how QUIET it is! (off the horrible suburban strip mall they now call South Hill).  I can’t wait to see the people who are family to me and always will be. Go to church. Go to Indochine. Have some Pho. It doesn’t seem like a place that belongs in the past, I still feel like I’m a part of it, even though I haven’t been there for years. But it’s no longer where we go to celebrate holidays. The house I grew up in will probably be sold soon.  We don’t live there, but I can’t imagine Washington not being home anymore. Those feelings are hard to reconcile.

But really, Baltimore is home too. It’s where I put my blood, sweat and tears the last 3 1/2 years of my life, where I became a nurse along with so many others who shared the same path. Where I was present for so many deaths, touched by so many lives, knew so many families, so many patients come and now gone. Their ghosts still follow me (um, not literally, that would be quite frightening). Each person taught me so much. I became so charmed by Charm City, in all its dysfunctional glory. (crabs, boh, stoop-socializing, neighbor-knowing, duck pin bowling, byob, festival going, kickballing, talk-like-a-pirate-day glory). It also feels like home.

And then, DC is home too. It’s where I navigated my way through the system, riding buses, doing  Americorps, outreach, teaching, getting to know the real city and not just the marble touristy parts, living in a closet, working in the hospital, poor as heck but happy as a clam, meeting my future husband, deciding my life’s direction. DC feels like home too.

What is home then? Each new experience in my life has changed me greatly, and it has all happened so FAST. Each place and experience takes a part of me and keeps it there. Home is where you learn, where you grow, where you love, where you change. But home is also people. Home is family, obviously. Home is also the people who watched you change- who were witness to it, a part of it maybe, or those who were apart from the experience but love you before, through, and after the transformation. These people I know are friends and family for life, I hope you know who you are.

So in the end, what happens when home is so many places and so many people? I’m still trying to figure it all out…..here in MEXICO. Am I going to have to add that to the list too? Someone explain that one to me, please…

A bit of honesty here. It’s been a strange thing to get used to, this doing nothing. This doing….nothing. Especially coming from utter chaos which was: two years of nursing school, taking the NCLEX to get my RN, straight on to graduate school for a year and a half, volunteering at a clinic, working at WIC, working weekends at the hospice, planning a wedding, maintaining a cross-border relationship, and enjoying an amazingly full social life in between, *GASP FOR AIR*….I needed a break, that’s for sure.

A break was welcome. In fact, who wouldn’t be thrilled at such a prospect after such a recently-packed schedule? However, there are breaks and there are BREAKS. This has been a break with a capital B. This is like going from living in a studio apartment with 10 people for three years to having an entire mansion to myself.  The waaaaambulance part is that I’m alone most of the day and night; my wonderful huz works about 14-hour days and I didn’t know a soul coming here.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem for me, I’m a pretty outgoing type and haven’t had problems making friends in the past, especially after moving to 2 new cities in the last 5 years where I didn’t know anybody. But there has been no community, a language barrier, and until recently, nowhere for me to plug in and meet people. It’s been hard, and very, very lonely.

I know it sounds sickeningly whiny to those out there working their butts off who would die to be in my position. It’s also the complainings of a privileged life. I get that. I also get that a vast majority of my friends and classmates would have already started an NGO here saving indigenous babies from malnutrition and whatnot (You know who you are).  I’m just being honest here, people. My normal strategy would be to get out there as fast as I could and volunteer, or get a job if I wasn’t satisfied with having all this “time off.” That’s what I would tell me if I were on the outside reading this blog. But I hit so many roadblocks in the beginning, and everything about my situation was so new and foreign, that I guess I just paralyzed myself.

There was a good chunk of months that I was really down on myself. The more time I spent alone, the less I wanted to go out and interact with society, even though it would be the obvious cure for my loneliness.  It got to the point where I wanted to punch out anyone that said things like, “oh, you’re a nurse? there must be MILLIONS of opportunities for you there!” or, “newlyweds? awwww….you must be in utter bliss! This is the happiest time of your life!” Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband to death and I regret not for a second bringing our lives together, but this has not been the happiest time in my life. It’s been very challenging, and for a while there, having “nothing” to do was bringing me down to a point of bringing him down too. Not good.

But, it gets better. Things have started to turn around. And it hasn’t been in the filling up on friends and activities (my normal strategy), that has made the difference. (Although slowly but surely that is changing too- my friend count is now up to….3! Yes!!!)  It has been in learning to accept the art of doing nothing. “Nothing” is of course “something”- what I mean to say is, I have no real responsibilities- no job, no kids, no social life, etc. (except keeping one eye constantly on my puppy so she doesn’t turn my shoe collection into a lunch buffet).  So, I made the decision to either:  a) embrace this time for what it is, or b) get the heck of my keister and get to work.

Of course faith and an attitude adjustment were in order, too. Once I put more energy into both of those means,  what do you know! Things started to turn around. I have finally accepted this time for what it is and stopped focusing on how lonely I am or frustrated not to be working. That alone took effort, and energy. Every day was a choice- on what to see positively about my life, how to appreciate the situation I was in, how to choose something over nothing. And positive efforts were contagious- once I started trying harder, so did Alex- and we’ve been having a much happier time, in fact a grand old time, being married and sharing the day to day.

Knowing that it will only be for a short while longer (uh, the situation, not the marriage), I’m almost giddy at the prospect of waking up and spending entire mornings drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Taking the pup for long walks in the park. Sitting on the balcony watching the world go by. Starting a blog. Reading friend’s blogs. Watching internet TV (although this has to be rationed- I once watched 2 seasons of gossip girl in 2 weeks and felt as bad about myself as if I had started a heroine habit). Cooking to my heart’s content (despite aforementioned hazards). Taking pictures. Exploring the city now that I know how to get around it alone without getting killed.   Or reading any gosh-darned thing I want (check out what on goodreads) all day long because I spent 3 1/2 years reading about body parts and evidence-based practice.

I guess the point, if there is one, is that I had to learn how to just be. Maybe some of you might think this is ridiculous, but others know what I’m talking about. These activities have been solitary, for the most part. I would much rather be gallivanting around Mexico City in my free time sharing it with people I love. But I had to learn how to find joy in being alone for long periods of time. God helped me out too, let’s not minimize that. I’m not of the opinion that I alone changed things, but I had to make the effort see what I was being offered.  Every day is a choice. And every day is getting better.