A good friend of ours was supposed to get into town this evening, flying in to the Queretaro airport from Ciudad Juarez. There for the last four days, he's been covering stories similar to ours- American/Mexican couples who've, one way or another, been separated or forced into living situations other than the "ideal" as a result of one of the partners having an undocumented U.S. immigration status. I was looking forward to his arrival. When my husband told me he'd called and said the flight had been cancelled, I felt bad for him, but I was on a massage table at my friend's house -we barter professional services- and so I had to put the annoying thoughts away. Back home, instead of preparing to go out and pick him up, I went about my business as normal, put the baby to bed, and called another friend in the States to chat. I sent him an email recommending patience in the next 18 hours, when the next flight arrives. Four years ago, I might not have had the same reaction. I now realize the change I swore would never happen has indeed occurred. Like it or not, I am "becoming Mexican."
A week or so after Margo & I first arrived here in 2006, I had to go to the Instituto Nacional de Migracion to register my presence in my new residence, namely, Queretaro. You know how the old U.S. passports had the spot where you fill in your mailing address in case it gets lost, and how you have to sign the document for it to be valid? Well, I figured that was the same for the Mexican visa booklet that I'd been issued back in San Jose at the Mexican consulate, a place I'd had to go to several times to complete my paperwork, no easy task in itself. So in the truck on the way to the office, I found the spot where it said local residence and three blank lines, and diligently filled in my information. After waiting what felt like a couple hours for my turn in line, we stood at the counter, handing over my documents. The agent scanned my things briefly, when making a face, she asked me if I had written inside the document. "Si," I replied half proudly, half nervously, wondering why she was asking me. "Sabes que eso es un delito?" she asked me. Do you know that's a felony? My heart sank.
To make a long story short, I had to re-apply for my visa, from Mexico, which was a lot harder than the application I'd done in the U.S., which is saying a lot. I couldn't understand why, I was overwhelmed with frustration, and upon leaving the office, I walked across Avenida Universidad and sat on the grass overlooking the river below, and contemplated throwing myself in. I was truly beside myself. I think I actually cried. Margo couldn't understand at all why I was so upset and therefore was not that great at consoling me. In fact I think he said various things along the lines of, what were you thinking to write in that book? Which of course only made me feel worse.
That event, and countless other tangles with Mexican bureacracy over the next year or two only served to make me more and more despondent. It seemed no matter how airtight my applications were, no matter how punctual we were to appointments, nothing could speed up any process, all paperwork indicated a complicated spiral of visits to copy shops, a relative's house for several witnesses' signatures, or a failed attempt in which we were told to go to the office across town, or that offices didn't open until next Monday, or that we ought to call back in four weeks. It seemed to require a full-time job just to perform the most basic tasks like paying taxes or renewing a license . Every time we went, I'd complain a red streak. Margo would get cross, and I'd get more insistent. He started suggesting I not join him on trips to government agencies. If you're wondering why we spent so much time on these things, it's because all transactions need to be made in person- over the phone or online is just barely starting to make it on the scene here. I brought the issue up with my sister-in-law. After telling her how I felt and wondering aloud why no one complained to officials about their terribly inefficient systems, I naively asked her why none of them ever got fed up. She earnestly replied that they'd never known anything different, and it wasn't likely to change anything by complaining. This was impossible for me to understand.
For a long time, I thought I had the lock on bitching about things that drive me mad about Mexico. My poor husband is reminded every year when I reapply for my visa, just how important that "apoyo moral" moral support letter they ask for from the spouse, really is. But then, as if imperceptibly, my perspective seemed to change. I began to defend Mexico from outside criticisms to a whole host of people- friends, family, unknowns on blog commentaries, etc.
When a friend came to visit for an extended period this past summer, I unleashed some pent-up "quejas" (complaints), but she met them stride for stride. At one point, "me rebaso" she beat me to the punch- and I began hearing her very justified commentaries about various things- the delayed status of road construction projects, the poor signage on highways, the way people wait (or don't) in lines, and so on, but I heard them with different ears. All of a sudden, although in theory I agreed with her, I realized how my earlier comments must sound to Margo. All right already, OK, you've got a point, but what the hell can I do about it???
It was at that point that I noticed how much less I take issue with ostensibly annoying aspects of life in Mexico than I used to. Maybe it's like the fraternity hazing mentality, you bond with those with whom you suffer. Soon after that near-suicidal incident by the river, my head swirling with self-pity as to why had I moved my life thousands of miles south into a land so foreign it might as well have been halfway across the world, I swore to myself, and to anyone standing in earshot, that I'd never accept the pace of Mexican life, how slow things go, or substandard service. But four years later, I look back and I see that "this too shall pass." Of course, I still prefer that I be attended to more rapidly, that lines be shorter, that the title to our house could be delivered in less than 5 years, but I now see less reason to get so uptight about the failings of customer service. It won't do anything to accelerate what I'm waiting for, and why guarantee my husband another headache?
I just take a deep breath, head for the "quejas y sugerencias" comment box, and if there ain't one, crack a joke and save my energy. I'll be needing it for the next visit downtown.