When I told my parents that I was moving to Mexico with my then seven-year-old daughter, I was greeted with blank stares. After the shock wore off, it was anger and disbelief. I listened to my parents tell me how crazy I was, how irresponsible ad nauseam. My mind was made up, so a few weeks later, we pulled out of Virginia in a Suburban car bought especially for the journey. My father-in-law travelled with me and my daughter, Ysabela. She did not yet know Spanish, but I was hopeful. The Spanish teacher in me knew she would adjust, but the mommy in me was stressed. I had been homeschooling her, so I knew she would still get an education in addition to becoming culturally literate.
We made the border in excellent time, less than 24 hours! Federico, my father-in-law, helped smooth the way with the officials. Getting visas was very easy, but it took a bit of time. We crossed the border and stayed in a small hotel in Matamoros. My Uncle Roger, a truck driver, had given us flawless directions all the way to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Highway 180 will take you all the way. From Merida, we tried to call Milca, my husband’s cousin, from a gas station pay phone to get the house keys and drove the last thirty minutes to the village of Seye. We slept in the truck for an hour or so, and then the keys were delivered. We were home.
The villagers were certainly surprised to see Federico. He hadn’t visited his birthplace in years. They were astonished to see two white females as his traveling companions! Most Americans do not seek out small villages to visit. We were only there because my husband had taken me there to see where he had grown up with his Mama Grande (his name for his granny), and I had fallen in love with the idea of owning that same land. Fortunately Milca had built a nice house there. Unfortunately there was no stove or fridge. Problem number one, food! Federico tore himself away from his friends long enough to go down the street to the little store called Tienda Pauli. Even though I knew I shouldn’t drink the tap water, I made myself a cup of cold coffee. (At least I didn’t get worms from it!)
Strangers in a Strange Land
Seye is primarily a Mayan village, so most people there are bilingual, Spanish and Mayan. Ysabela went straight across the street to the little park while I got our things settled in the house. People walked slowly in the street trying to look casual while casting sidelong glances in the uncurtained windows. After doing what I could inside, I went out to see if Ysabela needed anything. I watched her at first. I peered into the park and realized she was surrounded by children. They wanted to touch her hair and try to communicate; there was a lot of laughter. I finally got her in the house about dark. She brought plenty of questions with her, so I told her how to say some basic phrases. I am proud to report that she was completely bilingual within three months. It took us longer than that to get established, but the hard work was worth it. I plan to go back soon, but I will not be driving. My husband insists it is much too dangerous to do again.