We Can. We Will.

To say that Guaymas and San Carlos have a little trash problem would, sadly, be a gross understatement.  For the majority of the population it is not for lack of trying.  Each morning, I see shopkeepers take to the streets and sidewalks in front of their stores, sweeping up debris and gathering trash that has accumulated overnight.  Hoses are turned on and drives and walkways are sprayed down in an attempt to keep blowing dust in its proper place.  Garbage is bagged and set in or near cans, barrels, and dumpsters.

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Photo Credit: David Pozos

Unfortunately, those cans are not always emptied in a timely fashion.  As I understand it, a former mayor decided that once he took office, garbage collection would be contracted out to a private firm.  City trucks were repurposed or sold.  And when a new mayor was elected, and money for private trash collection ran out, Guaymas experienced a bit of a crisis.  Realizing they were not going to be paid, Promotora Ambiental S.A. (PASA) stopped collecting trash.  While citizens continued to responsibly clean up their messes, the trash piled up and became an easy target for animals and nature.

Citizens persisted and found creative ways to deal with the problem.  Bags were tied to IMG_7461 2fences, out of the reach of animals, and garbage was delivered to the front steps of the municipal government building.  Neighbors worked together to keep their blocks as neat as possible, rebagging daily after dogs, cats, and strong winds did their best to undermine their efforts.  Yes, there is a landfill; however, dumping can only be paid for with a credit card.  Many families in our area do not have a car or truck for hauling, never mind a credit card.

Slowly, the mayor is rebuilding the city’s fleet of garbage trucks. In the meantime, winds continue to blow and animals continue to forage.  And the PASA strike certainly does not explain the piles of beer cans left on the beach each weekend or the snack wrappers and plastic Coke bottles floating in the Sea of Cortez.  It does not answer for the groups who leave their cookout messes on the patios of their vacation rentals.  It does not excuse the carload of kids, who drop an Oxxo bag full of trash out the window of their car, as they speed down the highway.  Fortunately, there are concerned citizens attacking these areas too.

Clean Up San Carlos, a volunteer group of Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans, meet each week and pick up trash in a designated area:  on the beach, the main thoroughfare, or in the desert.  Bandidos de Basura brings educational programs about littering, recycling, and responsibility into the local schools.  Universities, high schools, middle and elementary students join Clean Up San Carlos or sponsor their own clean ups.  Aqua y Más, an orphanage, participates in local beach cleans.  There have even been international efforts between students in Arizona and Guaymas.

IMG_7146 2This past Saturday, BAE Systems, a global aerospace company located in the Rocafuerte Industrial Park in Guaymas, was proud to contribute to the efforts to keep our community clean as well.  In a belated Earth Day celebration, our small but mighty group of employees, spouses, girlfriends, and children met at 8:00 in the morning.  After the obligatory selfies, we donned our gloves and masks and set out to clean the highway in front of the park, or as much of it as we could before a) we ran out of bags b) we ran out of dumpster space c) the heat did us in or d) all of the above. 

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Umm, I suppose that all depends on your definition.  Little Alonso was thrilled when he found a golfball.  I was more startled when I discovered the man sleeping in the culvert.  It also seemed odd that I found so many Q-tips.  Like is it really a thing to clean your ears while driving down the road?  And let me add  that plastic bags truly are the devil- -anywhere, but especially in the desert.  They attach themselves to the spiky, sharp trees and plants.  Trying to remove them makes an even bigger mess.  (Shameless but necessary PSA:  Please strongly consider toting your snacks, beer, soft drinks, and Q-tips in a canvas bag from here forward.)

And actually, the more we found, the more obvious it became that this was not necessarily litter.  (As in “No, Amy.  No one cleans his ears while driving down the road.”)  It was trash that had been blown from trucks or garbage receptacles.  And as gross as it was to have to touch some of it, even with gloves on, I was  happy to see that not much of it was recent.  Slowly but surely, the message of caring for the environment is spreading.

During our crawl down the main drag, our group was joined by five city employees and 409f3f74-1a55-44a9-b052-a3e683125a4aone random citizen, who just wanted to help.  We were honked at a lot by people who were happy with our efforts.  Of course, they could have been appreciating the view of 20+ people bent over along the road.  In spite of the heat, the dust, and, yes, the trash, I loved working side by side with such a great group of people.  I am a tad jealous that my husband gets to spend his days with them.

Change in behavior and attitude does not happen overnight.  BAE Systems is just a small cog in the wheel of the community service and pride taking place in our communities daily.  One chip bag, one bottle, one Q-tip, one new garbage truck at a time. 

That’s Mexico

Somewhere between Ajijic and Talaquepaque I decided that it was time for me to start carrying a big girl purse.  For about the past six years, I have basically carried a wallet on a string.  I am not the conventional purse type.  So as we boarded the bus to take us back to Guadalajara, I proudly showed off my woven backpack.  Now mind you, I had absolutely nothing to put in my new purse/backpack, but I figured I could google common purse items when we returned to San Carlos and then stock it full.

In the meantime, I loaded it up the next morning with my wallet on a string, my Kindle, and my passport for our quick trip to the glass blowing factory and arts and crafts stores in Tonalá.  I did not for a minute think I was going to have time to read, and no, one does not need a passport to travel from Guadalajara to Tonalá.  It is just that I really had no where else to put these things, and I was new to the whole purse thing.  I put on my backpack and proceeded to the taxi that was waiting.  Then I immediately took it off because have you ever tried to sit in a taxi with a backpack on?

There is a complicated button and a string closure that I had not quite mastered.  Okay, not exactly complicated, but time consuming.  I figured it would be easier, and a whole lot quicker, if I had my old purse out and ready to go when it came time to pay the driver.  Once I had it, I began the process of closing the backpack again.  Business attended to, I sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Steve, another friend from the tour, and I chatted with the driver along the way.  After introductions were made, he was most interested in talking to us about hiring him for the half day trip.  Three more members of our group were in the taxi behind us.  We let Rodrigo know that we needed to discuss the plan with the other group before making a decision.

After a quick stop at a glass factory outside of town, we all jumped back into our taxis and headed to the central shopping area.  We consulted with the other group upon arrival and decided we would just wander around and look for another cab to take us back to the hotel later.  We figured we could cover more ground on foot, and it was not necessary for Rodrigo and his buddy to sit around and wait for us.

We had just walked out of the first shop we visited when Steve, who was walking behind me, asked me where my backpack was.  Wow.  I guess I was really going to stink at this purse thing.  It was, of course, in the cab.  For some reason, I remained fairly calm about the fact that my Kindle and passport were now gone.  I had my cash and my temporary resident card.  I was not leaving Mexico anytime soon.  And really, I preferred reading books I could hold in my hand.  Steve, however, was not as calm about this.  He had been carrying a backpack the entire trip so far and had not lost it once.

We did the only thing we could do.  We called one of our tour guides, who was at the hotel.  We explained what happened and gave him the name of the cab driver.  How many Rodrigos could there possibly be driving a cab in the second largest city in Mexico, right?

Please bear with me here as I digress.

I often hear the phrase “That’s Mexico” from north of the border friends and acquaintances, community members, and posters on ex-pat sites.  And when they use those words, they mean them in the same way southerners mean “bless his heart”.  “That’s Mexico” is used repeatedly in a derogatory, demeaning way.  Any complaint, any inconvenience, any difference is immediately followed by the phrase “That’s Mexico”.  No, really, it is not. 

Within five minutes we heard back from our tour guide.  Rodrigo had been located.  He confirmed that the backpack was still in the backseat.  He was racing toward the hotel, where he would leave my bag for me at the front desk.  He was at the hotel when I returned to assure me my backpack was there, unopened and safe.

That’s Mexico, at least the one that I know.

The Hostess with the Mostess (Anxiety)

The snowbird season in San Carlos is in full swing.  Besides an influx of folks from north of the border, the winter months also bring numerous opportunities to support many of the wonderful causes near and dear to the hearts of the people who call San Carlos home.  Wednesday was no exception, as the Sociedad Benefactora y Protectora de Animales de San Carlos held their annual Luncheon and Fashion Show at the San Carlos Plaza Hotel.

thumbnailI was in charge of ordering tickets for my group of friends this year.  Not a problem, until I received a “Hostess Guide” in my ticket envelope explaining my responsibilities.  (Note to self:  Lauren is calling for tickets next year.)  Many women “buy” a table and invite their friends for the afternoon of furry friends and fashion.  They then create an incredible theme and decorate their tables and design costumes.  Our group did not fill a table, therefore I assumed we would be seated with another smaller group, not realizing that hostess duties would still be required.  Okay, actually I was hoping that the other smaller group would be in charge of this part.  I can plan a Halloween Party for 27 students in 30 minutes, but for some reason I found the task of organizing a table for the luncheon somewhat overwhelming.

Overwhelming because the one thing I am incredibly OCD about is themes.  (Well, in addition to how the bed is made, towels are folded, and bathmats are laid out on the floor.)  I think it must be a teacher thing that has carried over from my classroom to birthdays, Christmas and other holidays, and now apparently, tables at a charity fundraiser.

The hostess was required to provide a centerpiece for the table, plates, napkins, cutlery, thumbnail
and glassware.  Placements and chair decor were optional.  I decided on a traditional Mexican theme, and matched the colors of the paper flowers in the centerpiece to the colors of my Fiestaware dishes.  But…the day before the event, I spent the afternoon in Guaymas trying desperately to find clay plates and mugs.  (In the true spirit of my theme, you know?)  My go-to-store had apparently decided that clay was out and Tupperware was  in.  Another shop had plates, but the design did not match the one on the pieces I already owned.  (Oops, another item for the OCD list!)  I was stuck with the Fiestaware.

Glassware was another issue.  We have coffee mugs and milk glasses, none of which are very fancy or traditionally Mexican.  A friend loaned me some colorful wine glasses.  Interestingly, I could have skipped this part entirely.  It was listed no where in my “Hostess Guide” that I would need to bring beverages.  Come to find out, the hotel only provided drinks for sale.  Ha!  Before I knew this,  I blew my money on raffle tickets.  And my poor mother lost her coin purse as soon as we arrived that morning.  I may have been the first hostess in the history of the event to dehydrate her guests!  I asked two different waiters if we could have a pitcher of water in my most polite, grammatically correct Spanish.   Tap water even!  I was not going to be picky at this point.  But, both shook their heads sadly.  At any rate the glasses looked great with the plates and flowers, and we had one less thing to wash when it was all over.

thumbnail-1There was not much I could do regarding silverware.  It would have been entirely inappropriate to expect my guests to use corn tortillas, which would have made the most sense authentically speaking.  I did have a tortilla warmer sitting on the table.  One hopeful guest kept looking inside it, as if by magic wine or water would appear.

Throughout the show, ideas kept popping into my head of what I could have done or added.  It did not help that some of the tables and costumes were so elaborately done.  There was obviously a lot of planning involved that took much longer than a week to work out.  I started making a mental list so I was better prepared the next time.  Water, headwear, water…   And then I remembered.  I am not calling for the tickets next year.  Lauren is.

(Part 1/3)

“Music Can Change the World Because It Can Change People”

FullSizeRenderI am still adjusting to a December without gray skies, cold winds, and snow.  For almost all of my life Christmastime meant white, fluffy stuff and freezing temperatures.  Now my head sweats under a Santa hat because it is 73 degrees and sunny, not because I am shoveling snow and scraping ice.  Bright, twinkly lights look amazing on palm trees, but blow up snowmen perched between two cacti seem strange.  Steve and I needed a little help getting into the spirit.  A Christmas concert by the Esperanza Azteca Youth Symphony seemed like the perfect choice.

I do not have very good luck attending symphonies.  In fact, I am pretty sure that when I attended annually with my fifth grade class, I was caught dozing off once or twice by my students.  The Sonora Youth Symphony, however, is the pride of Guaymas.  It was a risk I was willing to take.  Steve does not have a track record of falling asleep at classical concerts- -mostly because he avoids them altogether.  I could practically hear his eyes rolling into the back of his head and his teeth grinding when I walked up to the ticket seller at the Christmas Bazaar and purchased two tickets to the December 17 Christmas performance.  I am also pretty sure I heard a pencil scratching as he made another tally in the “she owes me” column in his Take One for the Team tracker.

The Esperanza Azteca Project is sponsored by a foundation operated by the Salinas Group in Mexico.  Its goal is to improve the quality of life for at-risk youth in low income and underserved communities through music.  The foundation provided all start up costs for the program in Guaymas beginning in 2012.  This included funding for:  brand new instruments, music stands, chairs, rehearsal space and utilities, and teachers.  The expectation for all orchestras receiving the grant is to be self-supporting after one year through performances and local, private, and government financial support.

There are one hundred children performing with the orchestra today.  Seventy of those IMG_5232one hundred had never played an instrument before in their lives.  In addition, there are one hundred children who sing in the choir.  In September, a steel pan drum group was formed and began practicing as well.  Their very first public performance kicked off Sunday’s show.  All members practice five days a week for four hours a day.

The importance of this program is seen and felt in 29 states across Mexico.  There are 54 orchestras and at least 800 music teachers thriving from the opportunities provided by participating in the arts.  These young boys and girls are confident, driven, and excelling in school as a result of their participation.

The reputation of this group of children was well known to most of the audience, who was on its feet from the moment the young musicians walked onto the stage.  They received multiple standing ovations, brought at least one of us to tears with their rendition of “Silent Night”, and treated the audience to three encores.  Parents beamed with pride as the audience around them chanted, “Otra!  Otra!  Otra!”  We hooted, hollered, and whistled our appreciation and admiration.  Admittedly, this is not  typical orchestra viewing behavior.  The audience was passionate about this incredible group of performers and not shy about letting them know.  And no one fell asleep.

thumbnailTwo hours after it began, the concert finally came to an end.  It was announced the group would be back in February for a Valentine’s Day show.  And guess who suggested we buy tickets for that one?!  This gives me a free future tally somewhere!  Now, overflowing with Christmas spirit, Steve and I are headed off to spend some much needed time with our son.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of A Christmas Festival performed at last year’s Christmas concert by Esperanza Azteca Orquestra Sinfónica Sonora!  Happiest of Holidays to all!

 

Christmas Spirit on Parade

thumbnailI had been bouncing off of the walls all week!  A friend shared with me that there was a Desfile Navideño, a Christmas Parade, happening in Guaymas Friday night.  Unfortunately, she shared this on Tuesday, so I had almost the entire week to wait.  In the meantime, I also learned there would be a Christmas tree lighting on the malecón after the parade.  Suffice to say, come Friday night I was a bundle of energetic glee!  I was ready to burst.  Steve was being a very good sport.

The parade was scheduled to start at 4:30 pm, so Santa hats in tow, I picked Steve up from work about 3:45.  Navigating Guaymas on ordinary days can still be a struggle for us, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost and found if needed.  As the main avenue into El Centro was already closed to traffic coming into Guaymas from our direction, the challenge was definitely on!  The way Steve and I navigated the detour (without the benefit of detour signs) was nothing short of a miracle.  As far as I was concerned, the night was already a success based on this accomplishment alone.

thumbnail-4We found a parking spot and were seated on the curb with time to spare.  It was then I discovered that Steve “forgot” his Santa hat.  Unbeknown to us at the time, we could have easily made it to the truck and back (and eaten dinner and finished our Christmas shopping) before the parade actually began.  Because that 4:30 parade did not start until 7:00!

It seemed there was a leak somewhere in the traffic blockade because the cars kept coming.  And most of the cars were full of costumed children, um parade participants, heading to the starting point long after the scheduled starting time.  The Spanish phrase “ni modo” (oh well) was definitely applicable here.  The wait did not dampen the excitement, as children played with light up toys, chased down balloon venders, and enjoyed churros y Cheetos con chamoy, jamoncillo, banderillas, papas, manzanas, gomas, paletas, and dulce de algodón. It was a pre-Christmas Parade Food Parade!

Finally, it was time!  We were entertained by a marching band, baton twirlers, floats, elves on stilts, and lots of twinkling lights.   Santa appeared for the first time in our section around 7:30.  Literally every single child and his parents ran into the street to get a picture with Santa.  We thought the parade had ended several times because there were these huge lulls in the action.  Only after witnessing the Santa picture frenzy, did we realize that this was the reason for the hold up.  Because it happened every time there was a Santa, and there were a lot of Santas!

Pickup trucks hauling generators for light and music shows preceded the performing school groups. Students wore adorable Christmas themed outfits and danced to hip hop Christmas songs, like “Yes, everybody knows (ra-pa-pum-pum)  We will take off our clothes (ra-pa-pum-pum)  Light you up, put you on top  Let’s fa la la la la, la la la la (let’s go)!”  I am still processing the sweet angels, reindeers, and elves performing to this.  And to be honest, I am still laughing about it too.

Once the parade officially ended, Steve and I headed to the malecón for the tree lighting.  thumbnailOur first stop was a hot dog vender.  The snack we bought to enjoy during the wait, er, parade had long worn off, and we were starving.  We just had time to scarf those down before the countdown began.  I am guessing that even the event organizers were exhausted by this point and wanted to move things along.

After the tree was lit, fireworks exploded over the Sea of Cortez.  It was incredible!  I may have had a little tear in my eye- -either from excitement or the fact that my butt was still numb from sitting so long at the parade.  The last ash had not even touched the ground, and Steve was turning away to head for the truck.  His “ni modo” had got up and gone!

And I heard him exclaim as we drove out of sight, “Please, dear God, I hope she invites a friend to go with her next year.”