Am I richer or poorer in Mexico? I’m certainly richer in gratitude. The simple fact that everything is not as easy as it was before makes me better at appreciating what I have.
When I first moved to Mexico I was scared, sad, and very, very angry. At a tippy table in a hot torta shop, I wrote the following poem:
Loss of My Birthright
Though I am a U.S. citizen,
I grieve the loss of my American Dream.
That I believed was my birthright.
The law sent us away from home.
Away from our dreams.
Away from our livelihoods.
…Away from owning a home.
…Away from family joys.
…From starting our own little family.
Tomorrow is no longer ours to aim for
My husband can’t get a visa for 10 years.
We have been cut loose,
So I let the days slide by.
I breathe deeply and let time slip through my fingers
…let go of my dreams
…ignore my sorrow
We are at the age where we see that our youth is almost over.
We wanted to build a home and family
Within the embrace of the larger family,
But now we are floating in a time span too long to catch up to those dreams.
My definition of wealth used to agree exclusively with definition number 1 in my Webster’s College Dictionary “Wealth n. 1. A great quantity or store of money, property, or other riches.” Now I have to agree with short, simple number 6: “happiness.”
When will a state of wealth be effortless for me? There should be some point at which I no longer have to console myself with deliberate mental lists of gratitudes. In Mexico, “wealth” is almost a verb. It must be mentally reaffirmed daily.
Before, when I washed clothes by hand at the cement washboard outside, I just wanted a washing machine. Now I have a washing machine and I just want hot water piped in. If I had hot water what would I want then?
In my memories I feel the freedom of gliding around in my car, going wherever I want to go whenever I want. Now I don’t own a car. I can’t afford the insurance and gas, and besides, the drivers in my town are participating in a free-for-all. I don’t need a car because there is excellent bus service in Mexico, but it takes extra gumption to get out and about on the bus. Once I get myself out, when I step off of the bus I’m not weighted down by a huge metal possession. It’s just me and my two powerful feet; I’m still free.
Our house has only three rooms and an attached bathroom. There are no closets or cupboards and the wiring is tacked onto the walls and included only four outlets. My husband added two more. There are extension cords snaking everywhere. One night, half asleep, I almost broke my leg and the TV tripping over one. But the walls are bright yellow, blue, and green. It’s cozy. When people come into our house they stand in the doorway and smile. “I like your house,” they say.
Lack and wants can pile up over my head like the column of molecules that make up the atmosphere. Would I really feel more secure if I were back in the States and had money going regularly into a retirement fund? Experience seems to suggest that I’d be insecure about some other detail.
Perhaps the greatest wealth given me by Mexico has been the gift of writing. In elementary school, as soon as I could read well, I began to write. But life in the U.S. took over, filled my head with class assignments, career goals, housework, television. In the loneliness of culture shock my voice came back.
I wrote an e-book telling others how to survive the transition from North America to Mexico. I put in the nitty-gritty details, pleasing myself with the humor that crackled in the descriptions. Then I made a website to sell the e-book. What a joyful feeling to give the experiences of adjusting to a new country and culture a bigger meaning in my life as well as value to others. It’s wealth.