Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mexico triggers horn honking and new ways of looking at the world

Art Wall in Chapala
My wifi is down.

If I were still in California, I would be having a fit, immediately calling for service.

I am deeply connected to the electronic world, and frequently need to scratch my itch for information and understanding. Many times a day I wonder about things: how Bob Marley died, what the color of amaranth looks like, does wifi still have a dash in it, who Marcos Castellano was (street name here in Mexico), is the ketogenic diet healthy, the history of the purple dye used in the huipil I just bought, how to convert inches to centimeters, and so on and so on.

Wikipedia and Google are pillars of my day. I can’t imagine not having access to that ocean of information. So, when my wifi is down, my brain starts sounding the call for oxygen, gasping for the breath of information. It makes me want to honk a horn, demand attention, make my world right again.

That’s where I am right now. My router is across the room in my direct line of sight. The light that should be blinking is infuriatingly constant. If it were later in the morning, I could go to the coffee shop and relieve my angst, but, like many things here in Mexico, the general need for a caffeine boost seems to move at a slower pace. While the 24-hour OXXO (like 7-11) two blocks away offers coffee at all hours, it has no ambiance … or wifi.

My favorite coffee shop doesn’t open until 8:30 so I’m in withdrawal (wifi, not caffeine) until then, trying to distract the absence by writing about all of this.

One of the first things I noticed here was the absence of honking horns. In a noisy world of barking dogs, rockets, crowing-at-all-hours roosters and ringing church bells, this one noise is missing. The streets here are narrow and often jammed. Drivers do crazy, unexpected things, darting across lanes of traffic, parking every which way, ignoring signs, stopping in the middle of the street to chat with a driver going the other way … but, they seldom honk at each other.

We gringos, though, are a bit different. We don’t actually honk the horns in our cars that much, but we honk about other things … including the wifi being out, as it is with some regularity. That’s what I’m doing right now: honking.

A lot of other things make us honk. Facebook forums, where we talk to each other, are a fountain of honking. A lot of honking is about finding stuff. It is said that Mexico has everything you want or need. That’s probably true, but finding it is another thing. It takes awhile to realize that the needle and thread you need is actually at a booth in the Wednesday market where an assortment of everything from pizza to fish, batteries to mole tacos, corn husk dolls to displays of nuts, seeds, and candies joins a wide range of fresh fruits and veggies, household necessities, skin creams and health potions. An amazing supermarket that comes and goes one day every week.

One very long thread on a recent forum focused on Walmart. Many people honked their irritation at its shortcomings: all the things it lacked, how it was organized, the disappearance of favorite brands of paper towels. Mexico challenges our comfort zones and triggers our honking as we long for a particular, hard-to-find vegetable, a specific tool we left behind when we moved down here and now can’t find, a hairdresser who knew just how to cut our hair,   … or the constancy of wifi.

Comfort zones by definition are comfortable. We voluntarily left that zone when we moved here, but that doesn’t stop the yearning for it. I think of a dog circling and pawing his bed into some, unknown-to-us, configuration of comfort. We’re like that, circling, pawing, honking, trying to recreate that familiar place where we were confident in our ability to cope with every day life.

Perhaps, however, that’s Mexico’s biggest gift to us: that uprooting that forces us to experience unfamiliar things, develop new perspectives, learn how to communicate and cope with a new language and, sometimes, radically different ways of doing things. All of us who are relatively new here are on a steep learning curve, which is, at once, exciting and also frustrating. 

Which, of course, means I should stop honking, get off my butt and go out into this cool, sunshiny morning and give thanks for the inconsistency of everything about this new world I’ve chosen to live in, a beautiful, charming, friendly world which is helping me learn new ways to live.

And, that question that is right now circling my brain? The one that can only be answered by plugging into the electronic world? If I stop honking, I can see that it will actually wait while I stop to savor a few moments of the world that was here long before the internet. 
(Sitting in the incredible Lake Chapala Society garden ... a delightful compromise of electronic and real world that allows me to post this.)


  1. Don't you just love Mexican wifi? SMA is no better - though they are laying fiber optic cables in Centro as I type this. Here in Mexiquito my wifi is so iffy that there are days when I'm lucky to have constant service for more than one hour. Limits not only searching the web, but also Facetime calls, Goggle Voice calls, Skype, all those other wonderful technologies that are wifi dependent. This is probably my biggest 'honk' about life in Mexico. Otherwise, isn't it grand?!

  2. I guarantee, after having this wifi experience, at some point, you'll learn that you could go a week without it. It used to be in SMA we would go a couple of weeks without phone and therefore without dialup internet. IF you live in Mexico as an adventurous in a new world and try to forget the past, an amazing transformation will take place......

  3. Babs ... I think I understand what you're saying and agree in principle. My situation is a little different. Internet connection is critical to my writing/art/learning life. For me, not having internet is the equivalent to not having the glasses I need to read. Yes, I could learn to live without it, but it would mean completely reinventing my life ... and I like my life and would prefer not to have to make such a drastic reinvention.

  4. Same like me because i also feel suffocation when i have no internet.After couple of weeks, my interent issue got resolved and i took comfy deep breath.Well so thanks for superb article.