When I came to Guadalajara, my car and most of my possessions followed behind by a couple of months. I arrived with whatever essentials I could fit inside two suitcases, which ended up being too much underwear and not enough books.
The house my family moved into was one we hadn’t personally picked out, but that would be our home for the next several years. It was furnished with hotel-like furniture and stocked with basic items for our temporary use – although basic meant service for four even though we were a family of five.
The bedspread I crawled under at night was exactly like the one provided to me by my college dorm in 1969. My pillowcases were stamped with a name that wasn’t mine. Our walls were bare. The enclosed patio was void of plants.
With no car, I ventured out on foot every day trying to acclimate to this unfamiliar place. I walked my grandson to and from school and turned corners by myself with little idea of where they’d lead me.
I took notice of street signs and found some comfort in side streets that carried names of familiar authors.
I peeked behind the gated entrances of connected houses and tried to reconcile the barbed wire that spanned the roofs with the flowers that graced the doorways.
I learned which street corners would be selling mops and brooms from converted bicycles, which bakeries had the best cookies, and that both lunch and rush hour come later in Mexico.
I discovered that an empty stroller is the perfect carryall for plants purchased at an open air market alongside railroad tracks and that some vendors were as interested in learning a few English words as I was in learning the Spanish ones.
I exchanged names with Javier who does yard work in our neighborhood and bends down each day to use his limited English to ask my grandson if he’s been a good boy. We use our limited Spanish to tell him yes and to wish him a good day.
Step by step, the unfamiliar became familiar.
The man on the corner who slices and sells fresh fruit in lunch-size plastic containers knows that I want a little salt and a whole lime but no chili pepper.
The man at the local market knows to write down the total for me.
The woman at the bakery that my grandson and I stop at after school has the strawberry popsicle pulled out before I even have the time to show her that I’ve learned the word “fresa.”
The perfectly manicured trees that line nearly every sidewalk with geometric shapes begin to feel like part of my landscape, diminishing my need to take pictures of every one. My camera comes out only for the unusual ones – the one trimmed in the shape of a birdhouse or with zebra stripes painted on the trunk.
Our patio fills up with Mexican plants that mirror the colors of a Midwest autumn.
At week six, our cars arrive.
I head out the door and keep walking.
Jeanne is a transplanted Illinoisian who arrived in Guadalajara hoping for siestas. She was sad to discover that siestas are a thing of the past, but is still finding lots to love about Mexico.