Archive for March 7, 2017

Going to “El Campo” with Bram

IMG_1701The other day I joined a group of Canadians celebrating the opening of a new library. The library was at a rural school not far from San Miguel de Allende. I’ve told you how outsiders living here are expected to contribute money and energy in support of the impoverished local Mexicans. Bram Morrison, famous for his performances with Shirley, Lois and Bram, spends the winter here in San Miguel. Bram often performs for charity. He’d been practicing songs in Spanish for the library celebration.

About fifty of us North Americans headed for the country in a convoy of cars. The ride started out smoothly enough on a paved highway. It was not much different from what you’d expect back home. Alas, the smooth ride was not to last. We turned off the highway and bumped and scraped along a dirt road’s sharp, pointy rocks.

At last we spotted the school, a white stucco one storey building. The new matching library stands beside it. Children, in grades one to six, all impeccable in their school uniforms, stand waiting for us under a tree. They giggle with excitement as we get out of our cars and gather to face them. Emma, the energetic teacher, speaks in Spanish to the children. I don’t understand what she’s telling them, but suddenly the children are moving towards us. Each child takes an adult by the hand, ready to guide us on the tour of their school and new library.

My little person, Nancy, turns out to be a grade one student. Her tiny hand is soft in mine. She’s clearly delighted to have a visitor interested in her and her school. Nancy is tinier than my five-year-old Canadian granddaughter. Most of the children seem small for their age. She takes me by the hand to her desk inside the school and proudly shows me her colouring book. She opens the page to a princess. Nancy has coloured her princess purple. My granddaughter also has a fondness for princesses. Purple is her favourite colour too. My heart melts.

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Next, Nancy leads me to the playground to show me how she can teeter totter, slide and swing. She squeals with delight when I push her high on the swing.

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It was about then that I noticed that Nancy’s tiny teeth are spotted brown. The water, that’s what did that. We go inside on this warm day and all the children head for the one tap. They drank from it and wash their cups with their hands and no soap. I started wondering about potable water.

That’s when Nancy and I double back to take another look at the new cistern behind the library. Emma tells the story. For years she’d been asking the government to provide a cistern so that the children and their parents in the village would have safe drinking water. Four years passed before a large truck drove up and dumped off all the equipment needed to build a cistern. Who was going to build it? No labourers came with the supplies. Resourceful Emma organized the children’s fathers to take on the job. When I visited, the concrete was still drying.

I didn’t see the village but I hear that unemployment is about 100%. The men are mostly bricklayers and, apparently, not many bricks are being laid these days. I learned, too, that there isn’t a car or a truck in the village. Its inhabitants are complete strangers to flat tires and overheated engines. Emma carries her bicycle in her car as she drives to and from the school.

We are called to sit down at picnic benches. The mothers have prepared a meal. Black beans, rice, chicken and molle. Molle is a sauce containing chocolate. It‘s labour intensive and the culinary prize of these women. They make it once or twice a year in large quantities. Emma buys many jars of molle for her freezer.

Meanwhile, Bram is settling in under a spreading tree with his guitar. He’s surrounded by uniformed boys and girls. They actually know some of his songs in English but, as promised, he sings mostly in Spanish. The children are enthralled.

Then it’s time to cut the ribbon on the new library. We gather in front of the door. A red ribbon is pinned to the doorframe. Before cutting the ribbon, a fellow Canadian, one of the people responsible for this volunteer project, speaks of the importance of libraries to Mexico’s children. We all troop inside. The students take their places at their assigned desks. We adults head for piles of brand new books with prices marked on them. Now it’s our turn to help by buying the books, writing our names and where we’re from in them before donating them to the new library.

Bumping over the road on the way back to San Miguel, I contemplate the meaning of what I’ve just witnessed. There are thousands of isolated villages in Mexico’s countryside where children grow up without any sense of a wider world. Imagine, first of all, interacting with us strange Canadians who are rich enough to change their lives for the better.

Then there are the books. I visualize a youngster picking up a book and reading my strange name and that I’m from a place called Canada. Wouldn’t that pique a child’s curiosity about a world beyond poverty and isolation? Then there are the books: What better way to absorb the importance of clean water and a decent standard of living? These people are so hard working. They manage to exist on amazingly little.

Expats living here do a lot to improve the lives of local people. Where will all this lead? Will there be a revolution once people realize how impoverished they are compared to those living north of their border? Or are the Mexican people really as happy as they seem as they celebrate their many festivals with firecrackers and good-natured singing and dancing in the public square? I’ll be watching with interest to see how Mexico goes forward in the coming years.

Feel free to leave your comments. I’d really like to hear your thoughts.

Leaving A Long-Term Marriage Late In Life

IMG_0764I’m part of a new societal trend

When I left my marriage of 54 years, I thought my decision to leave was pretty unusual. Now I realize that my wish to separate is part of a startling new demographic. Divorces among the over-fifty crowd have increased dramatically and it’s most often the women who leave. Could this be the next stage in the women’s movement?

The Grey Divorce

I learned about this new trend when I tuned into the Sunday Edition on CBC. Host Michael Enright’s guest, Ashley Walters interviews older women who have left their marriages. The programme is called Til Grey Do Us Part. The women’s accounts touched me deeply. Some were similar to my own experience. Others were probably common, but differed from mine. I’ll tell you the women’s experiences in regular print and add my own in italics.

One woman said, after thirty years of marriage: “The hardest part of the divorce was coming to the decision.”

I tried for months to get the words out of my mouth. “I want to leave and live on my own” just stuck somewhere in my upper chest. I simply couldn’t say it.

Another woman said, “I have no regrets beyond perhaps wishing I’d done it earlier.”

How many women, like me, want to leave but can’t get up the courage to give themselves the life they long for?

IMG_0737Women seeking autonomy

Consider this woman’s description of her new found autonomy. “I feel wonderfully freed up to see and be with whatever friends I choose without censoring myself in order not to antagonize him or cover up for his social awkwardness.”

I relate personally to this woman’s sense of freedom in social situations. I’ve never been very good at standing up for my own needs and wishes. The words “I want” and “I need” are hard for women generally.

Women take the lead

Women most often take the lead in leaving. When I tell couples I meet of my decision to live alone, the women almost always congratulate me and comment on my courage. The men, on the other hand, look upset and worried.

A woman on the Sunday Edition programme had been married 38 years when she gave up in despair. She was ready to do something for herself, but found no support for her wish to grow. When she announced she was leaving, her husband said, “Well, I didn’t stop you (from growing.)”

I recognize the response. I too was easily detoured away from my own wishes in the face of disapproval and criticism. On the other hand, I had full support in fulfilling myself professionally.

Another woman, an 80-year old, was 74 when she left a 48-year marriage. She referred to “spouse retirement syndrome.” Her response to her husband’s retirement was to get sick.

My husband was dedicated to his work until just before we moved out of our Toronto house. There we were in our new house, surrounded by unpacked boxes, both of us exhausted and no careers to distract us. Face to face it was not a pretty scene. It became obvious that if I

stayed with this newly retired husband, something terrible would happen to me. I’d get a life-threatening illness, become alcoholic or seek some other harmful escape. Desperation gave me the extra push I needed to say the words and go into action.

Positive outcomes of leaving

“I can have fun in my life again. I’m more afraid of being with someone who doesn’t actually like me. Women don’t have to accept a life that doesn’t accept them. They deserve to be with people who don’t undervalue them.”

“We can expand and grow. We don’t have to shrink and be mean. I had to leave the marriage so I could be who I am. Six years later I have him as a friend.”

Sometimes we have to leave a long-term marriage. It’s about aging and staying in charge of our lives.

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Do you have a story to tell? Feel free to leave your comments below.