Photo: CarlosCorcuera/Shutterstock

There's a Reality to Living Off the Land in Mexico

by Teresa Ponikvar Feb 18, 2013

One of the items on my “pro” list for moving to San Jose is, “We can come back.”

Neruda said, “Those who return never left.” It is, as my husband used to say, insistently, each of the many times we said goodbye during our ulta-long-distance courtship, “hasta luego,” not “adios.” Never adios.

Our son says to me, “Mamita, I love you so much, como el sol.” I love you so much, like the sun. Every evening for months now, we’ve had to discuss: the sun goes away, but it always comes back. We need the dark so we can rest, so we can see the stars, and the moon reminds us that the sun is still there. Often, we discuss: Mamá has to go to work, and you can be with your friends, and with papito, but mamá always comes back, she’ll always come back for you.

Now we also say: I love you like our chicks. I love you like the trees. I love you like the mountains. I love you like the flowers. I love you like our house, like the worms in the compost, like the ants, like the stars. I love you like this place, this scrap of the world that is our home and that we’re going to have to leave.

The other day I was driving home from work, and saw in a field, illuminated by a blade of sunlight sliding between the hills, a white horse with a white egret perched on its back. For that instant they looked eternal, like a single animal preserved in amber light. I kept driving. The egret flew away and night fell.

I knew that living here — between two tiny towns, in one of the poorest states in Mexcio — would mean enduring a certain amount of complication and financial insecurity. But it’s too much. When we moved here, to our little rural house, we hoped to — as cheesy as this sounds — live off the land to a certain extent, and while it’s true that we’re self-sufficient in eggs and limes and herbs, and we eat an occasional chicken, these are things that make us feel good but don’t significantly help our bottom line. We have to work our asses off in the city to make not- enough money, and we end up living neither the rural life nor the urban life, but an exhausting, unwieldy, and unsatisfying hybrid.

If we want to really be here — here in the smallest sense, not here in Mexico or here in Oaxaca, but here in Paraje el Pocito, on this dirt road, on this piece of land — we have to leave. We need, as cold as it sounds, money to invest in this life. And the only place in the US it makes sense for us to go is San Jose, California, where my family is, where most of my friends still are. Because, to be fair, if our financial difficulties are pushing us, love is also pulling us. It can be easy to forget that, when we’re trying to invent a week’s worth of meals on thirty pesos, but I have to remember: we’re going, too, for my parents, for my brother, and all the other people we’ve been loving from afar for far too long. And for Sasha the Dog, who is not much longer for this world. Sasha, who always has been exactly, perfectly, completely wherever she is.

Surely I can manage to live up to the example set by my dog.

I’ve never liked San Jose, though I suppose it’s technically my hometown. Still, the other day, I meant to write in my journal, “The entire time I lived in San Jose, the only thing I wanted was to leave.”

Instead I wrote the truth: “The only thing I wanted was to live.”

Yes: we can go there, and just live. Land as temporarily, but as completely, as an egret on the back of a white horse. Be there as simply (if less furrily) as Sasha the Dog. I’ll go to the Zen Center, Ibis will go to ESL classes, we’ll both go to work. We’ll go running together. Isaias will go to the library, and the park, and preschool, spend time with his American family, make friends.

And when it’s time to leave, we’ll come back home, and keep trying to make it work. Because we love this place like the sun that sifts through the hills in the evening, illuminating adobe walls and carrizo, fields of corn and kids playing soccer in the dust, baby chicks peeping after their mamá. We’re here right now. We’ll always be back here.

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