I have lived in Mexico for over a year now. People were nervous about me moving down here last year. I was a little too. I used to never want to live here. But then, neither did my husband. That's not exactly the point of why either one of us came. When I came here, I realized that a lot of the fears people have about this area have little grounds. I don't say no grounds; yes, bad stuff happens. It did in Canada too. I want to clear the misconceptions and paint a small picture of what life here really is.
My home is outside Cuauhtemoc, in the province of Chihuahua, home of the highest concentration of Low-German speaking Mennonites in the world. We live among two other cultures here: the Spanish speaking Mexicans and the native American Tarahumara people. We are surrounded by both wealth and poverty. There is a lot of wealth along the business highway where we live. But a drive into town greets you with poor housing, youth on the street washing windshields at intersections, and Tarahumara women with their babies walking along the lanes of stopped traffic asking for money all day. There are some big contrasts.
But what's the same and what's different? How does life compare to my life in Canada?
Living Costs and Wages
When I talk about living costs here, I can't do so without talking about wages. The wages of most average unskilled workers are nothing to boast of. A lot of Canadians or Americans would certainly have a difficult time adjusting. It's not uncommon for people to make 35-55 pesos an hour doing manual labour. Some make more. It also depends on the type of work. There are men that go to work six days a week and bring home less than 5,000 pesos a month. ($1.00 CAD = 15.23 pesos)
A lot of living costs are comparable to what I was used to in Ontario. The cost of groceries is about the same. (Eating out here does offer more affordable options, that aren't all fast food.) Gasoline is about the same. Vehicle insurance is cheaper. Utilities is where I'm not sure.
Housing is a challenge for many people here. Because mortgages aren't available here, and the average wages are so low, it's very difficult for a family to own a home. There are also very few places available to rent. What is common is for employers to have houses or apartments available for their employees and it becomes part of their employment terms. Such is our current situation.
Garbage and Recycling
I tell people one of the things I miss about Canada is garbage pickup and recycling. Seriously. When you can't recycle, and you have to load up all your garbage and take it to the dump (my hubby takes care of that part), you'll miss the days of dragging it out to the roadside once a week too. There is pickup in some areas, but we don't enjoy that convenience.
Roadwork in Mexico is all about job creation! Frequently we will see many men working all day to patch a small section of road. The goal is to make it last until the next week or the next rainfall, whichever comes first. Afterward people will drive all over the road, dodging ridiculous sized potholes, trying not to blow their tires. And just for fun, or to make a statement, sometimes someone will go and plant a tree in a hole. And after enough people blow their tires, or a few more weeks pass, they will go patch it again. They're looking out for themselves!
There are not as many regulations here surrounding vehicles as in Ontario. Sure, we save ourselves some money in some aspects, but honestly I wish there were more. I remember the days in Ontario where a lot of these things got frustrating. However, my friends from Canada wouldn't have to drive behind too many vehicles here billowing black, putrid smoke for miles on end, and they wouldn't complain about their E-tests anymore.
However, there are things that should be fairly simple that somehow aren't. After purchasing a used vehicle last year from a friend, my husband went to the appropriate office in town to change over the ownership. He succeeded after about 10 visits. With every visit, they demanded different paperwork. He had documents ripped up in front of him one day, only to have the same documents demanded by a different clerk the next. He got frustrated, to say the least.
Healthcare is different here too. There are both public and private options. You can register for public health insurance for a small yearly fee, which gives you access to a public hospital. However, wait times are long, service often poor, and I have not heard too many positive stories yet from the public hospital in town. My husband and I have a a private health insurance plan. Although we do have to pay a deductible for most things, the money we saved on dental work this past year was almost equal to our annual fee. When we had our miscarriage, my husband opted to taking me to a hospital specializing in women. Although our treatment wasn't covered, it was still a good choice for us. We also have to pay for regular doctor visits. But when we do have a baby, we will be able to consider more options because of our insurance policy. We do recommend others to look into extra health insurance. In our one year experience, it has been completely worth it.
A few things that are different here as well is there is a much higher C-section rate. And many C-sections are not actually necessary. That could be a long topic for discussion. What I also see as an issue is way too many pharmacies. It's almost unbelievable how many there are. And when I go to a pharmacy with a prescription, if I need five pills, but there's 20 in the box, I have to buy the whole box. No neatly labelled yellow bottles with the precise amount needed. Aside from this being very unregulated, it's not always easy on the wallet either.
The style of cuisine here is quite different from Canada. There are Mexican dishes and flavours, Mennonite ones, and American. If you want a taste of America, there is Subway, KFC, and Pizza Hut not too far away. You'll have to drive further to get to a McDonald's, but luckily there are lots of other burger joints. One thing Mexico in general does not do well is salads and restaurants usually don't offer much selection in. Sometimes the ingredients don't compliment each another well, and chances are your only choice of dressing is Ranch. A side salad with a meal consists of a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce and a slice or two of tomato and cucumber. But their desserts are a lot more affordable. I can eat a tasty slice of cheesecake for 28 pesos instead of 7 dollars.
Living here with food sensitivities is more challenging because of the lack of products available, and many of the ones that are are quite expensive. It's also an issue that there isn't a lot of knowledge about. This makes it more difficult when we receive an invitation somewhere for a meal. I can't simply say I can't eat gluten. I've learned to simplify my explanation and be appreciative when I know people have tried to accommodate me.
Government and Police
Unfortunately, there isn't a shortage of corrupt politicians and police officers in Mexico. I haven't had any personal experiences yet. But if you get pulled over for a traffic violation, the chances are pretty good you can pay off the officer and save yourself a trip into town to pay your ticket. In school in Canada, we were taught that if we were in trouble, find a police officer. I can't say I'd teach that to my kids here.
Snakes and Spiders
This is honestly my biggest fear living here. I have been able to stay clear of snakes this year, but spiders are an almost daily nuisance. I never know when or where I will find one crawling in the house. On a few occasions, we've had one on our bed. Thankfully, most of them aren't dangerous and we've never had black widows in the house. Henry finds them from time to time around the yard. I try not to look for them. If I know there could be one hiding somewhere, I let him tackle it. Carefully.
All in all, I like my life here. It's different, but in a lot of ways not that different at all. My husband goes to work. I cook, clean, do the laundry, the dishes, etc. We spend time helping at our church. We hang out with friends. We live life. I've had to adjust to less convenience than I was used to. When money is tight, you have to cut costs somewhere. But you learn what matters, what you really need, and what you perhaps just want. In the end, we didn't come here for convenience. We came here because we sense this is where God wants us to be. We're here to serve, not to enjoy every convenience we can. And so we live, love, and try to serve faithfully where needed.