WELCOME TO MEXICO!
By Victoria Schmidt
No Hablo Español

     I am startled awake by the sound of a cannon. Disoriented, I take inventory. Husband?  Here. Cats? Scurrying under the bed. Dog? Whining in the kennel. Boom: another report of a cannon. Are we at war? No…it’s just another morning in Mexico. I am told that during certain festivals, the cannons are used to “awaken the gods.” Excuse me? God’s sleep? So why do they shoot off those cannons later on around noon? Is this the equivalent of a cosmic snooze button? And what’s with the church bells ringing at all hours of the day and night? Or does it just seem that way to me? 
     I need a guide who can tell me about the celebration of the day. The morning started early with church bells and fireworks then there was a parade. High noon was reported with more fireworks. Church bells accompanied dinner, and this evening has been peppered by more fireworks and live music in the square. From my bed I see multi-colored fireworks pierce the sky. I know Lakeside is celebrating another virgin, saint, or revolution, but I know not which. I am sure there is a calendar of these events, but I know not where. Couldn’t they just have an information number I could call??
     I live in this community, but do not fully experience it.  I miss out on so much by not speaking and reading the language.  I speak an elementary form of Spanish and it doesn’t even qualify as the legendary “Spanglish.” Aided by a computer program, I’ve managed to learn many simple words and phrases. But conversations go over my head.
     I am fluent in “restaurant.” I can place orders, ask for more, and ask for the check. I’ve learned to speak “maid.” That is the language I speak with our maid and her daughter. It consists of a Spanish word here and there, lots of hand signals, and pointing. We manage to take care of the house together. Limpiar (clean) was one of the first words I learned, followed by cocina. (kitchen.) I don’t do well with remembering the word for bedroom, so I say “cama” and point. Unsure of how to pronounce some words, I have devised gestures and hand signals. “El planchar” is always followed by me ironing with an invisible iron on an invisible ironing board.
     The maid has trained me well. Someone in our house (and I won’t mention who) leaves their dirty dishes about the house. The maid collects and washes them on her day, but if I leave a dish on the wrong side of the sink…it is ignored. No language barrier there. We get by, but I don’t get to ask them much about their lives.  I don’t know where they live. I don’t know what their lives are like. I want to tell them how much I appreciate their work, ask them if they have to travel far. We smile at each other, and laugh at our animals…but there is no more communication beyond that. It is not enough.
     As I walk in my neighborhood, one mixed with both ex-pats and Mexicans, I am curious about my neighbors. Our neighbors to the left are four women, a mother with the three beautiful daughters. What are their names? What are their ambitions? Who is that young man who comes by to court and stands outside and chats with them so late at night? Across our street is the woman with the two cocker spaniels.  How long has she lived here? Is that her grandson I see with her? And what is the story behind all the masks on the outside of their house?
     I realize I need some formal education in Spanish, a class, a tutor or something like that, because each day I allow to pass without learning more Spanish, is a day I deprive myself of under­standing and relating to all of the people and events that surround me.