I sit on the floor of my living room, my 10-year-old dog's head cradled in my arms. The vet is due to arrive in an hour to permanently relieve him of the misery of several medical problems, the latest and most fatal of which is the loss of use of his hind legs.
I'm crying the ugly cry, rocking back and forth. Keening. "I'm sorry," I sob, "I thought it was going to be so much better than this."
The Reality of Third World Living
The day has been a catastrophe of classic Mexican proportions. My relief at confirming with the vet that he could perform Oscar's euthanasia that night was immediately countered by learning that there were no feasible cremation options available to me. I would have to make arrangements to bury Oscar, no small feat with a 135-pound Rottweiler and summer earth as hard as baked ceramic.
Eventually, I get permission from my landlady to bury him on the property, and I find a worker, thanks to friends, who can dig the grave for me and another friend who can loan the necessary tools. But then my neighbor, on her way to bring me home baked sympathy cookies (welcome, since I haven't eaten all day), wipes out on her stairs and needs to be transported by ambulance to the hospital to get checked out--an event that adds more people and stress to the day and time away from Oscar, when I just want to snuggle with him one last time (not her fault, of course, but could the Universe seriously give me any more s**t to cope with?).
While waiting for the vet and directing the digging of the hole out back, I have to manage delivery on a tanker truck full of water for our pila, a cistern used when no city water is available. The afternoon is turning uncomfortably muggy, and my three other dogs and my cat begin howling, picking up on my anxiety and frustration. The flies plague Oscar, and I realize with horror at 4 pm that I have been so busy since 6:30 am, when Oscar fell in the yard, that I haven't even brushed my teeth yet. My shoulder and hip throb where I took Oscar's weight when he fell again going up the stairs from the yard and I had to hoist him the rest of the way.
Finally, I get a few moments, just me and Oscar, and I can't hold back the tears any longer. It seems like the day has been a metaphor for our entire experience in Mexico. "I thought it would be so much better than this," I keep apologizing. And really, I did. But as much as I want to love living in Baja, the day of Oscar's departure etched in acid for me how much I have grown ambivalent about living south of the border.
Life here is grueling, and I can't help feeling like my poor dog is paying the price for my making what now seems like a questionable choice nearly seven years ago. If there were more routine veterinary well care here, would we have caught whatever it was that caused his recent irreversible health crisis? If I hadn't been so determined to be self-employed, would I have had the luxury of getting top-shelf veterinary care in the US? Did I miss early symptoms of something because I was too overwhelmed by basic day-to-day tasks in a third world country, like paying bills, getting water, and doing banking? Did taking in three abandoned dogs and a rescue cat because animal welfare is so poor here detract from the attention I would have otherwise given Oscar, who came with me when I moved from the States?
In the space of less than seven years, after surviving a nasty trailer accident while leaving the States, I have moved within Mexico five times from what were essentially untenable situations. I've had my car hit three times (twice by hit and run drivers and once in what I'm convinced was an extortion scheme, none of whom paid for damage). I've been scammed, cheated on, lied to, and stolen from, including tools, sentimental items, and most recently, a large sum of money. I've had three debit cards stop working outside the US, experienced an infinite number of automotive breakdowns, and lost countless days of work due to power and Internet outages. I've exhausted three laptops, two tablets, and five mobile phones. I've lived in one house without water for 31 of the 360 days of my tenancy, gone four months without electricity (same locale--my choice because I discovered multiple households hooked up to my meter), and 18 months without hot water at another residence. I've been so broke that I've sold plasma to buy dog food and eaten crackers for Christmas dinner. I've had my dog kidnapped once and my life threatened twice. I've had health challenges, but I don't qualify for the ACA because the credit bureau that does identity verification claims I don't exist. By my estimation, I've spent more than 2,000 hours (83 days!) waiting in line at the border in both directions.
No, I'm shell shocked.
After I was made redundant in the last economic downturn, I was struggling. I burned through all my savings and my meager severance package (taxed at 44%) and could no longer afford to pay my mortgage. Jobs in my field were few and far between, and I didn't really want to return to Corporate America anyway. I felt like I'd had the soul sucked out of me enough, thank you.
Like many people, I was challenged to find a way to do what I wanted (work for myself) and still pay the bills. There are two sides to the survival equation: either make more money (which is what most people focus on) or lower your overhead. I chose the latter and decided to move to Baja California, Mexico, where I could live affordably and have a chance at true freedom.
Why This Blog?
Expat living hasn't been without its trials, however, and I'm hoping to shorten that learning curve a bit for other people who are considering making the jump or to even prevent someone for whom Baja isn't the right place from moving here when they shouldn't.
There are a lot of websites, magazines, and books devoted to moving to Latin America, and many of them have an ulterior motive for wooing you (ka ching), which makes them wax a little too rhapsodic sometimes about south-of-the-border living. I have learned the hard way it's best to approach an international move without an overly rosy view. I wish I had had more realistic resources available to me when I was weighing my move.
If you don't see the book you want on the shelf, write it.
- Beverly Cleary
If you hit the subscribe button on this page, you'll receive regular blog posts about Baja delivered straight to your inbox, and soon you'll also get opportunities to download free stuff that can help you prepare for a visit to Baja, a move abroad, or simply an enormous life change.
You'll get an honest look at my life as an expat, in a way that you may not have seen before in travel blogging--the highs AND the lows. You'll see some unique topics covered that you aren't likely to have read elsewhere, like the science behind culture shock, the art of reinventing yourself as an expatriate, and the grief that can come from leaving your previous life behind.
The Beauty and the Terror of Transition
Right now, I feel like I am between two lives, hence my blog's title. While I have forsaken my old life in the States, I'm not yet where I ultimately want to be, and life in Baja seems like a stepping stone.
In many ways, my geography is a reflection of my self. Author Steven Pressfield wrote in his book The War of Art, "Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us." What Pressfield terms "resistance"--that pesky territory between our two lives, mythologist Joseph Campbell calls the Hero's Journey, the navigation from our identity, or false self, to our essence: who we really are at our core, our best self.
Do you have wanderlust in your heart but a little reptilian fear in your brain that's keeping you from making a change in your life? Do you have art in your fingertips but feel trapped by not making enough money to follow your creative bent? Are you like me, "out with lanterns looking for myself," as Emily Dickinson so eloquently described it? Kick back, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or maybe a nice margarita), and come on the ride with me. You might just be one or two blog posts away from transitioning from your old life and setting off on the journey to find your essence too. I hope I can make your trip a little easier than mine has been so far.
I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring.
- David Bowie