Pineapple and Glass: Leaving Guadalajara

“That’s so crazy that your year abroad is like, woah… it’s over, you know?” Skyping a friend a week or so ago, it began to sink in that yes, in one sense, I am done. Technically I’m now on holiday until October. Classes finished at the end of March, and in three days’ time I am leaving Mexico indefinitely. The two weeks after school passed vaguely, partly because GDA shut down almost totally for Semana Santa, Holy Week, as most of the city headed to the beach or to family in more rural areas for a week’s holiday. Alone in the apartment, I disciplined myself not to sleep in too late and made lists of things to do to keep busy, ticking off small tasks that needed to get done before I left and making trips to corners of the city I hadn’t got round to visiting yet. I found that the only memento of Mexico I need is a photo of Frida Kahlo, the only artist I know whose paintings speak to me. Fortunately for me, she remains a cultural icon and in virtually every tianguis (street market) there is a stall or two selling antique-style photographs of GDA, heroes of the Revolution, stars of the Golden Age of cinema, and Frida.

I find myself still making mental notes of elements of Spanish I don’t understand so I can ask my teachers at school, then realising that I don’t have any more lessons to go to. And then realising how much my approach to learning has changed since the days when I grumbled privately and publically that technical, classroom learning wasn’t “real” learning, and not a method that helped me very much.

On Sundays, Avenida Vallarta, one of GDA’s major roads and the road on which I live, closes to vehicles and for half a day is filled with joggers, cyclists, dogwalkers and rollerbladers. It’s a lovely time of the week for the complete change in atmosphere it brings, and I have often spent an hour on the terrace of my apartment block or in the outside seating area of the café across the road and just enjoyed the sun, the absence of traffic and the variety of people rolling past. Last weekend, someone set up a soundsystem as well. When they finally moved on from We Speak No Americano I was prepared to forgive them for starting at eight in the morning, and by the time they got round to playing Blondie’s Heart of Glass I was wondering why I was leaving.

I am, after all, very comfortable here. I have long since beguiled the truculent front gate that baffles visitors, I know where to get the best tacos and coffee, and the people in the corner shop let me bring them the money later when I dozily show up without any. I will miss the zealously cool teenagers who forever hang out on Chapultepec, and being able to pick up two-kilo pineapples for eighty pence.

Having made you all jealous, I need to admit that my last six weeks in Mexico have probably been the hardest of my whole time here. The problem with my bank I alluded to in the previous entry is still ongoing, which, having lasted over month, has now left me with the prospect of having to move country with my new debit card lost somewhere in the ether of international post. The Mexican people, as I hope I have accurately conveyed, are uncommonly warm, hospitable and friendly, but there is a surface that is very hard to get past. The culture is much more family- than friend-based, which creates something of a glass wall in terms of feeling truly at home. Saying goodbye to one of my remaining friends last week, I had a conversation about the difficulty of being a single foreigner in Mexico – as she succinctly put it, “if you don’t have a family here, you’re fucked.” What we were trying to express is that without a pre-existing support network here, it’s very hard to create one. Tenuous contacts for jobs not working out, a cracked if not broken heart and the miserable form of Blackburn Rovers have also contributed to a final few weeks that, sadly, have left me eager to leave Mexico and make a fresh start.

The fresh start is Chile, a fairly arbitrary choice and one that, despite what I have written above, causes the “survival” section of my brain to throw anxious pins of mirth, scorn or bewilderment at the “decision-making” department. Why am I leaving a country where I can order quesadillas from taco stands virtually twenty-four hours a day? Why am I trading a Spanish that while far from perfect is at least clear and familiar, for a sound-mangling variant filled with impenetrable slang? Why, in other words, am I not staying in a comfortable environment with lovely housemates, working leisurely on my dissertation, doing a wee bit of travelling and then going home?

They are reasonable questions, even more so given that I’ll (probably) be unable to take money out of cash machines. But the fact is staying in GDA without having anything compulsory to do every day would inevitably lead to boredom. There is of course much more of the rest of Mexico to see: the Baja California peninsula, San Luis Potosí, virtually every beach in the country, the coastal cities, Monterrey in the north… but it’s impossible to visit everything, and if I did all that I’d have no excuse to come back. So, balancing the impulse to make the most of my free time with the instinct to go back home and see everyone, I decided that a new country would be the best thing to do before flying back to Britain. Having my few emails to potential contacts remain unanswered, I don’t have much of an idea how the next two months will pan out. But I’m looking forward to finding out.


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