oh my God, grant me patience in Mexico

Actually, please grant me patience everywhere; I just plan on needing it more in Mexico.


“You’re doing it again,” my husband tells me from across the kitchen counter where I’m holding my water bottle, knuckles likely gone white around the stainless steel. “Doing what?” I snap back.

“Being an annoyed American.”

He’s right of course.

Every western-raised person is familiar with this scenario: you need a car part. You Yelp a local store. You check their website for inventory and store hours. You go pick up the part. It’s in the section you expected, or maybe you have to ask a clerk for help. You pay with a credit card and you leave the store.

Every western-raised person who is well traveled is familiar with an alternate scenario: You need a car part. You google “auto supplies”. Street-Viewing the ensuing locations, you realize not all are typical store fronts. You pick the one that is. There’s no website, but Google tells you they’re open until 6:00 pm. You get there at 4:30. It’s closed. Your blood pressure rises, you’ve come all the way here, it’s not a holiday. You come back the next day at 11:00 am, a sign says they’ll be back in five minutes, you wait twenty. It’s hot out. They have the part you need–hallelujah. But they don’t take cards. You find an ATM, it’s broken. You go further and find a bank. You pull out cash for an exorbitant fee. You rush back to the store, hurry, they’re about to close for lunch. Your blood pressure is truly high now and you’re pretty sweaty. You buy the part and leave the store.

Maybe I’m dramatizing the latter scenario. Maybe I’m romanticizing the former. After all, we all hate the DMV right?

But the two experiences don’t compare. I read that the Costa Rican phrase Pura Vida originated in Mexico. When I lived in Botswana the equivalent was Gosiame or Ga Gona Mathata (not coincidentally similar to the Swahili phrase Hakuna Matata, popularized by The Lion King). These phrases invoke the ideology that you should chill the F*** out and appreciate life.

Easy to say; but for those of us raised in an individualistic, efficient society, SO hard to live by.

Why do I love efficiency so much? It feels obvious, like “duh, who doesn’t want things to properly function in a timely manner??” But I need to slow my roll. Who said I get to define properly function? What is a timely manor? My perception of efficiency is colored by American sensibilities.

In Botswana, when I needed my visa to be renewed right away, the staff at the immigration office said “Ga gona matata, have lunch and check back after”. I didn’t want to have lunch, I wanted to get my visa so I could go accomplish the three other items on my list that required proof of visa. If I chose not to pay for my visa right away, would that be Gosiame? Of course not, and the double standard infuriated me.

But I did have lunch. With a glass of (in my mind) necessary and deserved wine. I watched the city move around me in rhythmic, unhurried patterns from the cafe’s patio, with nothing to do but wait and eat.

We talk so much about living in the moment in the Western world–yet we rarely accomplish it. Was my day improved by sitting and having a leisurely lunch alone? I think maybe (especially if I hadn’t been fuming for the first half hour). Efficiency results in wonderful things, and should be a goal for any society. No one will ever convince me otherwise. But there is also something to be said for saying “oh well” and enjoying yourself in the moment, regardless of the reason you might find yourself sitting at that cafe.

Mexico may never be “efficient” by my standards. And if efficiency is the measure of success, and thereby happiness (as it is in my scientific mind), then how is Mexico (like Pura Vida Costa Rica) constantly ranked so high on happiness indexes?

As I look at my husband’s sympathetic smile across the counter, I know Pura Vida will have to be my mantra if I am to truly learn, adapt and thrive here.


— Lavender


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