Note No. 74
July 2, 2010
I was supposed to be on a plane back to the States yesterday. I got here on June 13 and I was supposed to stay for two and a half weeks to train the new managers for the hotel and then I was going to fly out again on July 1 to return to Georgia, plan the rest of my trip and hit the road on July 16, also my 30th birthday.
I can’t believe I actually thought that might happen. I mean, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I knew all along that everything seemingly straightforward would suddenly get turned on its head, so that nothing, not even my own reflection in the mirror, made any sense at all. I guess then that I was not really surprised when it became clear about this time last week that I was not going to be leaving anytime soon. I thought I was surprised but really, I probably wasn’t.
There is no reason for me to go into detail exactly what happened. To do that would involve starting from the beginning two and a half years ago, when we were three foreigners trying to open a business in a market we knew very little about. None of our preconceptions helped. No American business know-how made it less bewildering. Things were simply completely different down here and we had to learn as much as we could as fast we could so that we could open legally and start operating like a normal hotel, not one that shooed suitcase-towing guests out of plain view and behind closed doors as quickly as possible, before the Tax Man a few doors down saw what was happening.
It was any non-native’s experience in a land that is not his own. It was not just a Mexican thing. We could have been anywhere: Greece, Italy, Spain, Russia. Anyhow, we did it. We overcame the obstacles and we opened with our proper licensing and we ran the business well for more than two years. Then it came time for me to leave and turn the keys over to someone else for awhile, and we found ourselves back where we started, scrambling to make sense of something completely confounding, completely illogical to us.
Imagine standing at the bottom of a huge ice wall, one so tall that you can tell it leads to light but there is not much more detail than that. Around you there is a team of people you kind of know and kind of trust, but you are still not 100 percent sure about them. Anyhow, they are the ones who are going to help you climb this ice wall but you have never done it before and you have never used the equipment you are supposed to be using, either, and these people are trying to explain it to you, but they are speaking in Pig Latin and there is an echo in the ice chamber, so their words are getting even more distorted, and they are patient at first but then the more they have to repeat themselves and the less you understand, the more agitated they become, and meanwhile, you are running out of the basics, like food and water, and you are about three seconds away from just curling up on the floor and going to sleep forever.
That’s kind of how it felt last week, trying to understand what needed to be done to get me out of here and to leave the business in good standing. I speak Spanish. I speak it really well. I also understand it really well. I am also fairly familiar with the system here. But last week, I felt like I had just landed in an entirely new country with an entirely new language and an entirely new set of skills that I did not yet possess. And our accountants for the last year seemed to be trying to help us but I was beginning to question their motives, even though I had no real reason to do so, other than the fact that we seemed to be getting nowhere and every solution we came up with had to be vetoed for some reason. Either it meant I was going to be violating some code of some sort, or my sister’s work visa from the consulate that she had just spent a month trying to get approved down here was actually not valid for our Mexican corporation and to make it valid meant that she had to come down here again and do paperwork that would keep her away from her American job for longer than she could afford.
Basically, all preparations we had made leading up this moment were all of a sudden useless, because a tiny, tiny detail the size of a signature had been overlooked. Airline tickets were bought and canceled. Hopes were raised and dashed again. And my joke that I had apparently signed up to manage Hotel California stopped being funny, when it seemed to be coming freakishly true. The longer the Unknown stretched on, the more it seemed that this Mexican business was going to be a chain around my ankles that would threaten to call me back here in the event of any unforeseen event, no matter where I was on my trip with my camper and my dog.
Add to that: massive repairs that were going on in the kitchen and office, making both rooms unusable and full of dust, plus an inexplicably broken Internet signal, so that being home was not even a refuge from anything anymore. We couldn’t cook a nice meal to make us feel comforted. We couldn’t organize papers and at least act like we were working. We couldn’t even get on YouTube to distract ourselves from the mess around us. There was just banging, rubble and a vast, gaping void of contact with the rest of the world— the very outside world where I wanted to be.
By Monday morning, I was about ready to have a nervous breakdown. Seriously. I have never felt closer to it. Turns out my sister was feeling the same way. We were both separately pulling our hair out, maintaining contact the entire time but also trying not to lose it with one another. Then she stumbled across some article (that I cannot link to, because it breaks this Note and creates a fatal error) written by some woman (I LOVE you, Carol S. Osmond) whose words basically tied our huge, oozing, diseased problem right up into a neat little package with twine wrapped tightly around it. All we had to do was get my visa renewed and then grant my sister power of attorney, which we could do at the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta, without her even needing to come down here. Then, in the event that something happens when I am on the road, she will have the power to come fix it.
It makes me laugh to hear myself say, “All I have to do is get my visa renewed.” To think of what a process it used to be to me, how long it took to get my first one, and to think how terrible it would have sounded to say it a month ago even. I might not have liked it as much then. But now, after all the worst-case-scenarios of last week, after the visions of never getting off this island, it sounds pretty good, really.
I turned in my initial round of paperwork on Wednesday and now I just have to wait about a week and a half to see what they say. I’m not frustrated about it anymore. I mean, maybe a little but not like I was. I can’t be. If I were, I would not have learned anything down here. I would not have realized that it does very little good to scream and shout; it is futile to even raise your voice, really. Then you’re just one of Them. And they don’t listen to Them. They laugh at Them and Their constant rush, Their need to get things done right then and there. And then they slow down even more, just for good measure, just to piss Them off even more.
Besides, to be frustrated would mean I am not seeing the blue sea and the waving palms and the curling, folding, crashing waves all around me. It would mean I am not feeling the balmy breezes that we are still lucky enough to have coming in off the water late in the afternoon, when the sun tucks behind the buildings a little, leaving long shadows in its once blazing wake. It would mean that I don’t care that I am getting my tan back and also being made to slow down a little and process this trip I am about to take. And if I don’t appreciate all of this that I have right now, all of this that I am thankfully being forced to be grateful for, well, what do I deserve then?
It’s just all kind of ironic. It’s like how I obviously felt when I wrote this not long after arriving here. Two and a half years later, I find myself in the same position to not let unexpected struggles ahead of me blind me to the beauty around me. I guess that’s life, though; isn’t it?