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Author: Subject: Little Baja Towns are not everybody's Heaven
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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 05:22 AM
Little Baja Towns are not everybody's Heaven

San Barnabe Lecture Series

The wonder of it is that I was able to get that many gringos together to get some school-housin’. Specially from me, Gordon Wilkes. Most of San Barnabe’s gringo population is still in the states until October and I was pleased to see that most of the year rounders were in the room for my little presentation.

I moved the fans on the patio around with the furniture and made the seven of them comfortable as I could in the heat. We had two big pitchers of iced tea ready with limes and sugar and big tumblers and lots of ice.

“Without knowing ya’ll deep down I can’t tell just this minute if you are teachable. So I’m gonna give you some what if’s and we’ll find out together. If you had settled in a little town like this in Kentucky or Spain or Croatia and noticed lots of civic deferred maintenance would you be moved to fix things, get locals together, start cleanup and recycling drives, petition somebody to keep the bulls or bears or badgers out of your swimming pools? Show of hands please.

Well, four out of seven. Keep those hands available while I ask, do you care what the locals think about your need to help? Are you willing to roll right over their resentment? How far would you go to have your way with things in the village?”

Cathie V “Well, if I had a chance to talk with the people of the town I’d try to convince them to see the value of the plan, win them over, get their consent and their help.”

“So it’s safe to say that for you, this isn’t a Mexican thing, that no matter where you land, if you find things aren’t the way you want them to be you’ll take it upon yourself to change them, Kentucky, Timbuktu or wherever. Can I see some hands that belong to the Cathie way of thinking?

Well, for you four I won’t go into a discussion about your authority in the matter or point out your culpability and legal status when things go sideways --- it wouldn’t be fair to the other three and it wouldn’t do any good. Makes my job simpler.”

“So I’m free to tackle another kind of lesson. How many of you think there are two prices in Baja, one for Mexicans and one for us gringos. Ahhh, six out of 7. Well, you’re about 98% wrong. You haven’t thought it through. Most of the goods in the tiendas are price marked on the shelf and that’s what the buyer pays. Those things that don’t have a price sticker you could check with the counter person and you would find her answer would be the same no matter who you are or where you come from. We all pay the same for gas, propane, water, taxes, electricity, local medical clinic and medicine costs, bus fares and airline fares, apples and cereal and chickens and tortillas.”

The 2% comes in for all of us when dealing with things that don’t have a sticker price like casual labor, skilled labor, auto repair, house painting, gardening and the like. Those Mexicans who work with their hands don’t so much overcharge gringos as they tailor their prices, trim a little for their cash strapped neighbors.

Besides all the taxes and city services are more than just affordable so you wouldn’t b-tch about being cheated there I hope.”

Valery B “That may be true Gordon but we all know most of the city services are a joke, not worth what we pay. The police just sit on their butts, electricity failures happen all the time, they turn the water off several times a month – the leaks in the street make a muddy mess for days until they decide to do something about it.”

“Val, might be a good time to take a look at your little hamlet in Kentucky. The services there were excellent while they lasted because the cops were paid $4,000 a month instead of $450 a month like down here. There you demanded good service and were willing to pay for it until the cops retired on $100k a year, the city couldn’t pay it and went bankrupt, the lights went out, they let everybody go, the town turned into an abandoned ghetto. Whose fault was that? Yours, maybe – your demands for newer, better, best and pressure from the unions and a little dab of greed and corruption made a great recipe for disaster. Not here – no huge retirement and health care debt, no pigs at the trough, no mortgages so no under water houses.”

Bob G “Gordon, I suppose you’re gonna tell me you just looove to have the cows and horses poopin’ all over the dirt street in front of your house, eatin’ every green thing growin’ anywhere near your fence.”

“Well, Bob, the alternatives don’t look so good. Mexican federal law says if livestock hurts you or your property you can catch it, keep it safe, safely transport it to a stockade, provide it with shade, security, food and water, reporting the whole thing to the police. They are supposed to help you find out whose stock it is, they drag that guy in and applying the law, make him pay you for your damages and promise not to let the animal roam the streets again.

I think the big risk would be if the guy gets steamed about the whole thing, talks to his cousin in La Paz (who works for the Gobernador), he talks to CFE and the whole town loses it’s Farm Zone Discount with CFE and our electric bills go through the proverbial cielo. The discount we enjoy is 60% of the cost for the six summer months. Wanna risk that?”

"Next subject. Many here and others have come to me to help them with their water bills. I go with them to the OOMSAPAS office to talk to Julio for them when they don’t have enough Spanglish. Lots of reasons we end up there: air in the water lines and meters runs the bills up and small leaks underground can cause problems and you don’t see the water on the surface for weeks. Snowbirds trust their gardeners/caretakers/house sitters/renters to make sure the water is turned off all around the place but accidents happen. Sometimes it’s a faulty meter or they don’t read the meter at all for months, then read it and you get a whopper bill.

I’d like to try to put the whole thing in perspective so you can feel a little better about the service, with or without the problems. San Barnabe is in the desert. We get seven inches of rain a year when we’re not in drought condition. That’s about what Phoenix gets, actually they get an inch more than us. The big difference in what’s available between us and Phoenix is that in Arizona they have access to the water allotment from the Colorado river and down here we have no allotment from anyone, anywhere, anytime --- just the seven inches if we’re lucky. That amounts to 45 cubic meters a year available to each residential person in the state.

We use about three times that in my house for which we pay about $8 bucks a month. Phoenix, with the big river backing them up, pays $35 bucks a month.

So those of you with basic math skills can see that eventually we will run out of water from the wells we have now. Then we’ll dig down deeper to fossil water and like some of the local agricultural areas down here will begin to use a century worth of old, old, deep water EVERY MONTH. Here you’ll need the math; every year of doing that would necessitate 1200 years of regular rain WHILE WE DON’T USE THE WELL to fill the aquifer back up. That little statistic is evidence of how precious the resource is yet THEY KNOW ALL ABOUT IT AND STILL PRACTICALLY GIVE IT AWAY.

Charleen A “What’s with the trash guys? Some days they just don’t show, then they come the next day and you wonder when you should put your trash out again. I can understand them taking off for holidays, fiestas, but sometimes there seems to be no real good reason they don’t come by.”

“Well, I’ll remind you trash pickup is twice weekly and is free. Don’t know about your particular household but they pick up damn near anything you can carry outside your gate – not just kitchen and house trash but all the garden trash and occasionally old cans of paint, used up old washing machines, truck batteries, car oil change refuse. Hell, the Mexicans sometimes butcher a calf for a fiesta and I wonder if the carcass and the innards go out by the gate. Not so easy in places like Portland, Oregon where you will pay $120 bucks a month and you have to separate every little thing for recycling. And don’t get me started on recycling.

I do try to protect the trash guys myself; if I have big fish carcasses after a day of fishing, I freeze em in my big freezer then put them out about the time they will pick up. In the summer that’s a must as you may imagine. The reason trash pickup is free here is that there is no solid way to collect the fee. Be a real chore to cover 400 houses handing out bills that won’t get paid. If you stop picking up trash the Mexicans would just leave it to rot in the sun and the place would go to hell in one big hurry.

Charleen, they run out of gas, they run out of gas money, they run out of payroll money, the old trucks break down. That’s the best I can do as to why the service is, how shall I say, intermittent. It’s nasty in that truck and hot as fire. In the summer I buy extra soda pop, keep it cold for them and sometimes, when I hear em coming, I grab some up and hand them out. Mexicans aren’t real big on Thank You’s but if you need that and that’s why you give, you might as well forget it.

I’ve made enough trips to the dump in the summer to know the value of not having to go there. No matter how hot it is, you have to roll down the windows on the trip back to get most of the skitty eight thousand flies out of your truck. So I would ask you for your tolerance with the trash boys.”

“I’ve kept you long enough and I really don’t know if you got anything new out of this little session. Anyway, thank y’all for coming. I may have one of these lectures For Men Only on Fishing and Fishing Rules and if I do I’ll call the likely men or Email them.”
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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 05:48 AM


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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 06:11 AM

when i have a large trash pick up here in the states I help out , offer a six pack or pops. deal with police who are burned out from all the crime. pay 100 a month for water, sewer. my city is billions in debt, taxes are high and I'll pay for it some how along with all the others. I look forward to los barilles with a slow simpler life. sure recycling and trash pick up is important, but if i had to haul my own I would. just become part of the living experiance. trying not to have too many american expectations will go a long way. understanding the water situation try to conserve, electricity as well. help out my mexican and gringo neighbors. and the cost of living taxes, vs services. is incredably low compared to what i am used to.
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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 07:48 AM

Osprey's story is one that will touch most of us who have to deal with municipal services.
Even though foreigners are the ones who pay their taxes on time, the local population (for the most part) do not.

In BA, there is a notice that is posted at every business that essentially states if every one in town pays 10 pesos to the municipality, the trash pick up would be restarted. That was two moths ago.
Even though trash has piled up on many streets, most townsfolk don't seem to mind a weekly trip to the dump (assuming they own a vehicle of some sort).


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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 07:50 AM

Again, thank you Osprey for seeing the real picture. I too choose to live in a small village and I am thankful that things worked out the way they did to give me that opportunity to fully experience a life and culture that is very different from what I left behind. I clearly remember an english teacher who said you could write like Mark Twain after you learned all the rules of the language first. I tried very hard to apply that when I moved to Mexico and decided I would be open to experience life from the perspective of another culture instead of bringing my limited expectations to that culture and expecting everyone to do things my way. As my late wife used to say, "We are going to get along just fine as long as you do everything my way".
I am always amazed at the new people who come to our village and you can bet that one of the first things they will do is to organize a trash cleanup where they talk a few people in to cleanup and they take their truck or truck and trailer around the village and start cleaning up the "little treasure collections" of accumulated "treasures". If they could only understand enough of the language to hear what the people really say about those trash collections to understand that they have committed a small cultural "faux pax". And then they want to round up all the dogs and either haul them off to the neuter clinic or have the police "exterminate" the extra population. Oh, and they are so used to things being "cut and dried" when it comes to law enforcement that they miss the little subleties in law enforcement that happens in the cultural and familial heritage of a small village.

Oh, and did I mention that the newcomers can not understand why the lines are so long in the bank cause they are used to going in to a bank where there are always 5 extra tellers and two service reps at your bid and call, but they fail to slow down and enjoy the opportunity to make 4 or 5 new connections while slowly ambling through the line.

The people in the village have found that I am less than an easy mark when it comes to little fundraisers, collections for sending someone to the hospital, putting in a new swing set at the school yard, but they also know that I pay for the schooling of one family that is very close to me and help with general things when it feels appropriate.

I have worked very hard to learn the language and continue to spend considerable time trying to become more fluent. It certainly opens doors and minds when I am able to communicate.

I choose to keep my yard and property in good condition but feel I do not have the right to say anything to my neighbor about his. If he follows my lead great, but if he decides to go his own way, that is his right.

I signed up at my local bank for pay bills by internet and the whole experience was a rush of cultural awareness. First you have to sign a bunch of security papers, next they issue you this little thing that looks like a calculator but it gives out security codes. Now you go online and fill in all the information for say your CFE electric bill. Not only do you use your password, but two other security codes, followed by a security code from your little calculator info. Then you sign off and wait for at least two hours, go through the whole security rigamarole and then you are finally able to actually pay the bill by internet through your bank account. Then you are able to print out the payment of the bill. Now we think this is rather reduntant and silly, but I had the bank president explain that they have very close to zero credit card and identity theft with this system and their cost of fraud losses are almost zero.

There was a great musical that came out quite some years ago titled, "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change". That seems summarize the attitude of many Norteamericanos about their coming to Mexico.

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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 08:15 AM

I am POSITIVE that Osprey and Pescador both live in the same small village that I do .........
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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 08:58 AM

Good reading Osprey and Pescador.

Just my two cents.

We never bothered with trying to get trash pick-up because often the guys weren't paid and it did not happen and besides, we enjoyed our trips to the dump as there were always things to see.

Paying workers. We often overpaid because the worker's price was so cheap! So almost always there was a tip for the children. And the habit of doing this does not always make one popular with others. I love it when someone says, oh, you are going to spoil them! GAG. When someone cleans up and changes the wires at our electrical box, drives to CFE to get permission to do some higher wires, and then drives back to CFE to tell them they need to change the over head wires and then wants to charge us $100. pesos? There were times when certain workers would come and insist they do something just as a friend, and that was different. Do right by them, and they appreciate it, often with some fish, lobster, homemade salsa, etc., and best of all, their friendship.

Trash --- at first we were guilty of the trash thing, but we did only pick up the trash around our area and on the little beach in front of us. Change definitely needs to come from the community to work. And they really do resent any outsider telling them how to do things, any thing.

At first we had a difficult time with some gringo expectations. We would sit and wait for a worker to come and if they cannot come or have changed their mind, they don't call, so you just sit and wait. Quickly we learned to not wait and not let it control our lives. If they didn't show, we would do whatever we needed to do in town, and if they could find us, and they did. It is just a different perception of time and it is OK if one learns to go with it.

Originally posted by Pescador

There was a great musical that came out quite some years ago titled, "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change". That seems summarize the attitude of many Norteamericanos about their coming to Mexico.

That is perfect!

[Edited on 8-3-2013 by DianaT]

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[*] posted on 8-3-2013 at 09:15 AM

I always wonder about the type of person that comes in a new community and try's to(educate) change the locals way of doing things to the way they were back home.
If it was so Dammed Great Back Home What The Hell Are They Doing Here
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