Friday, June 27, 2008

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

I was excited when I found out we were coming to El Paso. The idea of a new part of the country and a different culture aroused my sense of of adventure. I have to remind myself of that when I encounter things that seem foreign, strange or undesirable. First, everywhere I look Caucasians are obviously in the minority. I never thought that would be an issue for me (I thought it would be a fun change), but it seems I stick out like a sore thumb, and it makes me feel a little self-conscious. I also see groups of men or boys congregated at store entrances/exits who seems to have chosen "staring at people" as their official pastime. I'll hear indecipherable murmurings and, growing more uncomfortable, grip my kids hands tighter and hurry past them before one of them tries to speak to me. When I'm at the store and see another "whitey" like myself, I'm drawn to them; fixated on their appearance (amazed to encounter someone similar to myself). Unlike my usual inclinations, I desire to enter into a conversation. "Do you actually live here, or are you just on vacation?"

Most of the prattle I hear around me is in Spanish. I was in the doctors' office and the receptionist spoke Spanish to at least half of the phone customers. An old man walked up to me at Wal-Mart and asked where the %&$@ was. I apologized and said I didn't speak Spanish, but he didn't stop. He held up a package of hamburger buns and anxiously pointed to them. Hesitantly, I said, "Meat?" "Si, si," he replied. Puzzled because the beef counter was in our line of sight, I gestured toward it. He shook his head and pointed toward a qualified Wal-Mart employee, who I'm sure was bilingual. It was like, "Never mind moron, I'll go ask someone who can understand a simple sentence." How can you get along in a place like this without being bilingual? All of a sudden I felt somewhere between a baby trying to communicate with an underdeveloped vocabulary and an ignorant hick who never made it past 2nd grade. In the past I've been praised at work in communication skills, ability to compile reports and make presentations. Now I probably wouldn't qualify to work at McDonald's ("You want what with that?"). Not the best feeling in the world. I also miss browsing through the radio stations without feeling like I'm either being serenaded at a Mexican restaurant or getting blasted with Spanish hip-hop at a nightclub in Tijuana. The other day I was in the car scanning through stations with no luck finding a single song that sounded anywhere familiar. After several minutes of mounting frustration I finally heard Marc Anthony singing, "You Sang To Me." Finally! A song in English that I know! I'll take it! Strange how desperation can make you love something that was just OK in the past.

Another tough thing for me is the extreme heat and subsequent lack of greenery. Now, I was expecting this (woo-hoo, something new), but what I didn't expect was how my kids would cry every time we went to a park because everything was too hot to walk or play on. It must be very expensive to maintain any patch of grass, because most of the parks are landscaped with lush sand and rocks. And what little grass they have is parched and sharp from lack of water. So I spend most of my time lugging the kids from one play thing to the next (fervently instructed to avoid letting their little feet touch the hot sand). Then they cautiously approach an apparatus and usually reject it, shouting that it's too hot. I've tried going earlier in the morning or later at night, but even then it's in the 90s. So we'll just have to treat this summer as our "Iowa winter" and rely on alternatives like the library and exciting trips to the store, where I can't talk to anyone anyway.
Addendum: Ryan read this and thought I came across like I hated El Paso, which isn't true. There are things I love about it, like our house (pictures to come), our location in the mountains, and our super-friendly neighbors (who all speak English). This is a phase of transition, and in time I'll look back with amusement when everything was still new and somewhat foreign to me. As of now I'm still looking forward to getting more familiar with my surroundings and growing more fond of my new city.


Debbi said...

you really had me laughing at the meat/walmart story! How funny - you better go pick up some learn-spanish books at the library or something! At least it is an adventure!

Sarah C said...

I am so happy you started a blog. I am sorry things are not the greatest for you in El Paso. I would have a hard time if I couldn't communicate with the people around me and if I couldn't enjoy the park. I need sunshine. I am glad you are able to look on the bright side of things. Good luck!

Sylwia Lipinska Hardman said...

we had the possibilty of moving to el paso, but i was really worried about all of the things that you wrote about and i guess i was right. after iowa nothing seems ideal and it isnt. but after a while we adjust and make new friends and find new ways to have fun. i've been through similar things in goerogia, but now i really enjoy it there. you will too...

sylwia hardman

eRiCa said...

Sounds like an adventure! Loved the adendum as well :) I'm glad you have good neighbors and love your'll always take some adjustment when you move.

We're looking to move to a place that isn't so green and doesn't have four seasons either and more "dessert-y" than I would like but the positive aspects of the place, the job, and the people out weigh the bad...that's all that matters right?

Monster Mash

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