An American Diary from Mexico – Episode 1

Mexico, Christmas Milagros, and Me
By Cherie Magnus

Well I made it! After leaving work and selling my furniture as so many have done before me, Phoebe the Cat and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende to begin a new life.

It had been a difficult time these past three months, having garage sales, getting rid of my collections on eBay, packing and storing, saying goodbye to Los Angeles where I had been born, raised and lived all my life, saying farewell to my job, friends, and the tiny family I still had since my husband died a few years before.

A Mexican Xmas Tree

However, my carryon bags never made it out of the Leon Airport in Mexico. You know, the bags where I put everything too important to be checked– camera, address book, eyeglasses, jewelry, medication, computer cables, software, family photos, business papers and bills, Phoebe’s favorite toy rat, my tango shoes? I don´t know exactly what happened, you can’t relax your vigilance for one second in life. I turned my attention to Phoebe, and poof, everything changed. And the timing couldn’t have been more poignant–it was right before Christmas!

After getting Phoebe organized in our new place and searching endlessly through my two remaining bags, I couldn’t sleep. I only tossed and turned with worry about the loss of my irreplaceable belongings. I pictured someone picking up the bags, searching them for things to sell (my jewelry items only, probably), and tossing the rest out the window of a pickup truck on some dusty Mexican road. The image of my family photos blowing through the cactus just made me sick.

The next day my new landlady called the airport for me because as yet I had no Spanish. But the news was bad: no found purple bags. She counseled me to forget it and move on. Easy for her to say in the middle of her Texas mansion plunked down in a garden in a beautiful, small central highland town in Colonial Mexico. Not only did she own her huge hacienda and my apartment, she also had built and rented out a casa and a casita all constructed in the same walled compound. And of course all four dwellings were full of her things. I only had a cat and four suitcases, and now the two most important bags were missing.

This new loss after so many recent losses in my life caused me to mourn for days. I went to lovely St Paul´s, the gringo Protestant church, and prayed to accept the inevitable. The day of Christmas Eve, the town was full of people carrying baby Jesuses hurriedly through the streets on their way to all the Nativities where the Holy Child would later appear. That night I went to a party given by a friend of a friend, and like seems to happen so often in San Miguel, in talking about a problem, help happens. I am learning that serendipity is the way here.

At the party I met someone who was leaving the next day for New York from Leon, and she offered to inquire at the airport for me about my bags. I hadn’t gone back myself because of the transportation difficulty—one hour, forty-five minute taxi ride and $70– and my lack of hope in finding them.

These past few days since my arrival I had been really lonely and depressed. I had taken the bus up to the supermercado on the hill and bought some new underwear and a little bit of makeup, although all of the shades were too dark for me. I wore the same pair of earrings every day, but had purchased a beaded bracelet and necklace from an indigenous woman hawking them over her arm in a restaurant next to the Jardin.

Thank goodness at least I had Phoebe. I certainly would not have traded her for the missing bags, or anything else I didn’t have. After five days, acceptance was growing. I figured this was just another lesson in how we don’t need things, how we are here not to accumulate but to live and do. Looking at the poverty around me of the Mexican and indigenous peoples gave me a new perspective. I didn’t really need so many pairs of earrings, how often did I look at those photos anyway, and if my friends wanted to contact me they had my address, even if I didn’t have theirs. It would all work out, and I would be a better person for it.

Recently I had lost my husband, our family home and furniture, my mother, my job, and my own physical health. I was sick and tired of loss, but wasn’t this just another lesson in how to live on my own? We come with nothing, we leave with nothing; we can’t take it with us, possessions are just a burden, etc. All the helpful cliches spun around in my head actually making me feel better.

Early Christmas morning the phone rang: “Cherie, your bags are here!” It was the lady from the party, calling from the airport on her way to New York.

I immediately called Vicente the taxi driver who had originally picked me up and brought me to San Miguel, and woke him too. “I´ll be right there!” He felt terrible and unnecessarily guilty about the loss of my luggage. “It was my responsibility, my job,” he moaned in Spanish.

Twenty minutes later we were tearing along the empty Christmas morning road to Leon. At the airport we searched through the lost luggage and my bags weren´t there, although there was a similar purple one and I thought probably that was the one my new friend saw. But Vicente also wanted to check in Customs up by the gate. And when we approached, we saw my orphaned bags behind locked doors. There they sat, both of them, like my oldest friends in the world. Traveling unlocked with me on the plane, now they sported plastic security seals.

I offered a tip, but the officials waved it away, smiling at the tearful reunion of a gringa and her stuff. “Gracias, muchas gracias, Feliz Navidad!” I called, walking through the airport hugging my luggage. Vicente and I laughed all the way back to San Miguel where, after cutting off the plastic locks, I found everything completely untouched. I was thrilled to see my jewelry—some of it last gifts from my husband, and inherited pieces from my mother—my medications, my family photos, my precious address book which was my connection to my old life.

Getting my things back was a true milagro and the best Christmas present I ever received. But those five days without the security blanket of the cherished contents of my bags gave me perspective. I could have managed without them, I had been managing. And it had not been the end of the world. I had even learned something about myself.

Nevertheless because of the kindness of strangers and a miracle of good luck, I had a very Feliz Navidad in my new home town, and an incredible Bienvenidos a Mexico. And Vicente invited me to his extended family´s Christmas celebration that night. But that is another story of milagros, magical realism, and me in Mexico.

About this author: With degrees in English, Dance, and Library Science from UCLA, Cherie has published many articles in professional journals and magazines. Her solo travels to Europe and Latin America have inspired several pieces published in Skirt!, PassionFruit, Moxie, JourneyWoman, Dancing USA, GoNomad, Open Spaces, Porthole, The Cusco Weekly, the-vu, and various online magazines. She was the dance critic for the Cerritos News in Orange County, California before moving to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She is currently at work on a novel situated in France, when she’s not out dancing. Follow her blog at http://tangocherie.blogspot.com/

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