So Long, Yellow Brick Road

Looking back on it, I’m shocked that it has been 13 months since I posted anything to this blog! But let’s face it, 2020 is something we’d all rather forget. My last blog entry was posted just a couple of months before we went into the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Mexico, and what happened from that point onward was pretty much restricted to events within the four walls of my home in Querétaro, Mexico.

The pandemic mode in Mexico has been a bit different than elsewhere, to be sure. Here in Mexico, so many people rely on having a daily income to put food on the table, that the response to the crisis was handled very differently than Canada or USA. Here, most people couldn’t avoid going in to work, if in fact they still had a job. The economic impact of the pandemic was felt quickly and acutely here. Since Mexico relies so heavily on foreign investment, when buying patterns in the rest of the world changed, Mexico felt the pain immediately. Manufacturing shut down within weeks of the start of lockdowns in other countries, with workers left in limbo. It is a sad reality that the majority of people in Mexico were left with the uncomfortable choice between risking contracting a potentially deadly virus, or letting their family go hungry. It really wasn’t much of a choice.

Another factor that affected how Mexico addressed the pandemic involved the way government works. Since tourism in Mexico is fully one third of the GDP, the government was quick to downplay the impact of the virus, for fear of turning away tourist dollars. Even within the country, getting real numbers on infection rates and mortality was impossible. Apparently, even state governors knew better than to trust the ‘official’ numbers published by the government, choosing instead to have their departments contact the hospitals directly to find out what the real situation was.

Fireworks in sky during Mexican Independence day
Fireworks near our home during Mexican Independence day in September

In Mexico, the close family ties that typify Mexican culture made social distancing a fruitless prevention measure. Telling family and friends that they can’t hug and kiss is like telling the sun not to shine in Mexico. As a result, family connections seemed to be placed above public safety. On weekends, the family that had been quite cautious about contact through the week would take the kids to see the grandparents on Sunday, because that is what you do in Mexico. It is expected, and if you don’t carry on friendly and familiar family
relations, it is considered to be very antisocial. As a result, COVID was given some very convenient transmission vectors, with predictable results.

My family stayed safe by barely leaving the house since everything started in March 2020. Apart from quick trips to get water each week, and occasional trips to get fresh produce, we barely stepped out our doorway. We tried to avoid too much contact by ordering groceries to be delivered, using Walmart. They were pretty good about delivering what was ordered, but each order would be missing two or three items, so it wasn’t perfect. There was also Uber Eats for delivery of restaurant food when we felt we needed something different.

Honestly, it seems like being in lockdown in Mexico wasn’t much different than most people experienced. We were definitely more cautious about being out walking in the streets once it got started. People felt a new desperation due to their declining economic situation, and we did hear accounts of daylight attacks, which really hadn’t been an issue before the pandemic began. Also, many in the street where we lived carried on business as normal, many not wearing masks, or at very least not wearing them in a way that would actually be useful for prevention! (So many times we saw people wearing masks under their chin, or even on top of their head while chatting with people at the markets.)

During the course of the pandemic, I continued to work online, but even that changed with the different world circumstances. As a result, getting jobs became even more difficult, and over months of trying different things, it became apparent that our financial model wasn’t going to be viable to meet monthly expenses.

The real challenge was our rental property in Canada. In November we were forced to make a trip back to Calgary to take care of some medical appointments, and coincidentally, it was right at that same time we lost our renters. Our best efforts to find new renters failed. This directly affected our ability to have an income, since my online work wasn’t finding much success. Of course, Canadian properties sitting empty still incur property tax, which for our Calgary property was costing us almost as much as our monthly rent in Mexico. Add on to that our necessary utilities (since you can’t very well shut off the gas or electricity in Calgary in the winter) and our outlook wasn’t good.

Endless nothing during our drive through the middle of the continental USA

After returning to Mexico, we had come to the realization that we couldn’t very well leave the Calgary property empty for long. Rather than continuing to pay taxes and utilities on a house no longer generating income, it seemed that the time had come to return to Canada. This decision was agonizing, as our life was now centered in Mexico, with Canada seeming like the foreign country. We had developed strong ties to our friends and expanded family. The decision was emotionally taxing, but there seemed to be little other choice.

On January 16 we packed up our car and started the long trip back to Canada. The parting from our loved ones in Mexico was tearful and horrible, and it still weighs heavily on me as I write this sitting in snowbound Calgary over a month later.

The trip back to Canada was thankfully quite uneventful. With the pandemic still raging, the pending threat of violence in the USA with the government being overrun like a banana republic and facing more potential unrest with the pending presidential inauguration, added to the potential winter road conditions with my summer tires, there was plenty to worry about. Surprisingly, we had no issue whatsoever in crossing from Mexico into the USA. The border agent was surprised that we were driving all the way back to Canada, but had no issue with us entering the USA for that purpose. We got as quickly as possible through Texas, fearing that if there was going to be more political violence, it would be there. The only state capital we had to cross was Denver, Colorado, and we saw no problems at all in crossing Colorado.

After six days on the road, we finally made it back to Canada, taking advantage of the reduced quarantine period offered at the Coutts border crossing thanks to the rapid COVID test option. (That option has since changed to include a mandatory hotel quarantine period, at the expense of the traveler.)

Sunrise in Calgary

Now, here I sit back in Calgary, considering what to do about more permanent employment in a Calgary that I barely recognize. Many businesses have failed and are gone. Downtown Calgary office space is more than 30% vacant. There doesn’t seem to be much good news, other than a surprising and incongruent uptick in real estate sales.

Although I am now back in my homeland, I have to admit that it feels very hollow. Moving to Mexico was a choice; a conscious decision to make a lifestyle change and to pursue something more important, to help others. It will take me a while to settle back into this strange culture of commercialism, overconsumption and heightened expectations. Mexico taught me to lower my expectations, to take difficult things in stride and to learn how to be satisfied with less. It taught me to understand how a different culture thinks and reasons, and that thinking and reasoning differently aren’t a bad thing. They were all good lessons, which I hope I never forget.

Back in Canada after almost three years abroad. So long, yellow brick road.

How long this blog will remain live on the internet, I cannot say. There are costs for hosting the site and maintaining the domain name. And as you know, I’ve never monetized this blog, as it was created due to my passion for storytelling.

But one thing is certain. No matter where I go or what I do in the future, I’ll always have Mexico.

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