On Oaxacan Time: Waiting On a Storm

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A wind blows now, enough to wave the flag upon the cathedral in Oaxaca’s Zocalo, but not enough to herald the expected storm, not yet. Clouds have closed in around the steeple, a mix of greys and whites with the greys slowly dominating the scene. Thunder, lightning, and a deluge, the weather prognosticators promise, and I’m crossing fingers that they’re right.

It’s hot out here every day but this sticky, thick heat is different from the normal drier heat. To say it’s kicking my ass today is an understatement. My appetite is gone and all I can do is drink. The staff here at this restaurant are curmudgeonly but respectful about my lack of ordering food, since I’m really here on the second floor at the window in hopes of seeing the skies open and the heavens catch afire.

The Catedral in Oaxaca's Zocalo, as seen from my lofty perch in the touristy Casa de Abuela.

The Catedral in Oaxaca’s Zocalo, with the beginnings of storm clouds amassing, as seen from my lofty perch in the touristy Casa de Abuela.

See, back home, I’m lucky if I saw a thunderstorm each year that I’ve been alive. That’s how seldom they strike in Vancouver. I’ve seen more here in a week than I’ve seen in four years in Canada.

This isn’t true of all Canada, just the part from which I hail, and it grieves me. Vancouver is beautiful but its weather is boring. Thunder and lightning skips Vancouver and lands in the Valley, far beyond citydwellers’ reach. Sad, too, since nature blows my mind in a good storm, and emotionally, the release one gets from a powerful thunderstorm is unparalleled in weather. With thunderstorms so seldom in our lives, we Vancouverites get excited when the wind hits 90km an hour, but I’ve been in parts of Croatia where they’d had winds of 230km/hr just months before I arrived. Constant rain and wind pester Vancouver, but never of an overachieving variety, just middling and annoyingly persistent, at best.

So all afternoon I’ve hoped my timing would be good and I’d be in a great spot with a view when the lightning and rain breaks into its almost-nightly vengeance for this time of year, but my timing proves too keen. Sheet lightning flashes but no forks yet. No rolling thunder in the distance.

At least I’ve got a good drink, curmudgeonly staff be damned. It’s worth $10 of drinking for this view and the wait that comes with. It’s a quiet weeknight anyhow. Uno mas, por favor. Margarita y mezcal! When the food order underwhelms ’em, tip generously. Problem solved. So if I need to return, they’ll remember me as the guera who tipped well and wasn’t a hassle to handle.

Ah! Darker clouds are emerging on the horizon so I may yet get my wish of angry heavens and torrents unleashed.

A photo posted by Steffani Cameron (@snarkysteff) on

And mm, wind! It’s humbling to be a fish-belly white girl in a place like this during the hot season. Today I’ve got that “too-hot funk” to me, something I’m glad hasn’t been the case before now. Laundry day now looms tomorrow, but the wind might alleviate my afternoon “funk”.

Also humbling is how wrong I was about the timing of the angry weather. Back home, I can tell you all when weather’s going to begin and how it will unfold. It’s in the air. I can remember sitting on a bar patio with a friend when a fresh wind blew on a hot day and I said, “The heat wave has just ended,” and I was right, right down to the minute. I’ve taken photos of weather over the water thinking I had 20 minutes before rain makes landfall, and gotten home just as skies open.

Today, I’m nothing but wrong. It’s coming, it looms, but when? The weather app said 4:00. It’s after six. This is all new to me, a different dynamic, a new microclimate, a foreign feeling. Rightly so; I’m 5,200 kilometres from home. Pretty foreign indeed.

Locals don’t care about the impending stormy doom. They’re wandering the Zocalo, shopping with family, kids are playing with balloons. Like most things in the Mexican lifestyle, it’ll come when it comes. This is true of food and wine and plumbers and everything else one waits upon in life. Go out as a party of eight in a restaurant and your meal will come when it comes. Your friends’ meals aren’t ready? So what? Yours is. Here you go, enjoy.

A father and his son stroll past Santo Domingo church at sunset, the kind of "family image" I'm so used to seeing here.

A father and his son stroll past Santo Domingo church at sunset, the kind of “family image” I’m so used to seeing here.

And so the rain will come. When it does, they will react accordingly, but why worry about it until that moment strikes? Living is for the moment, not for the future.

Now the Mexican flag blows straight in a brisk wind. This is the one thing I have noticed before each night’s storms – first the wind comes, then the rest. Usually thunder before the rain, but I don’t know if that’s a written in stone thing.

The meteorology nerd in me loves this. Flat-out. I’m wrong about it, but who cares? It’s fun to try and discern the pattern for myself. It’s one of the great things about travel. Every place has its own soul, its own rhythm, its own time. I look forward to it in Morocco next winter too, when February appears to be storm season there.

The only thing in common all these places sometimes have is that I can notice a particular way it affects me physiologically. Light-headedness, vertigo, all are qualities these weather fronts appear to share in their affect upon The Steff. I’m a bit woogly as I type, and it ain’t the mezcal. It’s interesting that I can be so many thousands of kilometres from home yet meteorological effects find me all the same.

I may be denied the Armageddon appeal of the storm so far, but I’m enjoying watching parents play with their children in the square below. Hardly a consolation prize. I was told by a waiter elsewhere that Oaxacans typically work six days a week here. If the business is open, they work, and they work long hours. It’s not like Spain where siestas are serious business and adhered to everywhere from restaurants to federal institutions. I’ve seen banks open 9-2 and 5-8 in Spain because nobody interferes with the siesta. But here, most places seem to be open and siestas happen, but apparently not in a universal way.

But those long hours and the struggle faced by the majority of the population here seems to me to be why such high value is placed on the family unit and the time they share together. I love watching the Latin family dynamic. It’s a strong, beautiful thing. The love is so more open and doting than what I’m accustomed to in North America. At home, I grow tired of the helicopter-parenting effect. It’s parenting via fear spread by media, which saddens me. I don’t think helicoptering suggests a stronger love that the laissez-faire style parenting I see here. If kids fall and get hurt, the parents may laugh and smile, but then they’ll pick the kid up, kiss them better, and on the kids go. But don’t you dare tell me that Latin parents love their kids less because they’re not hovering and waiting to save the day. The love I see here is powerful and beautiful. So often I see parents playing with their kids like they’re best friends. I’m watching dads tease their balloon-stick-yielding daughters and running out of hitting range and laughing with belly laughs as daughters squeal.

A mother kisses her son outside church as a day of family fiestas ensues.

A mother kisses her son outside church as a day of family fiestas ensues.

This week I saw a mother, father, and daughter manning a corner drink stand on afternoons, with the dad in the background helping his daughter do her homework while the mother sold beverages to passers-by. Togetherness happens a lot here while the parents work. It’s just a fact of life that kids live with, and I don’t think it’s harming their childhood in the least.

The Latin family unit makes me smile on a regular basis. I took photos of a wedding the other day and, when a reader noted how much all the onlookers were standing and watching the newlyweds walk the city street, I commented that Mexicans seem to be “in love with love.”

I loved watching this couple walking down the street and everyone stopping what they were doing to admire the couple.

I loved watching this couple walking down the street and everyone stopping what they were doing to admire the couple.

I’m not quite in love with love, but I sure love storms. Here I sit, denied still as I stare out the window with a Mexican band playing classic rock below and families enjoying the cooling night as wind blasts through the square.

With half a maragarita left, there’s some hope swimming deep inside me. Maybe I’ll still catch a few minutes of the storm to come. It’d be to hard to believe it’s not coming, not with the sweltering, cloying heat we endured today.

Maybe it was all in an effort to lead me to people-watching, though. I’m laughing as a father sends a tube balloon into the air and the wind carries it off, forcing his squat little 18-month-old son to run on his chunky legs like toddlers do, all drunken-like and unsure. He falls. His dad laughs and covers his mouth so his son doesn’t hear his giggling as the boy picks himself up and gives chase again.

Yeah, I guess if you asked me what I loved more, Mexican storms or the Mexican family unit, I might take a beat to answer, but I’d probably smile and say the families.

It’s a beautiful life here. A life of struggle in a country laced with corruption and adversity, but a beautiful life nonetheless. I look forward to the world these children raised with love and laughter will create for themselves. What will Mexico’s next generation accomplish? Will they ride out their storm of government corruption and economic strife they live under today?

From the little I’ve seen, I’ve much faith in tomorrow’s generation of young Mexicans.

Less faith in my storm, but maybe I’ll get ut yet. If nothing else, I got blasted by some wind and watched life unfold.

If you want to play tourist, make it when you’re sitting above any Mexican town’s Zocalo and watch as family life unfolds all around you.

Meanwhile, my margarita has melted, my fingers have grown tired, and I’m thinking it’s time to go down on the square to hear this band, get blasted by the sometimes-60km/hr wind, and maybe, just maybe, the storm will begin soon and I’ll have gotten more than I’d hoped for. I don’t mind that idea at all.

Viva la Mexico.

Ed. Note: The storm did come, beginning within five minutes of leaving the restaurant. Here’s the video I posted from taking refuge under a hot dog cart’s awning as the rain “lightened up.”

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    Your writing on this entry really takes me into where you are right now. You really get to the heart of the Mexican sentiments and viewpoints on family, as well as the easy going lifestyle depicted in a laid back area. The description just of the storm makes me wish I was there to actually feel the breeze. The video of the rainfall was also perfect and shows how the weather can change in a second.

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