Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ojo rojo

My last morning in Mexico I woke up with tears in my eye. After wiping them away, they quickly returned. I ran to the bathroom to see what I knew was inevitable; an eye infection. Was my eye going to be red, pink, or white? It was white. Phew, I thought, at least I won't stop traffic with my clearly infected eye. Plus, there was still time to wait before officially declaring myself with pink eye, since it wasn't puffy or pink.

I have had conjunctivitis (pink eye) in more countries than I care to count. If you are not prone to eye infections, they can be scary entities. Many people don't like touching their eyes. And an eye infection scares the sh#* out of them.

I am no such person. I've been getting eye infections my whole life. I've also worn contacts (on and off) since middle school. Sticking my fingers in my eyes is common practice for me. I have been known to put a contact back in during the most precarious of situations. Because, believe it or not, the most dangerous place for me to be in is the one where I have no way of seeing. Without prescriptive lenses, I can't see. I'm not exaggerating. My prescription is in the negative double digits and I have never met a person with worse eyesight than mine. I can't even read the clock on my nightstand without lenses.

What the world looks like to me without corrective lenses.

So what does one do when she finds herself with an eye infection in a foreign land? Oh yeah, to make matters more complicated, I was on a small island off the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

I casually went down to my hotel lobby and told the lovely desk agent, "Umm... fijense que estan infectados algunos ojos." (Translation: Umm, I think some eyes might be infected). She quickly told me about a doctor with morning hours, whose office could be found above a pharmacy three blocks away. She gave me good directions (rare in Mexico), and I headed out.

I found the pharmacy, but I was too early. Doctor hours didn't begin until 10am. I had two hours to kill. No problem, I'd be back. But just out of curiosity, I asked the pharmacist how much the doctor visit would cost me. $35 pesos ($3). Yep, $3 to see a doctor without an appointment. I would definitely be back.

This incident reminded me of one particularly silly bout with pink eye while in Peace Corps training. As I mentioned, I have gotten pink eye about once a year my entire life. Sometimes it's bacterial and sometimes it's viral. I used to get pink eye so frequently, I'd travel with my own bottle of sulfa drops - a miracle cure, depending on the type of pink eye you've got.

I had pink eye during field-based training in Danlί, Honduras. One thing we like to tout about the Peace Corps is the free health insurance. So, I was taken one morning via Peace Corps white van to a doctor's office. The Peace Corps staff member with me thought my "ojo rojo" (red eye) was hilarious and everyone else was pretty much freaked out. I was calm. Another bout of pink eye. Would it be bacterial or viral this time? This particular bout of pink eye left my eye red, puffy, and oozing pus. I know, gross. But it was quickly treated.

Honestly, the worst part about pink eye in a tropical climate is not being able to wear contacts. During my normal life in perpetually cold San Francisco, I can wear my glasses every day. But when I want to swim, or even run a long distance, glasses just don't cut it. And I'm not about to go without. So I put in my handy contacts. And I'm good to go. Until I'm not. Because inevitably, I will get an eye infection. I know I will. And I do.

So why didn't I get LASIK all those years ago? Somewhere in between all that travel, everyday life, and eye infections, my eyesight was still getting worse (along with my pesky astigmatism). My eyesight has since tapered off, but now the years are numbered before I'll need reading glasses too. I know many LASIK candidates who wear glasses for driving now. A few years without glasses? I didn't necessarily need that.

Plus, glasses have become a part of who I am. They are me. Just like having brown hair and brown eyes, I wear glasses. It took me many years to be okay with wearing glasses in public (I worshipped my contact lenses for the 10 years I wore them). And I'll still wear them when playing sports. But I've become okay with wearing glasses. And I've noticed many women have as well. No girl had glasses in middle school. Everyone was getting contacts. But now, I have several friends and even an aunt who got married wearing glasses. After all, we don't expect men to get contacts, even for their weddings. So why should women have to?

The answer is we don't. Despite ridiculous websites like this one, a Wikihow entitled, "how to look good in glasses (for women)." Totally absurd. Just wear your glasses. You'll not only look good, you'll also see well. It's win-win.

I am proud of my decision to wear glasses, even if I'll never be able to wake up and see clearly without them. Even if it means sleeping with a watch to be able to read the time while in bed, or wearing glasses in the shower so I can see where I'm walking (and also find the shampoo). And yes, my glasses break. And contacts dry out my eyes. And my eyes get infected. And I'll never have cool sunglasses (I have prescription ones, but because my prescription is so strong, the lenses are in super small frames which looks silly). But, I'll look like me. And that's what makes me the happiest.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


During my last trip to Mexico I had the privilege of attending a traditional cultural event: a Quinceañera. Having been to many bar/bat mitzvahs (including my own), I figured I knew a little something about teenage coming of age parties. But having never been to any party in Mexico, let alone a large party in a small Mayan village, I guess I really did not know what I was getting into.

Here are the logistics of a modern day Yucatec party.
1. Party starts at 11pm. And everyone attends (including babies, children, families, grandparents, and even dogs).
2. Dinner is served at midnight. There is nothing to drink except Coca-Cola. Nothing else.
3. Dancing (and music so loud your ears can't stop ringing) gets going around 1am.
4. Party ends anywhere from 6am to 8am.

I left the party at 2am, having to drive half an hour home via dusty dirt roads. I was the first person to leave the party. Eating dinner at midnight left me feeling icky and itching to get home to bed.

Being a novice in regards to Mexican party rules, I was warned ahead of time, "these parties are hard to handle if someone is not used to the hours." So in a sense I knew ahead of time about the late hours. But there was absolutely was no way I was going to miss attending this once in a lifetime Mexican cultural experience.

But did I mention the actual event started at 7:30pm with a Catholic Mass? Oh yeah, I went to that too (to take pictures for the family).

Family photo with the Priest

I also consider myself extremely blessed to have been welcomed in to such an important milestone for this humble and religious family. I haven't known the family long, but they immediately invited me in and treated me like an extended member of the family. This is typical of the Yucatec hospitality I have come to know and love.

But almost nothing else about this 
quinceañera was typical. Beforehand, I decided to read a little about the significance of a 15th year party for a girl. I assumed the importance was because turning 15 indicates the girl is ready to marry. Turns out I was correct. Not too difficult to figure out. And, fortunately, no longer a modern day practice.

I found a lot more about quinceañeras that I didn't know. A quince, "constitutes a ceremony on a girl’s fifteenth birthday to mark her passage to womanhood, to give thanks to God for his blessings, and to present a young woman to the community."
1 Sounds about right. There's more. "The young woman’s fifteenth birthday begins with a Misa de acción de gracias, or mass to give thanks for a completed childhood."1 Check. Next, "around the celebrant are seated her damas (maids of honor) and chambelanes (escorts)."1 Check. But then, traditionally, "the festejada, or adolescent woman celebrating the birthday, is seated at the foot of the church altar resplendent in an elaborate pink or white formal dress."1 Did I see this? No. Pecque wore a turquoise dress.

Pecque and her attendants post-mass

At the Quinceañera I was frequently asked, "do you have this kind of party in the U.S.?" My answer was always, "Yes. There are quinceañeras in the U.S. But we also have additional types of similar coming of age celebrations, depending on the culture. And some people even celebrate the 16th birthday more as a custom than a religious celebration."

Which led me to think about Pecque's turquoise dress. "The origins of [the Quinceañeraare shrouded in the history of the Mexican people. As with so many things Mexican, it combines both Spanish-Catholic traditions with a rich indigenous heritage."1 But there was nothing Maya nor Yucatec about this party. 

For example, men in the Yucatan typically (and often) wear shirts called guayaberas. Women wear white dresses with embroidered flowers called huipils

Lucy in a huipil and her escort in a quayabera              Young Pecque in a huipil with her sister Lucia in a huipil

Five years ago, at her sister Lucia's Quinceañera, Pecque's sister wore a huipil. So did 10-year-old Pecque. Lucia had a traditional Quince, which consisted of a Catholic Mass, family photos, and a small reception on site at the church.

What Pecque had last month was a glamourous party. And not a traditional quinceañera. 

Pecques' attendants, cakes, and gifts

Not traditionally Mexican. Nor Mayan. "Every region in Mexico [has] added their own local traditions and customs to the European-derived balls. Regional and local traditions as well as the economic status of the celebrating family exert an influence on the ceremony, determining the atmosphere of the religious service and the party."1

But this not a wealthy family. They do not travel, don't wear new clothes, don't needlessly spend money. In other words, I have no idea how they could afford this celebration. It was an expensive affair; one in which the tiny little town of Ixil (try to find it on a map) found its inhabitants out dancing at the municipal building until 6am. What was this humble family trying to prove? That they could throw an expensive party for their town? It was a fun event, but at what price?

The morning after Pecque's quinceañera, the sun rose; everyone packed up and went home. And Pecque awoke to find herself no longer the center of attention. Her turquoise shoes, turquoise dress, and turquoise eye shadow were now gone. But at least I was there to take the pictures.