Thursday, January 12, 2017

And we can't even drink the water

It's 45 degrees in Mexico City this morning.  Even when considering Mexico City's sky high elevation, nobody expects anywhere in Mexico to be this chilly -- most of all, apparently and unfortunately, me. The wardrobes I packed for the first week before the movers arrive are more "Spring-like" than "Winter in yo face."

Our apartment doesn't have a heating system so the kids and I are currently wearing all pieces from our Spring-like collections at the same time (my light sweater pairs surprisingly well with my other light sweater and my pajama pants work well as a scarf) and are huddling together under blankets.

I understand why central heating is not common in Mexico City.  It's not often needed.  But for those who know this town, can you suggest a place where I might buy a space heater so I can keep my fingers limber enough to type on winter mornings?  I've heard there's a place called "Liverpool" but I couldn't tell if that person was being truthful or just trying to send me to England so I'd leave them alone. (the person was Alex)

We were happy when we walked into the apartment our arrival night, greeted by cheerful Sergio from the relocation company, exhausted from the travel and looking forward to finally being here after a hectic month of planning. The apartment was in the exact location we wanted with an impressive city view several floors above the worst of the street noise. Best of all, there was a pool above us on the penthouse level, which made the kids' eyes bug out of their heads in disbelieving ecstasy.

The issue began the morning after arrival, a slight smell in the kitchen that made Al and I wrinkle our noses at each other. "What's that?  A whiff of sewer with our coffees?" We passed it off as an inevitable consequence of immense city living, the occasional sniff sniff of something unsavory, and moved on.

A handful of hours later, the stench was near unbearable. Our apartment smelled of raw sewage, as if the shit of one million strangers flowed straight through the living room. We escaped, went outside, walked the neighborhood to clear our heads and nostrils and hoped in our stupid way it would clear up on its own by the time we returned.

It didn't. Or more accurately, it did, but then it didn't.  Over the next couple of days it would clear up for a few hours but would return mid-morning, or around dinner time, dashing our hopes to the ground and making our delicious take-out tamales suddenly unappetizing.

I didn't sleep well with the smell.  My middle-of-the-night awake hours were spent Googling things like, "Will poop smell kill you?" and "How much methane gas does it take before your apartment blows up?" We contacted the relocation company, who were apologetic and promised to send a plumber as soon as possible Monday morning.  But Alex and I could not wait until Monday morning; we would not, could not, survive the smell until Monday morning. We had to become plumbers ourselves and fix it by Saturday afternoon or die.

I researched online and announced, "Alex, the issue is dry p-traps." Alex high-fived me, impressed with my plumbing sleuthing skills, and we proceeded to run every sink, shower, flush every toilet, run all the appliances in an attempt to fill those p-traps and bring those water seals back home to mama.

It didn't work. So we spent most of the next day up at the pool where we could relax and pretend our apartment didn't smell like it enjoyed shitting itself on the regular.

Al and I didn't want to move away from the apartment that checked all the right boxes but were coming to the sad realization we had to. We sat in the kitchen later that night and composed a demanding email -- we needed a relocation to our relocation immediately. It was about then I mentioned in an offhand kind of way that all the appliances in the apartment were brand new, even still had stickers on them.

Alex suddenly grabbed my arm (ouch, damn, dude) and said, "Wait! If they're all brand new, maybe they were installed incorrectly?"


We first attacked the dishwasher, pulled it out from the wall. The smell behind the dishwasher was overwhelming, so bad you no longer saw a future for yourself.  We saw it right away; the dishwasher hose had no seal around it. There was a gaping space all around the hose, nothing blocking sewer fumes from coming back up the pipe and stopping in for a quick "hellooo!" before rushing out one of the many windows we'd left cranked wide open.

We un-installed the dishwasher, wrapped the pipe completely in Saran Wrap and secured it with one of my ponytail hair ties. The smell got better but it wasn't gone.  We were onto something but there was another source.

Lucien and Coco walked down the hall to find Al and I on our hands and knees crawling through the apartment sniffing walls and drains.  Lucien asked, "What are you guys doing?" and Alex said, "We are in control of the situation." The kids looked at each other, nodded, then wandered back to their room. They often seem confident we know exactly what we're doing.  If they only knew the full degree to which we are winging this whole thing.

We followed our noses to the brand new washer/dryer.  Same hose-to-pipe gap ratio with no seal. More Saran Wrap, another ponytail tie.

Suddenly, magically, we could breathe again. The goddamn smell was gone.  We collapsed on the ground, rolled around like happy little puppies because air is wonderful and the kids get to keep their pool.

it's the only thing keeping them cheerful about this move

Sergio came by Monday morning with the plumber to correctly re-install the appliances.  I knew they had arrived because the phone thing on the wall started buzzing but I didn't know what to do with the phone thing to allow them admittance.  I froze at first, then after more buzzing I picked it up and said, "Hola! Hola!" in a confident kind of way but nobody responded.

There are several unmarked buttons on the phone thing so I began pushing them, which resulted in multi-toned high-pitched piercing sounds in my eardrums.

tell me your secrets, phone thing

Soon thereafter, Sergio showed up at our apartment's door with the plumber and the doorman (who would not let them in without my permission and was concerned for my wellbeing when all he heard were multi-toned piercing sounds from his own wall phone thing) and Sergio immediately suggested, "How about I teach you how to use the doorman intercom system now?"

These were welcome gifts given to us by our relocation company -- a bag and a sleep mask.
Judging from the messages, 
I think our relocation company is a real whore.
(or it thinks we're real whores?)

This transition is going to be harder on the kids than I imagined.  Lucien has a mostly chin-up attitude but Coco has cried every night since we arrived.  I heard her crying in the middle of the night a few nights ago so got up and padded down to her room. I held her and agreed that moving is hard, and that I missed home, too. I reassured her the transition time is the hardest and it was going to get easier, and promised her Mommy and Daddy wouldn't have done this if we didn't know she'd be OK.

Then I told her to get it all out, give me the entire list of things she hates about the move. Her list was shockingly long for being in the country only a handful of days. She misses her friends, her teacher, her house, her dog, she hates that she doesn't understand anything anyone says, and the city is too loud, and I'm mean to her when we're walking around our neighborhood (cars are crazy here, sorry honey, gotta keep you close) and then, the grand finale, her voice rose to a high pitch indeed and she cried, "AND WE CAN'T EVEN DRINK THE WATER."

I couldn't help it. I started laughing. Coco, after an initial period of indignant shock that her mom was laughing, started laughing too, and then I heard Alex laughing loudly from our bedroom.  It has since become our family's rallying cry.

She ain't even lying.  This was our first purchase as Mexico residents.

Coco woke up crying even harder the next night.  She and Lucien share a room and he was deeply asleep, or so I thought, so I was in a hurry to comfort and quiet her before she woke him.

I whispered, "Coco, baby, you are feeling so sad right now but everything feels harder and lonelier in the middle of the night. I promise things will feel a little better in the morning. Now what's one happy thing we can think about to help us go back to sleep?" and she said, "Nothing, there is nothing, life is completely devoid of joy and I hate you" (she didn't say that but I could read it in her eyes).

I continued. "We had a good time at the pool today and we had a nice lunch at that place where you liked the frijoles and you really enjoyed the carousel at the park today... maybe we can think about one of those things?  What's something that makes you so happy you smile when you think about it?"

There was a beat of silence as Coco thought. She opened her mouth, was about to say something when suddenly Lucien piped up from the other side of the room.... "mah butt cheeks."

Coco laughed so hard I went with it, made her promise that whenever she was down about moving to Mexico-- heck, whenever any of us were down about moving to Mexico -- we were going to think about Lucien's butt cheeks. We agreed that was a good plan of action, even shook on it.

We went to the kids' school two days ago for admissions exams and tours.  They will start school Monday, or maybe not, no idea really, because there are some unanticipated problems that are giving us immense anxiety.  There are also problems with Natani at home; she has become aggressive with our housesitter's dog.  Natani has never been aggressive with any dog, is always the first to flop on her back submissively, so it seems she's having some transition pains of her own.

Sometimes there are so many problems and questions and confusion in a new place, it feels like a weight on your chest and you wonder if you're ever going to breathe normally again, even if your air is now sewage-stink free.

And we can't even drink the water.

....mah butt cheeks,


  1. HANG IN THERE mj and family........we are rooting for you!

  2. God bless Lucien. Title of your book about expat life in Mexico City? Mah Butt Cheeks. ;) That kid is a gem. Much love to Coco and to all of you. Just look at all the things you're learning how to do! So glad the stink is resolved. As for the adjustment period? You can doooo eeeeet! You just know that Coco is going to be the one fighting to stay in Mexico when it's time to go. Funny how that works. xoxo

  3. "Mah butt cheeks." Can I also adopt this as my go-to cry? Like, in the face of adversity, instead of "f&@k it." I'll just throw up my hands and declare, "Mah butt cheeks.".

  4. OH my!!!!! All the usual feelings that kids go through when they move but on top of that your kids have some unique situations they have to cope with. You seem really tuned into their thoughts so I have to think it will be okay and they will be a lot more interesting adults for the experience. Hugs to both of them in the meantime. Kathy in Iowa

  5. hoping your kids are happy soon! and thank you for sharing your adventures. laughing is good medicine!

  6. Hugs from SF. It's true - we're all rooting for you and your family!

  7. Lucien is the best! This is the hardest time, before everyone is settled in their routines... it's like a vacation, but everyone knows it isn't.
    You and Al and Lucien and Coco and Natani can do it!!

  8. It will get better! (Right??) Can you take a Spanish class? You'll learn Spanish and make friends that are in a similar situation--the latter advantage is as important as the former.