The Rough Side

The expat life is interesting, to say the least. When we first discussed relocating to Mexico, I thought that the move would be easy – after all, I’ve lived abroad on numerous occasions. What I didn’t count on was the effect that having an infant to care for would have on my mobility and willingness to integrate into the culture. In college I was care-free and easily adapted to new locales. I had no concerns about what kind of shelter I lived in, how I would obtain food, or the relative safety of public transportation. These things worked themselves out as I wandered around my new locales on foot.

When our darling little man arrived, a switch inside clicked. I started to look for danger – how could I protect him? So small, trusting, and vulnerable… My world changed drastically. At this point, I have been living in the city for nearly 6 months, and have barely gotten to know my new home. That has led to other problems….

Like expat depression.

I didn’t want to name it when I first suspected it, but I have no doubts now. I’m starting to crack out of the overprotective mom shell/hell a bit as little man grows, and that is allowing me to enjoy life here a touch more, but its not easy. It doesn’t help that we are discussing whether or not to stay, that my paperwork is still in progress, that we are going back to the US for at least a one month trip at some point, or that I am afraid to drive here. DH has mentioned kidnappings, I’ve seen terrifying headlines regarding the violence, and the upcoming elections have stirred tempers beyond the boiling point. And I am still trying to breathe.

How do you start to live again once a baby comes into the picture? Sometimes with little man, as much as I love him, I feel as though I am living the wrong life. Trapped in a three room apartment, in a beautiful, historic, bizarre world so radically different from everywhere I had pictured myself before.

And yet, somehow, life goes on…

 

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Chamomile and other thoughts

Ok, so we aren’t exactly on a daily cycle – hubby hasn’t even started writing his blog yet. We’ll get there eventually. As for this post, its emphasis is primarily on traditional medicine in Mexico, with a specific focus on the permeation of chamomile as a panacea. You’ll see what I mean…

In 2006 I was living and studying in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was winter, and my body was unused to the -25C average daily temperature. Rather unsurprisingly, I developed a rather ridiculously strong infection that made my lungs scream with every breath I took. A quick visit to the doctor led to a prescription for an inhaler filled with a concoction of herbs I’d never heard of, and while skeptical at first, I was quickly convinced of the potion’s value. Within three days of using the inhaler, I was a living, BREATHING, human being again.

Like most countries in the world, traditional herbs and plants are an integral part of Russian medicine, along with various techniques and tools that come from indigenous practices. The United States has walked away from the image of natural medicine to a large extent; most medications carry names that obscure the natural origins of their derived components. For example, morphine is an opiate, derived from the same poppies that allowed Sumarian soldiers to fight without concentrating on pain by cutting poppy pods and licking the sap from their blades before battle. Traditional medicine is – to a large extent – modern medicine. A Bangladeshi friend of mine takes that idea one step further. As a landscape architect, he has learned to admire the resources and plants of every space he enters, watching for the inherent value of that which is readily available to the population.

In Mexico, traditional medicine is alive and well. The general population is fully aware of the medicinal uses for many plants, including bougainvillea, gordolobo, yerba santa, epazote, aloe and chamomile. Chamomile is, perhaps, the most interesting of the above, however. In any supermarket in Mexico, you would be hard-pressed to locate toilet paper that didn’t include chamomile scent or extract. Chamomile is also widespread in women’s products, including pads and pantyliners. Chamomile tea is considered the only safe tea for pregnant women here, despite the obvious known benefits of red raspberry leaf – also interesting considering the known uterine stimulant effects observed from the essential oil of chamomile (and hence the recommended avoidance of chamomile during pregnancy in the US).

Vicks BabyRub replaces their lavender extract with chamomile for the Mexican market – even though lavender has been proven to reduce stress. The same goes for most ‘relaxing’ baby products…lavender is not in fashion. It’s chamomile or nothing. The wonder drug for anti-inflammatory uses, digestive troubles, anxiety, menstrual cramps, labor pains, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, hair dye, blood thinner; it’s the panacea of Tenochtitlan (Ethnomed.org, 2012, Segal and Pilote, 2006). Out of curiosity, I decided to research Mexico’s love affair with chamomile, known here as manzanilla.

Two types of chamomile are frequently used for medicinal purposes – Roman chamomile and German chamomile, both are in the astracae family (Matricaria and Chamomila recutita are names for German chamomile, Anthemis nobilis is Roman chamomile). The medicinal history of these plants stretches back thousands of years, and it is considered safe for both children and adults. Although originally from Europe and the Middle East, chamomile can now be found worldwide (NIH Fact Sheet on Chamomile, 2010; Colonial Dames of America, 1995). It is believed that chamomile was brought to the Americas by conquistadors and pioneers as a weed during the early years of colonization in the Americas (Crosby, 1994).

Chamomile is easy to find, fresh and dried, here in Mexico City. In the tianguis by the house, its a guaranteed to be in stock every Monday and Wednesday. Mercado el 100 carries organic chamomile in Col. Roma every weekend. Despite the prevalence of the plant, there is relatively little research available regarding its popularity and its history in the Americas, let alone in Mexico. Perhaps, as my husband pointed out to me tonight, its not so unexpected that Mexicans love chamomile – the plant has a lot of medicinal uses, and it is cheap and easy to cultivate. In a country where medical care is often determined by one’s ability to pay, chamomile may indeed be a panacea.

I know I’m under my thousand words by far, but its bed time. Good night world.

Colonial Dames of America (1995). Herbs and Herb Lore of Colonial America. Dover Press.

Crosby (1994). Germs, Seeds & Animals: Studies in ecological history.

Segal and Pilote (2012) “Warfarin interaction with matricaria chamomilla.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. doi:  10.1503/cmaj.051191

http://www.ethnomed.org (2012) retrieved 5/29/2012.

NIH Fact Sheet on Chamomile (2010) Chamomile: Science and Safety. NCCAM at NIH. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chamomile/ataglance.htm. retrieved 5/29/2012.

 

 

The thing about boobs is…

they’re incredibly useful.

I’m not going to jump into an active discussion of breasts here, so don’t get nervous. I’m going to chip in on the debate surrounding breastfeeding, however.

The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life to minimize the incidence or severity of diarrhea, ear infections, and bacterial meningitis. The academy also suggests that breastfeeding may offer protection against sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, obesity, and asthma. Early supplementation of infants with water, teas, or other liquids is not recommended by the AAP or the WHO, because of the nonnutrient values of these beverages, the solute load of juice, the possibility of introduction of contaminants or allergens, and the possibility that these liquids will displace breastfeeding. The academy policies state that healthy infants require no supplemental water, even in hot weather, because both formula and breast milk provide sufficient amounts of water. Water supplementation has also been associated with oral water intoxication in infants.

That said, some nursing pairs have a really rough time. The mother not be able to produce milk, the baby might refuse it. Allergies, intolerance to something in the mother’s diet, illness and prior surgeries (mastectomies, implants, reductions, etc.) can interfere with the ability of a mother to breastfeed. That said, breastfeeding is best.

Why am I jumping into this topic? Well, I’d say there are two main reasons. First, billions of dollars have been spent my multinational corporations (MNCs) to try to encourage formula feeding instead of breastfeeding, with a heavy focus on Latin America. Incidentally, the above quote comes from a paper on infant formula, tea and water supplementation of Hispanic infants in the United States (Wojcicki et al, 2011 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139537/). Quite a bit of fuss has been made about Nestle’s involvement, and boycotts took place in the 1970’s and 1980’s in response, but the biggest problem might not be the MNCs.

I’ve heard through female friends and family here in the DF that doctors in the government health system actually ADVISE their new mothers to supplement with formula, and feed newborns water if they seem excessively hungry, instead of providing breastmilk on demand. A doctor providing the same advice in the United States could easily be sued for malpractice. Why? Simple.Read the above quote and you get an idea of the potential problems associated with water supplementation. Common sense says it’s a bad idea. And yet, one of the reasons given for water supplementation here is to prevent the baby from getting fat. Ludicrous. Babies are far better self-regulators than adults, and for every month that an infant is fed breastmilk, the likelihood for obesity decreases 4% (Dr. Garcia Velasco, personal communication, 2012).

If the public health system is providing advice which endangers the general population, and cultural belief is that formula is better, or at least equal to breastmilk, how can progress be made? For information on the cultural aspect of breastfeeding in Mexico, see Faliciagayle’s comment in this forum: http://www.mothering.com/community/t/933275/mexican-culture-and-breastfeeding.

Mexico has an extremely low exclusive breastfeeding rate, coupled with high neonate, infant, and child mortality rates (http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/30/56/43136964.pdf , http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/mexico_statistics.html). That shouldn’t come as a surprise when the concept of Montezuma’s revenge is brought up. Traveler’s diarrhea. Anyone who has traveled abroad is familiar with the concept, although hopefully the majority have been able to avoid it. So why the connection to Mexico? Because Montezuma was who? Oh, right. It’s a misspelling of Moctezuma, referring to the Aztec emperor. And where was that empire situated? Hello – Mexico City. But what exactly is it? Well, there are a few nasty bugs that are pretty common down here. 8% of the population has amoebiasis, (you’ve heard of dysentery, right?) which comes in second place to malaria for protozoan diseases (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/212029-overview#a0199).

There’s no shortage of salmonellosis, either – a large portion of the population buys their meat on the street in tianguis. That means no refrigeration – bacterial heaven. Add to that the cultural habit of storing eggs at room temperature, and you’re in microbial stew. It’s a public health disaster waiting to happen. Oh, wait, it is happening.

So back to the boobs, and the question of fetal nutrition south of the border. When I first started looking into this topic, I took a little web-trip to that magic search engine known as Google. Using Google, I located all three lactation consultants in Mexico City with international certification. What an incredible presence! No wonder the population here is so up to date on lactation. Can you sense the sarcasm? Of course, La Leche League International is operating here – thankfully. The problem with their efforts is two-fold, though. Their centers are rather unfortunately located where they are least-needed – in the wealthier areas of the cities, where women can afford private doctors with up to date information on lactation, and the general population’s response to “what do you know about La Leche League International?” is “the what-what league?” It seems they are in need of some PR/marketing work…

This metropolis houses ~23 million individuals. Its mega-city status has provided a mystique and sophistication that much of the rest of Latin America tries to replicate. Poor children on the streets of Venezuela dream of the glamor of Mexico City, as displayed in the myriad telenovelas produced here (Cacho, Esclavas de Poder, 2012 – excellent book on human trafficking and the sex trade, by the way). It seems that if a real change in Latin American breastfeeding can be accomplished, a good starting point might be the DF. So why aren’t there more lactation activists here? Where are the international campaigns? Why are even the doctors still practicing ideas that went the way of the dinosaur in the 1970’s? Why, when major MNCs have spent billions to eradicate a healthy, natural practice, do we see a failure to respond on the part of pro-lactation NGOs and organizations? With infant nutrition as a primary development goal, where are UNESCO and UNICEF? Probably drinking cappuccino in La Condessa, Roma, or Santa Fe with a few Nestle execs…

Pardon my rant for the night. I’ve reached my goal of 1,000 words, so I’ll let this topic rest for now. Cheers to boob-juice and a milkier tomorrow!

 

Change of seasons

In northern climes, the seasons change with the drastic shudder of majestic trees who shiver naked in the cold, dripping with icicles, and await a spring of budding leaves, flowers, and a summer of vibrant and quickly fading greens.  Here, atop ancient lava flows and a still-soggy lake-bed, like life itself, the seasons move slowly.

Winter is barely noticed; marked by a slight drop in temperatures, and the occasional need for a coat or sweater in the evenings. Spring arrives, wet and unforgiving, and a grey haze takes over the city. That is, when you can distinguish the clouds from the smog – and in the distance, Popocatepetl stretches to the sky, covered in a white blanket, but surrounded on all sides by a green cloak.In the city itself, jacarandas are blooming, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Dr. Seuss’ truffula trees – covered in purple blossoms, but without leaves. There are other trees whose blossoms awaken first, of course, but I don’t know their names – some a red, others yellow, a few look like they could be related to poinsettias. The city is awash with color under a gray blanket. And yet, the change happened slowly, imperceptible to the denizens of the city, but perhaps obvious to tourists.

Now, it is summer. The landscape is a lush green, and the rains come less frequently. The last spring blossoms are still visible, and the nopale cactus has come into bloom. The pace of life here has grown significantly slower, with vacations approaching rapidly and national holidays creating gaps in the work schedule.

Produce at the neighborhood tianguis is looking more and more delicious, and the number of boxes carrying imported fruits is decreasing steadily. Now, the market tables are heavy with mamay, several types of mangoes, chicozapote, guava, strawberries, blackberries, papaya, melons of all types, pineapples, plantains, bananas…more fruits than I can possible describe. The vegetable selection is equally delightful, and despite being just a small street market, the variety is impressive. Every Monday and Wednesday the red tents go up, and a gourmand’s paradise is erected.

Summer also marks the election season here. On July 1st, the new president and several members of Mexico’s senate will be elected. Tempers, like temperatures, are rising steadily. Advertisements for classes, concerts, movies and plays are being replaced by election slogans. Everything that can be covered with election posters is – apartment buildings, cars, busses, lamp posts, street signs (don’t try finding new locations at this time of year!), the city is papered like a bizarrely over-sized present, waiting for a lucky – or perhaps not so lucky – politician to unwrap it. Equally prevalent are claims of electioneering and fraud. The students are organizing protests in public and private universities, twitter-verse is being monitored by local newspapers in the hopes of determining who the real winner will be, since many suspect polling houses have been bribed. Quiet meals in restaurants disappear as political debates, commentary, and parody take over.

I am waiting for the elections with the eager anticipation of an outsider. Their results will impact me heavily, but I cannot participate. For the first time, I am unable to voice my opinion publicly. In fact, citing article 33, I am expressly forbidden from participating in political conversations, rallies, protests, etc. in any way. I am mute, but not by choice. I’ve never understood how my husband felt when we were living in the US and he was the one unable to vote. Now, I can empathize. It’s a suffocating sensation. The world around you will change drastically. You have no choice but to be a part of it, and yet you can’t be a part of the process. Stakeholder or not, you are left out in the cold, a silent observer.

That’s all for today. I know I have once again fallen short of 1000 words, but I’ve at least made a start. There’s not much more on my mind at the moment, and I’m not the kind of person who can write just to occupy time and space. I find it droll and annoying. That said, there is one change to announce in the purpose of this blog. I know, I know, I’ve just started writing, so how can I change things so quickly? Right? Well, after conversing with the hubby, we’ve agreed to take the opportunity to write together from time to time – challenging each other to a new topic every day, and writing our 1,000 words together. I’m not sure how many times we’ll actually do this, but we’re aiming for a daily blog on both our parts. Most likely, we’ll end up writing once a week. I’ll do my best to maintain my normal entries on our days off…

 

 

Peace and Quiet

Every year, I would ask my mother what she would like for her birthday. Her answer: Peace and Quiet. Being a rambunctious little cuddle-bug, I had no clue what those two concepts meant to a woman who worked 60+ hours per week to support her rather large, dysfunctional family. Now, as a mother of one dog and a baby, wife to a workaholic, expat trying to survive in a new culture, I have an inkling…

This blog is my peace and quiet. I will rant, rave, cry, laugh, and let it all hang out here, all in search of a little peace and quiet.

There is, of course, an ulterior motive to my newly established blog.  I would like to be a better writer. What does that have to do with writing a blog? And shouldn’t I have accomplished that task before subjugating countless individuals to my half-assed attempts at sounding readable? It’s simple, really. I’ve listened to the greats. Hemingway, Garcia-Marquez, and for those in politics – Kennan. They’ve all agreed on a basic point: the first step towards becoming a great writer is to establish a routine. I can’t claim plots, creativity, style, voice, or frankly anything at all until I have honed my skill and developed a routine. 1,000 words per day is my minimum mark, although I’m afraid I’ll probably fall short.

Why will I fall short of a 2.5 page (Arial font, mind you) mark? Because I lack confidence in my own abilities. In order to write, you have to have something to say, and I don’t see what I have to say that the rest of the world would be keen on hearing quite yet. I imagine that in time, as I write more frequently, I’ll wake up the addiction that once drove my daily actions. I wrote so much drivel in high school that it pains me to think of it, although I’ve been told by several friends that it’s really not as bad as I think. One even volunteered to safeguard my writings so as to prevent me from trashing them all, so who knows…perhaps I am my own worst critic.

So that’s it for today. Nearly 400 words, nothing more. It’s a start though. The foundation of my refuge has been laid. I’ve now officially created a space away from motherhood, marriage, and cultural clashes. My own little refugio – on the world wide web.