Elizabeth is back at La Casa Azul, where several of her former amigos have also returned this year and were thrilled to see her again. They gathered around and gave her hugs. One had even made her mother come up with a little welcome gift.
But yesterday afternoon when I picked E up after her second day, Gabriella the school’s director had one of those assignments for me that I’ve learned to dread. That’s it in the picture.
Last year’s test of will and stamina was E’s costume for the Christmas pageant. We were told she needed green hair ribbons, elastic bracelets with jingle bells on them, and a plain green T-shirt with no designs or text.
It took us days, especially the shirt. You can’t buy a plain T-shirt here. They’ve all got iguanas or palm trees on them, or jokes about being drunk or horny. But we did finally locate one in a high-end department store with nothing on it but a small brand logo, also green.
We were so pleased, until the night of the pageant when nobody else had come nearly as close to spec as we had, and we felt as if we’d tried too hard.
This year’s ordeal was about school supplies.
The note above says: Elizabeth. Please bring for tomorrow 2 notebooks, professional size, with white pages (i.e. no lines or graph paper), Thanks!
It sounded simple enough, but it turned out to be another treasure hunt seemingly designed to torment gringos.
On the one hand, we’re driven by our natures as anxious overachievers, and by our desire as foreigners to fit in, to follow instructions to the letter. On the other hand, we are crippled by our lack of local knowledge and our mediocre language skills.
I read the little paper carefully and repeatedly. It said I must find two notebooks. They must be professional size, which is a term of art in the office supply business. Their pages must be white. I must bring them tomorrow, which is now today.
Oh, there was another specification, which Gabriella explained to me when she handed me the note. The notebooks must NOT be spiral bound. They must have glued binding like a book.
Yesterday afternoon I went down the hill to a little stationery store but found it was closed for siesta. I decided we could pick up the books on the way to school this morning.
Silly me. E and I stopped at the Mega supermarket, which has a vast school supply section. There were hundreds of notebooks, but the few with white pages were spiral bound and too small.
Luckily there was an Office Max right next door. And they had the right notebook. But there was only one left, and the shelf stocker couldn’t find any more in the back. By that time, we were in danger of being late to school, so I dropped E off with the one notebook and then headed for Office Depot.
They had a notebook that looked right, but on closer examination it was not “professional” size but a “kid’s” size slightly smaller. My helper said the store carries only one brand, and they don’t make a professional notebook with unlined pages. In despair, I asked him where I might find what I was looking for.
As I’ve said before, asking for this kind of help in Mexico is hazardous, because people are naturally helpful and will give you information regardless of whether they actually know anything. But I was out of options.
The young man told me he thought there was a store that would have my notebook near Freddy’s Tucan, a popular downtown breakfast spot. So I drove there not expecting much, and sure enough I saw no likely looking store when I arrived.
Wearily, I asked inside the restaurant and was given a zigzag path to follow for about three blocks to a place called Papeleria Limon. It looked from the dusty storefront like a place that sold nothing but cheap knicknacks and faded gift wrap.
But there in the back was a little office supply section, presided over by a smiling girl who instantly produced my article with a flourish, almost as if she had been waiting just for me.
I love this country.