Friday, 13 November 2015

Thrill The World Ajjic and More ...........!!!!!

What a fabulous couple of months I've just had!

Most of you will know by now that I took part in the Thrill The World Ajijic dance on October 24th to help raise much needed funds for Cruz Roja (Red Cross), our local First Responders who man the local ambulances and provide emergency First Aid treatment to our community. So far we've raised over 20,000 US Dollars which is about £15,000 in UK terms. Brilliant result and many, many thanks to all those who sponsored me!
Zombie Barb

Practice started for this event in mid September giving us 5 weeks or 10 practice sessions to get all the moves right. It was a challenge - especially for Elliott and Val, our tutors. These girls are saints for teaching 50 people who've never danced before how to do a reasonable Zombie dance! It was hot, hard work for all involved and then Hurricane Patricia threatened all Elliot's plans for a big outdoor performance in Ajijic plaza which was to be followed by a motor parade through town to Six Corners where we planned to dance again for the local community. Elliott made frantic back up plans but the day dawned and Hurricane Patricia had bypassed us - we only had one day of torrential rain the day before the event.

The day passed in a blur - final rehearsals, zombie make up, decorating trucks for the parade  and finally "Show Time". Then just as we were all lying down playing dead in the plaza, the rain started again! It didn't dampen our spirits through and kept us cool while we performed to a huge crowd. Nor did it rain on our parade and we managed to stay dry for the next hour or so until we returned to the plaza for an open air meal and Zombie Prom - then boy, did it come down! We partied on for a couple of hours but by then we were very Soggy Zombies and decided to head for home. What a blast though! Here's the YouTube link to the full dance -

Halloween Party
The following week, on Halloween, my Zombie outfit got another airing. Mid afternoon, I went to get made up as a Zombie again, then walked through town in my Zombie get up to the cinema where a Mockumentary of the making of Thrill the World, Ajijic 2013 was being shown - I was not the only person daft enough to go in full fancy dress! Out of the cinema then straight on to a friend's house for a Halloween fancy dress party which was enormous fun - I haven't got a photo but Dave was actually dancing  ............ well sort of! 

The final fancy dress outing was on Day of the Dead which is a huge event here in Mexico. The local cemetery is heaving with people all day long. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to remember and pray for the dead and help support their spirtual journey.  Plans for the day are made throughout the year including gathering goods to be offered to the dead. Most families prepare special altars (ofrendas) in their homes complete with photos of the deceased family members, flowers, candles and mounds of food, soda and water for the weary spirits. During the 3 day period, families usually clean and decorate the graves, often with orange Mexican marigolds and by the afternoon of November 2nd, the parties have all moved to the graveside. People believe that the gates of heaven open up on October 31st and the spirits of all the dead children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. on November 2nd, the adult spirits come down and enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. 

When I went to the cemetery, Mariachi bands were playing, barbeques were fired up graveside and children were having fun. The evening ended with a parade to Ajijic plaza where the party continued with music, dancing and of course more eating and drinking. A real eyeopener into the Mexican way of dealing with death!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Dentist Accused of Hiding Material Worth Thousands of Pesos!

I thought about entitling this blog "It Could Only Happen in Mexico" but then I got to thinking that crazy situations present themselves everywhere you go, not just here in Mexico. So ........ as all the following shenanigans are now public knowledge having been reported extensively in the local Spanish language newspaer, Laguna, I decided to use the headline used in the paper.

Some months ago, I wrote a blog post on the appalling lack of materials and equipment at the local dental clinic housed in the Centro de Salud where free treatment is provided to the poorest residents of Ajijic by Dr.Miguel Villasenor who volunteers his time every weekend and holiday and where Dave & I assist.

There is a salaried dentist there from Monday to Friday who is very difficult to track down - the local Delgado (a bit like a town mayor) has called several times during working hours and can't locate this guy who seems to keep his own hours and do the bare minimum of work. There is also a senior nurse manning the reception desk on weekdays and a health centre manager. These folks have made life extremely difficult for Dr Villasenor by hiding the clinic key, hiding remote controls and every week hiding a different item or two from our miniscule stock of materials or instruments. Over the past five months since the inception of the dental service, Miguel has spent over 60,000 Pesos on materials, all funded from his own pocket so that he can continue to provide this desperately needed service. All the while  he was being told by the centre management that the Secretary of State for Health had not ordered any materials for the clinic.

On Saturday 7th August, Miguel was reduced to placing fillings with a pair of scissors as no other equipment was available. But, on Sunday 9th August, a huge stash of materials and instruments was discovered hidden in a filing cabinet on the premises. There was a curing lamp, several sets of forceps, a micro motor handpiece, amalgamator, syringes, gloves resins and much, much more totalling in the region of 100,000 pesos! Dave was present when this huge haul was found as were several patients, Absolutely unbelieveable!
Some of the equipment 
                                                   Materials & equipment

More materials
Hector, the Delgado was informed along with Harry who organised the fund raising for the provision of the dental chair and unit and the Laguna paper and police were notified. Miguel and Hector were interviewed and we think the journalist tipped off the centre manager and the weekday dentist because the manager suddenly took leave of absence and the dentist filed an accusation against Miguel stating he'd stolen personal property although we still don't know what Miguel is supposed to have stolen!

As a result of the allegation of theft, Miguel was called before the administrator of the local area Health Board in La Barca but I guess they didn't expect a delegation of 20 local people to arrive to support him both verbally and with written testimonials. Strangely, the accuser was never asked to attend! Miguel and his support team produced documented and photographic evidence of the stash of hidden materials and very soon the Administrator stopped being antagonistic towards Miguel and decided to refer the whole issue to a higher authority.

So last week, once again, the whole support team trooped off - this time to Poncitlan to meet with the high up bods of the Secretary of State for Jalisco who eventually found for Miguel and against the bad service provided to the local population by the Centro de Salud. They noted changes that needed to be made and that these MUST be in place within one month. They noted the problem wasn't just the hidden dental materials but the terrible service which had been provided by the Centro de Salud to the local people for many years.

We're still unclear as to what is going to happen to the weekday dentist, the senior nurse or the centre manager as they failed to attend for the investigation despite being advised to attend. Hector, the Delgado is campaigning for their removal from office so let's hope he's successful.

Anyway, our dental service will continue ...... at least at weekends and we now have some extra materials and instruments so we're all happy!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Free Dental Treatment Part 2

Well ....... I promised a second installment so here we go!

The uptake of free treatment at the Centro de Salud has been exceptional. The appointment book is now full for the next 7 weeks so goodness only knows what will happen if the treatment suddenly becomes "unavailable" if the "wrong" party wins the July elections.

My eyes have been opened VERY wide regarding the total lack of appropriate dental instruments and materials. Absolutely nothing has been provided for Dr Villasenor to work with. He has to pay for all materials out of his own pocket.

I mentioned in the last post that although there's an x-ray machine, there are no x-rays provided, no x-ray developer and no x-ray viewer. Once Dr Villasenor has developed the x-rays at his practice in Guadalajara, we  use the blue light normally used for curing resin fillings, held up behind the x-ray to have a look see - innovative or what! It really doesn't make life easy when you have no instant access to x-rays when treating patients in pain. Dr Villasenor is also a whizz at making single tooth dentures out of orthodontic wire and acrylic resin!

Dave had his first session there a couple of weeks ago and he was totally shocked by the lack of instrumentation. The dental unit doesn't even have water running to it, so no water to cool down the high speed handpiece, no running water to flush the spittoon. No running water period! All we can do is flush the spitoon with a cup of clorox in between patients.

We have no slow speed handpiece and the sum total of instruments available for tooth extraction is 2 elevators, 1 pair of forceps for baby teeth molars and 1 pair of wisdom tooth forceps for adult teeth. Everything needs to be done with these 4 instruments and he's not allowed to use the clinic's autoclave! Oh yeah - we do have 2 mouth mirrors and 2 hand scalers but I've yet to see a probe of any description. Dr Villasenor is a saint for working in this clinic.

For some reason - probably that Dr Villasenor belongs to the "wrong" political party - the management at the Centro de Salud make life really difficult for him. So far, they've locked the gates and "lost" the keys while he has a line of people waiting to be seen, queuing up in the street, they've hidden all the masks and surgical gloves and today there were no paper towels or plastic cups. Petty, petty, petty! Anyway things may yet get worse as he gave an interview to Laguna paper which was published today decrying the disgraceful attitude of the management of the Centre. Dave & I were mentioned in tis article but fortunately we've become Italian overnight as our surname was changed to Venci! So ..... I guess we're still sort of anonymous

Paperwork wise, I'm now coping very well and can deal with taking medical histories, writing up the clinical notes and keeping the day list log although Dave is only managing the medical history bit and doing some illicit dentistry to give Dr Villasenor a well earned back stretch. We are both now getting known in the area and have been mentioned in two patient testimonials so far by people who are grateful we're giving up our free time to help. In fact, when I was visiting my doc yesterday, he asked if we'd help at another free clinic in Chapala if the one in Ajijic folds after the elections!

Talking of Doctors, the Doc in question was Dr Santiago Hernandez in Chapala who I was visiting for the first tim . What a lovely man! I decided to go to him as our daughter, Gill, is entrusting him with her pre & post op care when she's here in July for cosmetic surgery and if he's going to look after her, I wanted to check him out first! I reckon I had the most thorough medical check up I've ever had at a doctor's surgery and was there for a full hour. He's a little more expensive than many docs around here but what value for money - $800 pesos so around £34. I've still to get blood tests done but here in Mexico you go to a separate lab for that so I don't have the costs yet.

I think Gill will be fine!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Two Very Different Lakeside Dental Experiences

The First Experience

I have to say that one of the scariest things I’ve had to do since moving to Ajijic 5 months ago was to think about finding a new dentist. Bearing in mind that Dave has been my one and only dentist since he was a 4th year dental student at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Dental School way back in the Dark Ages, this was not going to be an easy task. Dave decided he needed a clean and polish too so we asked around and got various recommendations from new found friends.

Eventually, we opted for one dental practice on the “recommended list” as not only did it look modern but it was the nearest to our house and had easy parking outside. The appointment making process was very easy as all the staff speak very good English as they cater mainly to expats and we managed to make a first slot of the day appointment 10 days ahead and the names of the dentists we would be seeing were printed on our appointment cards. So far, so good.

Private Practice
Being good clients we arrived 10 minutes early for our appointment but unfortunately the staff weren’t so prompt, arriving in dribs and drabs up until our 9am appointment time. No-one welcomed us nor did they bother to tell us our appointment would be delayed as they’d decided they were going to have a short staff meeting.

Eventually, 15 minutes after our scheduled appointment time we were taken to individual cubicles where a very cursory medical history was taken before the most impossibly rudimentary examination took place. This consisted of a quick look around with a mirror – no probe, no intra oral camera, no x-rays, no perio probe or pocket charting, no questioning re any dental pain or problems. UNREAL! On the plus side, I think we both received a reasonably thorough cleaning with an ultrasonic scaler but again, no hand scalers were used to check whether all sub gingival calculus had been removed. Guess we’ll be trying the next practice on our list next time. Not impressed!

The Second Experience

Centro de Salud
Now this experience has absolutely zero to do with our own dental treatment. On the contrary, it has to do with an experimental free treatment clinic which has opened at the Centro de Salud, Ajijic and is equipped courtesy of funds raised by various local expat groups. Each weekend from 8am – 7pm it is operated on a voluntary basis by Dr Miguel Villasenor Calvillo, a specialist Orthodontist whose week day practice is in Guadalajara. Weekends he provides any and every kind of dentistry from fillings to dentures to oral surgery – whatever is needed in fact.

I spotted a post on a local web board begging for volunteers with dental experience to help Dr Miguel as he had no chairside or admin help whatsoever and was treating up to 24 patients a day! Dave and I promptly offered to help but as Dave was away playing with paragliders in Orlando last week, it was down to me to do the first weekend. And what an eye opener!

First off there are hardly any hand instruments and no x-ray developer, although there is an x-ray machine. Dr Miguel needs to take the x-rays to his practice in Guadalajara to develop them, then bring them back to the clinic the following week! The volume of patients is so great (all of them need urgent treatment) that instruments are just scrubbed under running cold water and reused. Many people who come for treatment arrive with family members in tow who just automatically clean up after their relative has finished treatment – cleaning the spittoon, scrubbing instruments, washing the floor. They are so grateful this clinic is providing much needed treatment, you just wouldn’t believe it. One guy stayed for 5 hours helping out last Sunday after his three children had been treated …… and this is a guy who works two jobs over 12 hour days Monday – Saturday to provide for his family. On both days, someone turned up with chicken, rice, tacos and juice for us to make sure we were fed and watered. This is true gratitude.

My role last week was to tackle the admin side of things and needless to say, government forms in Mexico are as onerous to complete as the NHS forms in the UK. Plus they’re in Spanish! This was a huge challenge for me but fortunately I speak Spanish well enough to cope although inevitably I couldn’t understand everything and got a trifle confused at times! It’ll be interesting to see how Dave copes this weekend but to be fair, I have volunteered to go along and help him understand what he needs to do. Once we’ve got that out of the way, we’re hoping between us we can provide a full two days of cover between us each week. I think there may be another dental post hot on the heels of this one!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Play Versus Work!

Image result for retirement images
Not so long ago, during my working life in Scotland, my days were full beyond belief ; 24 hours just wasn’t enough and I longed for more hours in the day and more days in every week. Most of the time it wasn’t simply due to pressure of work but because I wanted to give everything I had to work and then have the same amount of time and energy available for play! I had so many ideas to make our business better than anyone else's business and somehow had to find time to make it all happen.

I wanted to try to grasp the essence of time in my hands and stop it moving on too quickly.  But if you try to catch a bubble mid flight, you’ll know it’s well nigh impossible.  My friends all said I'd never, ever manage to retire because I'd always a another new idea, another new business to start. I managed to juggle so many balls in the air at one time that sometimes I wondered how on earth all those retired people filled their days. Oh I know they all said they wondered how they used to find time to work but I couldn’t really believe them. Life was full, fun, exciting but stressful.

But now …… well I guess there’s a different story to tell about how I fill my time just pottering. And pottering has  now assumed all the importance of my previous stress filled days, juggling time, managing other people’s problems, chasing dreams. In truth, aren’t we all just pottering? Filling our time with lists of things we need to do and in the world of work with things that increase our sense of self worth and importance?

So this is what you find you do when you let go of  “stuff”, when you retire. You take your time. You enjoy the minutes taken to listen to the dawn chorus before you get out of bed, to the sound of the cicadas singing their night time song, you savour an unscheduled cuppa with a friend, you sit and read a book without feeling guilty, or spend time just thinking and being still. Now, my days are filled simply enjoying life, enjoying time spent with the people I meet. 

Image result for retirement images
There are fewer lists but our social diary is full; we have time to learn to speak, write and read Spanish which in turn is enhancing the quality of our new life here in Mexico; we have time to play golf, to call family and friends and chat on Skype. We have time!

Retirement is a gift, an opportunity to stop trying to do everything now, a chance to take life at your own speed. It’s just grand!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Ten Big Changes That Are Now Part Of Our Lives

When Dave and I decided to relocate to Mexico we knew full well there'd be some radical changes to our lives. Obviously we were prepared for a different culture - there would be a language barrier to overcome, we would need to get used to driving on "the wrong side of the road", find safe places to let the dogs run free, find out where to buy furniture, clothing and household goods to name but a few.

BUT, the biggest changes to adapt to, came at us out of the blue. Here are just a few:-

1.  The Maniac Drivers
Image result for driving Mexico
 So, OK, I've driven in France, Portugal, Canada and the USA and in all of these countries I've driven  a left hand drive car on the right hand side of the road without any particular problem. But here in Ajijic, it was at least two weeks before I dared get behind the wheel and then only if Dave acted as co-driver. What a shock to my system to go in one fell swoop from being a very confident driver to quivering learner status once again. Cars, trucks. cyclists, cows, horses, dogs and people just seem to materialise from nowhere in the middle of the road. You daren't move from your lane without doing a 360 degree check around your car. You can be undertaken, overtaken, dodged around, out maneouvered and any variety of combinations of the above. I'm used to driving about town now but please don't ask me to drive into Guadalajara!

2. Personal Space
Hmmm......... now here's a tricky one for us Brits. We never stand too close to another person, we only give hugs to people we know really well and it's still not a man on man thing but here in Ajijic, it's a close up, hugging society. People stand closer when talking, they hug when they meet, men clasp right hand to right hand up by the shoulder then come in close for a man hug. Don't think Dave's quite got the hang of this yet but give him time. We even get hugs when we visit restaurants!

3. Toilet Paper
Almost invariably, in this area, toilet paper goes into a plastic lined bin at the side of the loo as most places are served by "septic tanks". I put this in inverted commas because they're usually more of a cess pit than a septic tank. We were told that our house, which is only seven years old, had a septic tank but it is, in fact, a basic cess pit which would rapidly get clogged up if we were to flush paper like we did at home. It did take some getting used to but I think we've adapted now.

4. Timekeeping
Thank God we served our apprenticeship in timekeeping in the Scottish Highlands which operates very much on a "maƱana" basis so no great shock to us here. Some folks though, have a big issue with  Mexican timekeeping and get really frustrated. My advice is to go with the flow - less stress, more fun! As far as party invites go, it's fine to be on time or fashionably late when invited to an expat party but don't turn up for a least 2 hours after the invite time for a Mexican party - it won't even have started!!!

5. Online Shopping & Carrying Cash
Here in Ajijic, we live in a mainly cash society - think back to the 60's and you'll get the picture. We draw thousands of pesos at a time from the bank which is a bit scary until you realise that we're paying no Direct Debits, no Credit Card bills and we pay for very little with our Debit Card. We pay cash for optical, dental and medical appointments, cash for petrol, electricity, food and drink, cash for bits and pieces for the house and wages for our gardener and cleaner. I think the only time we use our Debit Card is to pay our monthly golf dues and occasionally at Walmart.
Online shopping used to be a fact of live in the UK but now we never even look online - I haven't yet worked out how much we're saving by NOT shopping online! Anyway, it's just not worth it as the postal service in Ajijic is diabolical and there'd be a minimum of 16% tax to add to any imported goods which may or may not arrive. Funny what you can manage without!

 6. Good Old Fashioned Customer Service

Image result for images supermarket baggers Mexico
Since arriving here in November, I've never once had to bag my own groceries in the supermarket or fill my own car with petrol. Both services are offered at every location I've visited for the price of a small tip. The offer of a hand car wash is also available in the supermarket car parks, outside of some restaurants and at various parking locations along the highway - a very convenient service for about 40 pesos (23 pesos to £)

7. Getting Used To Sunny Days!
Anyone who, like me, has spent their entire life in the gloom of North East England and then the Scottish Highlands will identify with my craving for sunlight, sunshine and warm air. In the N.E., even the nicest of days was often marred by a sea fog and general dampness in the air whilst my problem in the far north of Scotland was the seemingly never ending darkness of the winter months. Consequently, the temptation to sunbathe the minute there was a glimpse of sun, was so strong that the inevitable result was a nasty dose of sunburn.
Now we are used to almost constant sunshine, there is no need to fry ourselves and we're quite content to sit and enjoy the coolness of our house during the heat of the day ...... and we've both got nice tans to boot!

8.  Ovens!!!
The bane of my life! We Brits love our ovens - for roasts, casseroles, baking and stuff. I could have cried the first few weeks we were here because not only was I struggling to find the cooking ingredients I'm used to but the damned oven had no temperature control and never heated up to anything like a decent temperature - we were in danger of starving to death! I went out to look for a new oven but not a single one had a temperature control. I've since discovered that most Mexicans don't use their oven or often don't even have one so our cooking is now confined to the stove top, the little counter top oven we bought or ever more frequently ..... eating out. Really hard to adapt to this!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

And They Wonder How We Fill Our Days!

Lake Chapala

When we're chatting with our friends and family on Skype, one of the most common questions we're asked is  "How on earth do you fill your days in a new country?" Well believe me or not but our days just fill up so quickly we're having to turn down invitations as we're finding ourselves double booked!

Some mornings, while Dave is walking the dogs on the lake shore, I drive 6 or 7 minutes into town and join a group at Lake Chapala Society to do a 45 minute weight and resistance band training programme, then we meet up for coffee (or not - it depends!) and three times a week we head off to our Spanish lessons. Two of these classes are grammar classes and one is pure conversation. We have a Mexican teacher who hails from Guadalajara, so that's a huge advantage because she teaches us how things are said in this area rather than the way we might have been taught to say something in the past.

There's no shortage of folks to help you pass the time of day here. In fact, on Friday I was sitting in Cafe Grano Cafe having a cuppa before my Spanish lesson when a head appeared through the open window yelling "Barbarita! Como estas?" The head belonged to Luis, a Mexican guy who sells locally made jewellery, who'd been chatting with us on Christmas Day on Ajijic pier - or to be more precise, the guy with whom Lyn had spent a happy half hour bartering over a pair on earrings in her own inimitable type of semi drunken Spanglish! And so, another pleasant 20 minutes flew by with Luis asking how the girls were doing back in Scotland, what the weather was like there and to be sure to bring the girls back down to Ajijic pier when they next visited! In fact, all you have to do is sit down in any cafe and someone will start talking to you.

During the day, there are so many activities going on in the area that you'd be hard pressed not to find something that interested you whether it's bridge, hiking, canoeing, board games, trips into Guadalajara, line dancing, history clubs, going to exercise classes and much more. This week alone, I've played golf, worked out, been for coffee with friends, done 3 Spanish classes, been to a dog training class, attended a wonderful Viva Mexico buffet and entertainment afternoon and joined in a Western BBQ at the Golf Club. And that's just the social part of our lives - add in all the nitty gritty day to day stuff and you'll understand how our diary is FULL! In fact we still haven't explored San Juan Cosola which is only 2 kilometres west of us or the town of Jocotepec just 8 km away - it's going to take some time!
Viva Mexico!

There are also masses of eateries to explore; some small, family run affairs, others more upmarket restaurants. People brunch, lunch and dine depending on their mood or their schedule and most places are very reasonably priced - we usually eat out about three times a week for the cost of one meal out in Scotland. Every day, you can find somewhere to eat where there's live music ranging from gentle background music to rock banks, singers, piano music, karaoke or just about anything that takes your fancy. We're just spoilt for choice!