Lynda Lock

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Hello, I’m Lynda Lock. I’m originally from British Columbia, Canada and now live in Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico. It’s an island about seven kilometers long and a kilometer wide 15 minutes by boat from Cancun. It has all the peace and quiet of island life combined with all the big city amenities, including a large international airport just a few minutes away.

I came to Mexico with my husband. We are both from British Columbia Canada, having lived in a variety of small communities and large cities. My original hometown, located in the coastal mountains of British Columbia, is now a deserted ghost town. It was a thriving gold mining town that shut down when the mining company ran out of easily accessible gold. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in the city of West Vancouver, located directly across the harbour from the much larger metropolis of Vancouver BC. We met on a similarly sized island in BC Canada called Bowen Island in 1975. We have been together since 1980. We married in 1987. My husband and I are currently retired. For the most part of our working lives, we were self-employed entrepreneurs with a wide variety of businesses that included an antique store, a freight boat business, a solid waste disposal company, an award winning bed and breakfast, and a micro-brewery, to name just a few. He was also the Fire Chief and I was a volunteer firefighter for many years in another small island community in BC Canada. I’ve also been an ambulance driver, a control centre supervisor for a high-tech computer-driven train, a park attendant, and have written a safety magazine.

My husband and I frequently say that we have Adult Attention Deficient Syndrome. As soon as a business was running well, we got bored and sold it, only to immediately start a different type of business. In the later years of our working careers, we switched to managing businesses for other companies. He managed a large winery and restaurant complex and I managed a mid-sized hotel.

We had enjoyed short vacations on the western side of Mexico for many years and then we discovered the Caribbean side in 2002. Wow! The turquoise water, good food, friendly islanders; we were hooked. After four visits to the island, we purchased an oceanfront lot in 2006 on Isla Mujeres with the idea of building a home. Since we were still working at that time we had planned to live part-time on the island and the balance of the year in Canada.

When it was time to return to work we happened to arrive in the middle of a late spring snow storm. A meter of snow! That was it for us. We told our employers that we would be leaving permanently in October of 2008, and worked until it was time to move to Mexico. In the meantime, we sold our home, furniture, paintings, decorations, books – everything. The only possessions that we kept were some articles of clothing and a few tools or special mementos. Our rule was; if it won’t fit in the car it isn’t going.

We drove from the Okanagan Valley to Isla Mujeres in our Nissan Hybrid car, taking twenty-three days to sightsee across the south-western USA and central Mexico. Our then nine-year-old cat, Thomas, had to wait until we arrived on Isla Mujeres before he could fly with my sister to his new home in Mexico. Thomas starred as the hero in my children’s book The Adventures of Thomas the Cat: Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato. He thrived in Mexico, living until his seventeenth birthday.

Since moving to Mexico, my relationship with my family hasn’t changed. I still see everyone almost as frequently as before. We have an adult son and two grandchildren. They love that we live in Mexico. They visit as often as possible. As for friends, some I see less, others more and I’ve made many more new friends. As I was already retirement age when I moved here, learning a second language has been a big challenge. I miss the easy, silly conversations with the locals, things like chatting about the weather, what’s happening in their lives and how they are doing. I should have learned Spanish about 30 years ago when my brain was younger and I was smarter. It’s a daily struggle, but I keep trying to pick up new words and phrases. I don’t take lessons because I don’t have the patience for classroom learning. Like all things in my life, I learn as I go. My Spanish is limited, but I keep trying.

I love Mexican culture. It is like being transported back in time to the 1950’s. There are large and close-knit families who look out for each other and easy freedom for the kids, not so many organized and scheduled activities, just outdoor fun with friends. I especially love the climate by the ocean in the tropics.

Living in Mexico has helped me to discover the ability to just live and not worry about the silly stuff that we have no control over. I have learned to be patient, when to give up and when to move on. For example, having a guarantee doesn’t mean much. You have to be calmly persistent to get service for any appliance or piece of equipment that is theoretically under guarantee. After seven weeks of polite and daily phone calls with the help of one of our Mexican friends, we finally got our new refrigerator fixed by the manufacturer. My friend’s words of wisdom regarding guarantees were “It’s a game of Survivor. You have to outlast, outwit and outplay your opponent to win.” That really made me laugh.tomas The accomplishment that makes me the proudest was self-publishing my first book in hardcover “The Adventures of Thomas the Cat: Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato.” It involved figuring out how to get it printed in China as the printing costs in Mexico, USA and Canada were too much for my budget, arranging the shipping to Mexico, clearing the shipment through customs and arranging for trucking to our city. It was a great learning experience.

In my free time, I write for my own pleasure, walk on the beach with our low-to-the-ground rescue mutt, socialize with friends, enjoy the sunset and a glass of wine with my husband, who is my best friend, and take pictures.

I have self-published four books and two more are in the process.
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Books in progress:
Named by the Enemy, historical fiction set in Canada.
The Adventures of Thomas and Sparky, the bilingual sequel to The Adventures of Thomas the Cat: Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato.

I write a weekly blog called Notes from Paradise–Isla Mujeres with my husband. Whoever has the bright idea for the week, writes the articles. I take 90% of the photographs because I habitually have a camera attached to my hand. Since we began in September of 2011, we have had over 434,000 page views with the weekly average now hitting around 10,000 pages views. The response is astounding!

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I don’t specifically volunteer for any one charity, just help out where I can with student scholarships, donations to helping animals, and entertaining the island’s youngsters during the Christmas Golf Cart Parade and the Day of the Kings, with our Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes.

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Judy King

Meet Judy King, author of Living at Lake Chapala, an excellent resource for those planning on making the move to Mexico.

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I was born and raised in Iowa – part of the 5th generation of two lines of ancestors: great-great-grandparents with the surnames Thomsen and Chrestensen who emigrated from Denmark in the 1840s. I moved to Ajijic (isn’t that a fun word, with all those letters to dot?) in Jalisco, about 45 minutes from Guadalajara, from southern California in October of 1990. I’m here now because this is la Tierra de mi Corazon – the land of my heart.

I came to Mexico the year my youngest of three children entered college. All three of them were in universities in Iowa and Missouri, I was in California. It didn’t seem to make much difference if I was 1800 miles West of them or 1800 miles South of them. As a fairly recent resident of that town in California, I had just a few close friends – who were preparing to move to the east coast.

My children went through a series of changes, as college students and young adults are meant to do and came out the other end extremely independent, and well prepared to live in the world on their own. NOT having the ability to move back to live with mom really does make a difference. Plus they really enjoyed spending holidays in Jalisco.

By the way, I’m an only child. My mother died in 1972 when I was 29, my father remarried, to a much younger woman, so I didn’t have the obligation to remain in California to care for him…I really was on my own. I came alone. I was divorced, the man I’d met and become engaged to in California had died of cancer, and with the kids in college, I sure was at loose ends.

I’ve changed so much and learned so much in these 26 years that It’s hard to know where to start and how to explain. I was a “bit” of a control freak, I learned those skills along with some other frantic traits at my mother’s knee

I’ve learned to slow down, to not push and shove and force my way through things, that stuff happens on its own schedule, that MY logic is not the logic of this country, that MY country’s way of doing things is not the only way and certainly not the best way. I’ve learned to live one day at a time, a habit that drives some of my newer in Mexico friends wild. Where are we going to lunch tomorrow? I don’t know. I’m answering these questions today. When we get to tomorrow, I’ll let you know. Why would we need to know today?

I’ve learned that time can be fluid. I’ve learned that when appointments are not kept or people are late, it has NOTHING to do with me. It’s just the way it is. AND that Mexico and the US/Canada have different ways of doing things. One isn’t right and the other wrong, they are just different.

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That means I’ve given up a good deal of judgment. Yes, some folks live in houses that others might consider hovels – they are just houses – and the people who come out of those houses every morning are spic and span, combed and coiffed, looking better than I do.

How my belief system has changed is worthy of a whole book—as “the chicken man on the road” said to me once, “Que lastima (what a shame) that extranjeros (expats) shop (and judge) with their eyes and not their hearts. He was killing chickens every morning, plucking and dressing them, and he didn’t refrigerate them, knowing that most people who bought the chickens would be cooking them for comida (meals) in the afternoon. I know from time spent at Great-Aunt Lulu’s farm and at Aunt Margaret and Aunt Betty’s places that fresh chicken is safe, doesn’t grow bacteria that is harmful to us in 4 or 5 hours, UNLESS it is refrigerated, allowed to warm up and then refrigerated again.

I’ve tried to look with my heart and not just my eyes while living here. I’ve learned that money certainly is not the basis of determining the value of people, or of deciding who has knowledge to share with me, or who is “worthy” of being my friend. Certainly a welcome change from the US, and especially Southern California where the pretense of wealth/upper class/ prestige is everything.

I’m angered, I get really HOT when expats, especially those who are new start in with “WHY DON’T THEY….pave over the cobblestones, make laws so it is quiet at night….and on and on and on….” Northerners Don’t have the right to decide what Mexicans do, with their money, with their lives, with their time, with their customs. It’s ok if it is different.

During these years I also converted to Catholicism. Ajijic’s parish church has had an English Mass every Sunday for over 50 years – fairly unusual in Mexico. I was born and raised Presbyterian – totally middle of the road, religion wise. I was a bit of a rebel and was attracted to the Catholic church in my teen years, but it was easier to give up what I wanted than to go face to face with my mother. SO, I waited until I was around 60. Mostly I did it because I was invited to so many weddings and baptisms and quinces that I really wanted to be fully part of the Mass, AND I had fallen in love with the Virgin of Guadalupe and had accepted her as my mother, as the Mexicans also do. Knowing her love and help in return had helped me heal from the leftover wounds inflicted by some born-again family members, and when I was able to accept that Her son really had nothing to do with what those people were doing and saying, I was ready to come back and be in a church again.

I’ve had my share of challenges too. I met an American man here and married him here. I didn’t realize he was an alcoholic and gambler. When my money was gone, he was gone, too. On to the next woman. Then when the divorce took longer than he wanted, he took her to Texas and married her too – I thought happily about putting him in jail in both countries for bigamy, but decided to sit down and shut up and wait until the 10th anniversary when I could collect my social security from his base, rather than mine. By that time the new wife had died of hepatitis, and he was living at the beach, I was here and never saw him, so it didn’t seem to make much difference. Hanging in was worth it. Now I’m collecting widow’s benefits.

It wasn’t quite that simple emotionally, however. It took a good long time for me to heal. If it hadn’t been for Al-anon, I don’t know if I would have. That’s one of the great benefits of living here at Lake Chapala – there is such a great support system of expats, and more than 100 organizations of all kinds meeting in English.

Any challenges these days are small, and usually self-inflicted if I’m honest. I’m almost 72, I’ve been here 26 years, Growing older has meant growing calmer, softer, easier, less stressed, less affected by what is happening out there. Living alone helps too!

There is a pair of accomplishments that make me the proudest. I’m delighted to be seen with respect by many of the Mexican community leaders. I’m not talking elected community officials, but the hometown guys who know who I am and how I believe and what I know about Mexican customs and traditions. They call me la media Mexicana.

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The ONLY thing on my bucket list was to write and publish a book, to hold it in my hands and see my name on the front. I used to “write books” when I was 4 and 5. When I was 6 all I wanted for Christmas was a BIG pile of paper (that I could do with what I wanted), a BIG box of crayons (in 1950 that meant the box of 48) and a lot of pencils and a pencil sharpener. I just received my 4th printing of Living at Lake Chapala, which continues to sell well on amazon.com, too.

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I hope to write another book this year – The working title is FIESTAS! Celebrations of Families, Fireworks, and Faith. In it, I’ll talk about the civic and religious holidays, the customs of celebrations, and the family events, baptisms, first communion, quinceaneras, weddings, anniversaries, deaths, funerals, etc. What I need is to put myself in the chair and stay there until I compile and edit the articles I’ve already written and rewritten over the years and collate them into book format. Thankfully we have a great German/Mexican printer in Guadalajara who will print as many as we want at very reasonable prices.

I have an immigration book ½ finished but I became so angry with the power and antics of the US government – ICE and Homeland Security that I quit about 18 months ago and put it back on the shelf. The name of that was Coming Home: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants. It was a series of interviews with local guys and women who have been to the states, some back as far as the braceros, who worked there and then returned home to live. The alternate chapters would explore issues at the center of the interview – applying for visas, detention, The wall (the original wall, not the newly planned wall) etc.

Things I miss about my life before Mexico include shopping and time with my kids, but in my head, it’s my kids when they were younger, not now when they all in their mid-to-late 40s! Two of them were here for my last birthday. One will be coming this year.

I sold real estate here at Lake Chapala for 11 years, I managed B&Bs for owners, I designed interior decorator accessories for local production to be shipped to the US, Canada, and Europe, I started, edited and maintained a subscription-based online magazine, Living at Lake Chapala for 12 years, I edited a monthly print magazine, the Lake Chapala Review for 8.5 years, and I was a columnist and reporter for the Guadalajara Reporter for 2 years before I retired January 1, 2016. (NOTE: that adds up to more than 26 years! Some of those jobs overlapped, I was multitasking frequently) Now I have social security from the US.

In my free time, I sew, quilt, play the ukulele, attend church, belong to a quilt guild, to a women’s writers group, to a book club, and sharing breakfast or lunch with groups of friends. The expats here are more prone to earlier activities – I hesitate to say we’re old, exactly, but I’m actually excited about the New Year’s Eve party I’m invited to – it is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. PERFECT…then I can come home and put on sweats and spend the evening with my dog – she doesn’t like fireworks. Besides English Mass is at 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

I learned a lot of the skills I needed for daily life growing up in the 50s in Iowa and then being an Iowa farmwife in the 60s and 70s. I was well used to phone, water, and electric outages, even running out of gas. I also read the book Don’t sweat the Small Stuff….PS It’s ALL Small Stuff.  This year I want to continue quilting. I’m making TV couch quilts for my great-grandchildren. I have 2 done, 3 to go. I’ve done quilts for my daughter and one son. Need to do one for my older son this year, too, to keep things even. (smile). Then maybe I can do one for me to use for my siestas.

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I have learned to emulate my Mexican neighbors and live in today. That’s so valuable. As soon as I start to think about the past or the future, I’m prone to worry and I’m out of today. I’m inspired by the ability of people here to just keep keeping on, no matter what. Christmas is a perfect example. I grew up with a mother, and I became a mother, who had to have every flat surface decorated, who had to bake dozens of cookies, and dozens of loaves of banana and date bread to give to folks, to decorated every gift, who fussed until every gift (and there were many, too many) was absolutely perfect, and the house was spotless and the food was fit for Julia Child and the table for Martha Stewart….and we were tired to the bone and so so crabby that no one had a good time. My Mexican friends just don’t worry about it until the last few days – and then a gift or two, sometimes with their sisters making tamales, bonfires, some strings of lights, speakers, and chairs in the street on Christmas eve, and everyone has a great time. It’s all about family and not all about appearances and pretenses. WHEW…I wish I’d known this sooner.

I’d sure like to be kinder and less judgemental more often. (Note: my flares of disgust and anger are aimed at stupid expat behavior, NOT at local customs, traditions or daily life.

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I volunteer for a local orphanage – la Villa Infantil de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe y Sr San José. This children’s home houses between 35 and 40 children. Right now there are a dozen Little ones, age 2 and under and the other 25 are from 3 through 12. Some of these beautiful children are orphans, others have been abandoned in Guadalajara, others have been taken from their families due to abuse, drug use by the adults, etc. The home is run and the children cared for by three wonderful nuns – I have no idea how they manage to maintain their sanity, and they go so much farther and are calm, measured, sweet and loving to all of the calls of “Mami, Mami, Mami” (Nuns here are called Madre – so it’s automatic that they become Mami.) We do a monthly food and cleaning materials drive, we take turns providing and serving lunch for the kids when the older ones get home from school, we provide school uniforms, backpacks, and school supplies each fall. And we just provided clothes and a toy for each child for Christmas. “My” Christmas child was a 2-year-old girl. When she and her siblings arrived at the home they were so dirty and so infested with lice that their heads had to be shaved and it took multiple baths to get them clean. They are thriving now. Another little set of 4 siblings all had cigarette burns. The baby had burns on her temples. The older brother and sister had never been to school, the nine-year-old couldn’t write his own name and was addicted to the drugs his uncle had him selling and delivering and had to be in rehab for a few days to detox. Anyone wanting to help the home and the kids could call Father Basil (our English speaking priest who dedicates a good deal of his week and energy to making sure the children and nuns have what they need to keep the home running like a clock. His US VOIP number is 408-733-6042 and his Mexican Landline is (387) 763-0928

At the beginning of 2014, Our Club Ukulele de Laguna started an academy to teach local children to play the ukulele. There are 40 youngsters enrolled in the program. The adult group furnishes instruments for the kids, pays for the professional college-trained musical teacher to instruct them, and helps with all of their performances. Already some of these kids have moved beyond uke to guitar, violin, cello, and all will have the lifelong benefit in reading and math, and an advantage in life skills from the discipline and group experience of music.

Finally, I’m teaching a series of classes about Mexico for the Lake Chapala Society, a 60+-year-old expat organization here. All of my classes look at Mexico through literature and sometimes movies and music. The first class related to the Maya, Olmec, Aztec and the Conquest. The November 2016 class explored the winter holiday customs and traditions in Mexico. In January 2017 an eight-week class is titled Surviving the Revolution. We’ll look at the family in Mexico at the turn of the century and as the fervor built toward the Revolution which began in 1910. Then we’ll read and discuss the people and their experiences in several books including Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor, and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. We’ll watch the movie, “Like Water for Chocolate” based on the book by Laura Esquivel, and possibly also “The Old Gringo” based on the book by Carlos Fuentes. A shorter book, written during the Revolution and included in the class is “The Underdogs” by Dr. Mariano Azuela.  

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If I had to do it all over again, I would move to Mexico earlier. I would not waste time living the first years in big gringo houses. I love my smaller rental house in the village.  I really haven’t had a defining moment in my life here. But then I chose to come here, I choose to stay here because I love it here, because this is my home, where my heart is. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. I don’t experience fear. I live in faith that all will be well. I know that may sound way too simplistic, but if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it. When tough times hit, if I went to fear that the sky would fall on my head, nothing got better. If I believed, really believed that all would be well, even if I couldn’t imagine HOW, somehow it was.lake chapala

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Living at Lake Chapala recounts one woman’s adventure in Mexico with an inclusive guide on moving to, building, renting or buying your dream house in Lake Chapala. Here you’ll find everything from the average cost of living to language and culture tips that will make your life at Lake Chapala successful.  Find Judy on Twitter and Facebook.

Mary Ellen Sanger

Meet Mary Ellen Sanger, author of Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixoctel State Penitentiary.

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Mary Ellen

It’s Mary Ellen – not Mary, ever. Mom hated that name. Long story. I am from Schenectady, New York – though I left when I was just 20. Told my mom I was tired of falling on my ass in the snow. Moved to San Diego (8 years) then Mexico (17 years), New York City (9 years) and now Fort Collins, CO – because I fell in love with a chemist.

I think the smell of the ruins brought me to Mexico. Names like Nezahualcoyotl and Huitzilopochtli. Flower songs. Cacao. Jaguars. I had studied Spanish and Anthropology in college, and it seemed like the logical thing. A three-week visit to the Yucatan tickled me enough to know I needed more. A job in tourism (and a spirit of adventure) allowed me to stay for 17 years.

Our lives change with each chapter – my Mexico chapter opened me up to tectonic shifts – all those plates shifting underneath us. It felt oddly comfortable, the uneven sidewalks, the rumbling earth – made more sense to me than the staid and tidy right angles of home.  Because of Mexico, I can’t live without chile and I cry at stories of solidarity.

My experiences in Mexico introduced me to inequalities I had not before met face to face. The gloss of tourism vs the displacement of the indigenous. The fashionista vs the young girl who tapes her shoes together to get to school. There’s a heady gap to contemplate. I don’t know that mine is actually a change of belief system – but rather an opening that allowed me to see beyond the happy colored veneer of commercialized Mexico, to the reality and severity of Mexico “descalzo” (barefoot). I became an activist, observer, explorer. Now, out of Mexico for 13 years, I retain that desire to contemplate what lies beneath… believing that answers are sometimes in the cracks and shadows.

I think it is a challenge to be an obvious Gringa in Mexico – and find a place that is not off-putting. To go beyond the token American, to learn enough about the country/history/food/music/telenovelas/ to meet Mexican friends on a level that demonstrates a real interest in Mexico and Mexicans.

The mom of a Mexican boyfriend from years ago said she would hold me to writing a book and planting a tree. She was present at a tree planting – so the book remained. I finally wrote a book.

I spent 17 years getting to know Mexico – there are many moments that I can easily slip back into. Watching a sea turtle leave her eggs on a beach in Akumal, meeting a wildcat in Cabo San Lucas, listening to a discussion of abuelita’s (grandma’s) best salsa with friends, listening to the songs of displaced families in Chiapas. They are small moments that stay with me, for their ability to pin me to a certain light, sound, smell.

A defining moment – while there is a temptation to say my time in jail that defined the life I live now as an advocate and writer – I think is better defined as the month spent in Chiapas with indigenous families. Observing the “other” side of life in Mexico, the side at once glorified and reviled. Glorified as symbols of the cultural richness of the country that draws tourism, and reviled as obstructions on resource-rich land. The imprint of that time reminds me to look beyond, to observe the tendrils of a vine – what do they hang on to? What throws them off?

Now that I no longer live there, I miss some things about my life in Mexico, but not things I would trade my current life for… I miss the acceptance of imperfection (rutted roads, alright) and the availability of community. I left Mexico under duress, never expected to. A brief stint unjustly incarcerated was enough to drive me back to the States to reconsider my base. I go back to Mexican as often as I can (annually, preferably) though I am happy in a committed relationship with a man who appreciates Mexico.

I, like so many I know, do not have enough free time. In the mid-90s in Cabo San Lucas, I read seed catalogs. Hadn’t seen half the flowers in there, but learned Latin names. Antirrhinum for Snapdragon. Ipomoea for morning glory. I sowed a zillion seeds, and obviously, not all wanted to live in the desert. Gardening provides metaphors for so many things – most of my free time goes to nurturing plants and observing growth. Oh, and petting cats. And the New York Times crossword puzzle with my partner.

I work for an NYC nonprofit – a remote gig, and on the campus of Colorado State University. Jobs that keep me too occupied to write the next book right now.

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I published “Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison” in late 2013 ten years after my release. The book is a love story to Mexico, to women, to solidarity and community. It is a product of living in New York City after the trauma of unjust incarceration and a shift in my life so large I couldn’t find footing. Then I recalled the many women I met who were victims of their own system. And I sat with them for a few years writing the stories I remembered as they shared them with me.

I met the great Elena Poniatowska while working for a Mexican organization in New York. I met her not as writer to writer, but friend to friend. We walked around New York looking for a new watchband for her, buying a suit for her upcoming presentation (Do you like the pink or the red?) and navigating the subway together. She wrote an introduction to the book for which I am forever grateful that ends – “I suppose and believe that I am not wrong in saying that for Mary Ellen, Mexico is a woman who one day, will find herself.”

May we all do the good work to find ourselves.

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Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison is an absolutely amazing read.  The author’s love for Mexico, despite it all, shines through.  She gives voice to the voiceless found in the shadows beneath the walls of the women’s penitentiary and once reading it, you will never see the world in the same light again.