Monday, August 30, 2010

Mexican Federal Cops Shown the Door

and don't let it smack your pompis on the way out.

According to a BBC report, some 3200 federal police officers of varying ranks have been sacked - some 10% of the force - for corruption or incompetence. Adios! Of course, many will now probably find work with the cartels, which is little more than a change of uniform since the job is the same.

The federal police force in Mexico has sacked almost 10% of its officers in an effort to combat corruption.

The 3,200 fired officers had either failed to do their job properly or had been linked to corruption or organised crime, said Commissioner Facundo Rosas.

Mr Rosas said more than 1,000 others faced disciplinary proceedings and might also be sacked.

He said none of the officers would be allowed to work in police forces at local, state or federal levels.

More than 4,500 officers have been sacked since May, said Mr Rosas - many had been charged with crimes.

At a news conference, Mr Rosas, said some of officers had been accused by subordinates of having links to drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez, the country's most violent city.

The commissioner said this was only the first stage of a purge of Mexico's forces and that more than 1,000 others faced disciplinary proceedings and may also be sacked.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paternity Leave?

A story from the BBC caught my eye.

The politics of paternity leave

It is those precious early moments with a new child that so many fathers treasure. A time to bond with their offspring and offer invaluable assistance to the mother.

After welcoming new daughter Florence into the world, Prime Minister David Cameron is taking his statutory paternity leave to be with his wife Samantha.

But it is an experience that not all his fellow fathers feel they can justify. Thanks to decades of shifting attitudes, their reluctance is not based chiefly on chauvinism or a belief that childcare is woman's work. The problem, instead, is money.

Some 45% of new fathers said they did not take paternity leave, according to a 2009 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Of those, 88% said they would have liked to have done so, and 49% said they could not afford it.

As it stands, new fathers with long enough service are entitled to £124.88 a week for two weeks, or 90% of their average weekly wage if that is lower. Assuming a 40-hour working week, it is a figure that comes in well below the minimum wage.

Fathers can take an additional 13 weeks off, unpaid, before the child turns five and, from April 2011, new mothers will be able to transfer the second half of their year-long maternity leave to the father. But this too will be unpaid, thus, again, of little help to those without the necessary savings.

For many families, the situation reinforces the traditional norm that the father is the breadwinner and the mother the homemaker.

Self-employed in Mexico, there is no government scheme I could have taken advantage of. As parents, we simply took the decision to reduce my schedule and workload to stay at home more while mommy went back to work. Mexico doesn't offer very much by way of maternity leave as it is, so I wouldn't expect there to be anything for fathers.

Maternity leave in Mexico (for those employed and paying into the Mexican social system) allows 100% paid leave for a full 88 days. That's all. Half of those days must be taken before the birth which is absurd as many women, including my girlfriend, are just fine working right up to almost the last moment. After the birth, mommy is tossed off paid maternity leave a mere 5 weeks later.

Some people get better packages through their work and private insurance, which we could have done as well. Had it been impossible for me to adjust my schedule, mommy would have certainly taken a full year off work.

I think Mexico hasn't made any changes to the maternity leave system simply because no one is pushing for it. Mexican families are much larger as a rule than their British or North American counterparts, and at every age a child is almost always in the company of aunts, uncles, and grandparents who usually live in the same neighbourhood. While women are certainly a large and important part of the Mexican work force (to varying degrees around the country), families are generally close and it is not common to see a women select career over family.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Google as a Recipe Book

The google wonders never cease to amaze. Yesterday, I heard about a trick any bachelor can use to whip up a delicious meal using very few ingredients, which is often the state of a bachelor's fridge.

Got nothing but pickles, mustard, and a can of beer? Google it up and have a fine meal. Well, maybe not in those extreme's how to do it.

Go to your fridge and try to identify as many edibles as possible. Do check expiry dates and mold as google can't fix everything.

Get online and over to google. Now, simply key in the stuff in th fridge and let's see what comes up.

I tried mustard, ham, peas, apple juice and got back 520,000 hits, with the first page being all recipes. Of course, you'll need a few more ingredients from any recipes you get, but a least you have an idea what to pick up at the store or locate elsewhere in the kitchen.

Give it a need to call for pizza.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Raising the Kids to be Bilingual

You might think that a pair of Canadians raising a child in Mexico means the achieving bilingualism is automatic - taken for granted. That was my thinking when we chose to have a baby. After 14 months, it's proving to be more work than I thought, but not an impossible challenge.

We speak mostly English in the home with Stella, though reading time is a mix of both as we've collected an enormous library of children's books written in both English and Spanish. I've been using select programming from Nick Jr, a channel carried on Sky (Mexican satellite tv provider). Dora la Exploradora and a few other programs that are 90% Spanish. We also have a nanny that watches Stella when both mom and dad are at work (about 40% of the year) and she speaks 100% Spanish. So, it looks like we have all the right tools in place.

Stella is not talking yet...a few words here in there, and lots of ba-ba-babble. I'm told that kids raised in a bilingual environment will normally take a bit longer to start speaking so no worries as yet. What I'm most impressed with is her ability to understand either language.

Whether it's Spanish or English -though mostly English - Stella demonstrates a very understanding of what's said to her. "Please bring daddy the ball" is answered quickly by her looking for the ball (among a mountain of toys) and bringing it to daddy. Using some Spanish like "donde esta la pelota?" is producing the same result.

It will be interesting to see what her first phrases are, beyond the yes/no, hi/bye, mama/papa words she's already using. I am hoping it won't be something like:

"Papa, here's the pelota. Donde esta my bottle of leche?"

But even if it is, I'll still be happy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The End of Plastic Bags in Mexico City

Mexico City is joining the ranks of many of cities in the world by trying to eliminate the use of plastic bags at grocery stores. After two years of preparation, grocery stores caught issuing plastic bags to customers will be fined.

The idea is to of course reduce or eliminate the scourge of plastic in our environment, which remains for long periods of time.

For two years now, all the major grocery store chains in Mexico City have been pushing "la bolsa verde", green bags mde of recycled plastics or other environmentally friendly material. I have a good stock of them myself though I'll admit, I've still been collecting the regular plastic bags to use in small waste bins in my home and for doggie poop bags.

El Universal story

Desde mañana, lleve sus bolsas al supermercado

El gobierno capitalino anunció que la ley para erradicar el uso de bolsas de plástico que dañan el ambiente entra en vigor como está previsto, por lo que a partir de mañana jueves existe la posibilidad de sancionar a los establecimientos que regalen esos artículos.

La consejera jurídica Leticia Bonifaz manifestó que la mayoría de las tiendas de autoservicio ya entrega bolsas hechas con materiales biodegradables, por lo que evitarían eventuales multas.

La funcionaria señaló que la Ley de Residuos Sólidos no representa “una persecución ni cacería de bolsas”, sino que busca crear conciencia para que se reduzca el consumo de plástico y regrese el uso de los morrales y bolsas de tela.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mexicana Airlines - No Hay Vuelos

When I fly back to Canada for trips home, I usually fly Mexicana. There's a direct flight Mexico City to Montreal at a good price - under $600. Not any longer it seems.

Mexicana started scaling back its international operations as it seeks bankruptcy protection.

From the Vancouver Sun...

Ailing Mexican airline Mexicana on Monday suspended a string of international flights after last week seeking bankruptcy protection in Mexican and U.S. courts, a company statement said.

At least 15 international flights would be affected, including between Mexico and Vancouver, Montreal, London, Madrid and cities in the United States and Latin America, the statement said.

Mexicana, one of Mexico's biggest airlines, blamed its financial woes on the high cost of labour, after failing to reach a deal with unions on major cost-cutting.

The 89-year-old airline said in a statement Sunday that it would gradually reduce operations after its financial situation had seriously deteriorated. It said it would give priority to passengers returning from summer vacations and would release information on its website, mexicana. com, and on Twitter.

Grr...just as I was about to buy tickets to go home for Christmas. There isn't another airline or route that comes close in price or flies directly to Montreal. Not only that, but Mexicana is the last civilized airline out there - one that doesn't kick you in the teeth for carrying more than a tote bag. An airline that serves reasonably edible food, without charging you extra for it. An airline that send the drink cart down the aisle with complimentary drinks including alcohol.

Hopefully it will get sorted out soon, but I fear that the last great airline will not be the same creature when it comes out from Chapter 11.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Driving in Mexico

Nuts. Bonkers. Drive you round the bend and back again after running you over and leaving you for dead.

Sometimes anyway.

Mexico City has something like 4 million cars on the road and I swear not a single one has a driver that knows what he or she is doing. Here's a video I took to illustrate it, from a pedestrian bridge that passes over a major thoroughfare in the central west end of the city.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Raising Children in Mexico - A Canadian's View

14 months old is my little Mexican-Canadian daughter...frijolera and canucka, all rolled into one little ball of joy and smiles.

My girlfriend and I are both Canadians, living and working as teachers in Mexico City and when we decided to start a family, we made the decision to have our baby here. That choice entailed lots of questions and research, not only on hospitals and doctors, but on legal questions of nationality and long term factors like education. We're happy with our decision while our daughter reaps the benefits of being dual-cultured well on the way to being bilingual.

Here are some thoughts I have on the challenges and benefits of having a child in Mexico as a foreigner, in case you've stumbled upon this post looking for information on the subject.

Health care. Canadians often take health care for granted, given our universal coverage. Mexico is a good example of what happens to a country that has a two-tiered system and little oversight. A mixed and confusing bag of all levels of care, ranging from very low-cost state care to high-cost private care with anything and everything in between. We had some specific traits we were looking for in a hospital and doctor and after awhile, we found what we wanted.

While we had access to nearly-free care, the state system didn't meet our needs. We wanted to ensure that mother and baby would be together at all times, instead of baby being in the nursery all day and night. We didn't want formula to be given to the baby - breastfeeding only. As the father, I wanted to be in the delivery room and stay with mother and baby in a private room.

After looking at several hospitals, one finally fit the bill and the delivery went smoothly. It certainly cost money, but not an unreasonable sum. The doctors we'd chosen were unbelievably good - attentive and available. All in all, it was a better experience than we could have found in the Canadian system.

Nannies, diet, and playtime. We also needed to make some decisions on work, childcare, and schedules. I am lucky to be able to set my own hours at work over the course of the year, so the decision was made for me to play stay-at-home dad for much of the first year. A nanny would help out for the times I did need to work.

Choosing a nanny turned out to be easy. We live in a mixed neighbourhood with plenty of families and have gotten to know many of our neighbours over the year (we bought an apartment in central Mexico City just before Stella was born). Our nanny lives with several of her family members half a block away and has a three-year-old son of her own. She has been a dream and an inexpensive one at that. Stella is quite happy with her and we rest easy knowing she is in good hands while we work.

Nutrition and diet for Stella are other important factors of course. Both my girlfriend and I are big foodies and healthy eaters and the food in Mexico is the top reason we both choose to live here. We wanted to ensure that Stella ate as healthily as possible right from the get go so access to whole and natural foods was important. Local fruits and veggies are a year-round thing and very low-cost here. Very little processed foods are to be found in my cupboards or on Stella's plate. We started her on solids at 6 months of age, introducing fresh avocado, peas, carrots, and a few other usual suspects and haven't looked back. It amazes me thinking back to my own childhood how many things I refused to eat and here's Stella, gleefully trying everything we offer - and none of it has ever come from a jar, a can, or a tetrapak.

Nationality and Education. Having been born in Mexico, Stella was automatically given Mexican citizenship. The hospital provides a record of the birth which one brings to the Registro Civil (civil registry) to obtain a birth certificate. Super simple. Getting her Canadian citizenship was a little more time consuming, mostly due to a change in laws in Canada right around the time of her birth. Nonetheless, after a couple of trips to the Canadian embassy and a number of documents, her citizenship card arrived after 10 months. Strangely, the embassy was able to issue her a Canadian passport with few questions asked, and in less than 15 days whle she was still still a few months old.

Education is probably our biggest concern - and paying for it. Like health care, education in Mexico offers a dizzying array of choices, from state-provided to all levels of private. Stella will be able to attend my girlfriend's school at a significant discount, but it's still expensive. Pre-school and kindergarten will be our first proving ground and both quality and cost will be concerns. Down the road, there is university to consider and while we'd like her to attend a Canadian university, Stella will have to be a resident to avoid the costs of enrolling as a foreign student. That may mean doing at least 2 years at a Canadian high school, complicating matters. I guess we'll see.

All in all, raising Stella here in Mexico is the best thing we could have done for her. She gets the best of both worlds and leads a happy, healthy little life.

Until the terrible twos, at least.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to Shcool

Uh-oh. How embarrassing.

Workers have misspelled the word school on a road approaching a high school in North Carolina in the United States.

Crews painted "shcool" on the approach road to Southern Guilford High School.

The road had been recently repaved and crews were working to mark out the school zones.

The company which was responsible said it had "made a mistake" and it would be fixed. A spokesperson said the paint was "interim paint" that is used before the final paint is applied.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An American friend and wiki-freak in Mexico City has been working hard to update some wiki sites and her latest effort has to been to catalogue famous and historical buildings in the Centro Historico area of Mexico City.

Her work can be found at

Big thanks to her for making it easier to find and list these gems.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blog's Back!

After a disaster with my last long running blog, I took a break from blogging. I lost so much really good material that it was really disheartening to try to get back to it.

But I couldn't keep away. ;)