Residents Speak in San Miguel de Allende
Everyone in San Miguel has stories, and we want to hear them. It might be about how you got here, what has happened since you arrived, or your travels and experiences around Mexico. These experiences are a big part of what makes life in San Miguel so interesting. Please send your story firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Health Care in Mexico
by Denise Mallett
When friends and family learned my husband and I were moving to Mexico with our 15-month-old daughter, Eleanor, the biggest concern was for her health. In the U.S., Mexico carries many stereotypes; one of the most popular we have encountered is the alleged lack of proper health care. This story, set on the third day of our life in San Miguel, defies that stereotype and-we hope-challenges our fellow Americans to expand their perspective.
Lacking health insurance and a decent map, we set out on a recent Tuesday afternoon in search of an apartment to rent. Eleanor was riding on my shoulders, and my husband was trailing a few steps behind me. With my eyes peeled on the houses and strange street signs, I tripped on one of the jutting cobblestones one finds on just about every calle in San Miguel. In a micro-instant, my world literally came crashing down, beginning with my body, sprawling suddenly forward in the street, followed by Eleanor’s trusting little body, which landed head first on the cobblestones. Unfortunately, I was OK and she wasn’t. A large cut had opened above her right eye, but all I saw was a mask of red over her entire face, and all I heard was her screaming.
Panic set in quickly: my husband picked up our bleeding sweetheart and ran back down the street, not having any idea where he was going or what he was going to do. Seconds later, a Mexican man stopped his big white car, gently asked his wife and daughter to get out, and told us-all three of us covered in blood–to get in. He took us through bumpy back roads directly to Hospital de la Fe, no questions asked.
The hospital staff quickly, and calmly, guided us into the emergency room, where Doctor Diaz attended Eleanor immediately, stitching her wound with stone-still hands. Later, he had a harder time placating the fraught parents. The head trauma, he told us, was only superficial – it looked much worse than it was. And, he reminded us, this happens to many, many children. I realized later, as we were checking out in an efficient exchange of cash and receipt, that Dr. Diaz had cared for us as much as he had cared for Eleanor. The entire process was blessedly free of waiting rooms, red tape and rude-or worse, callous–receptionists.
To end it all, we were waiting for a taxi when a hospital administrator offered us a ride home. I’ve never been shown so much kindness, by friends or strangers. Many American friends have since suggested that, in most American cities, Eleanor would have suffered a long wait before getting medical attention–and forget about the Samaritan motorist entirely. So for those who question the health care in Mexico, I say, consider our story, question American bureaucracy, and give Mexico a chance.
As my husband wisely said before the accident, the unknown is very knowable here. Since that dreaded day, I have spoken to numerous people who have either come to San Miguel to be cured of illness (whether by hospital or weather), or have had similar experiences to ours. We are thankful that we chose to relocate to this area, and although we hope Eleanor never remembers the accident, we hope she will grow up respecting the wonderful people of this country.
On Growing Older
by John Kay
Growing old is a condition to be feared. Growing older is a condition to be appreciated. Some, who know the difference, never choose to grow old, but only to grow older.
Growing old is being terrorized by wrinkles that crease formerly smooth skin, resenting a body that no longer reacts to the physical needs of a favorite sport, fighting the need to be dependent on a doctor, nurse, or relative, complaining about inevitable aches and pains, talking endlessly about what has been, not what will be, and dwelling on the changing times that prevent things from being as good as they once were.
Growing older is having enough awareness of history and of one’s self to know that although the world has changed, nothing important really has, and that change itself should be welcomed. The important things, like children laughing in a park, a young mother nursing her baby, old folks smiling toothless at toothless great grandchildren, sunsets, sunrises, clear skies, graduations, weddings, birthdays, a child growing up and appreciating you-these are the important, never changing things that bring joy to growing older.
Growing older is understanding that the dreams and goals of youth were important motivators, but that they could not all be achieved in one lifetime. It is being satisfied with the knowledge that you accomplished many of those goals and dreams, and now have the peace of mind that goes along with realizing one can never do it all.
You wonder if you have done the best you could in the living of life, but know that even if you didn’t, you tried within the limits of your abilities, which were probably more limited than you thought. It is a time of being able to tolerate an illness and not worry too much about whether it might end your life. After all, you will not get out of this world alive.
Growing older is looking at local and international politics and knowing that nothing has changed since Machiavelli wrote his little book, The Prince, in 1513, and that all political maneuvering past and present is described in that book. There are other books that tell it all, and growing older means knowing which books those are, and the value of books, and the lessons of history, and in realizing that history and talking about the past is not at all relevant except as a means to better understand the present or anticipate the future.
Growing older is a time to know how precious lasting friendships are, and that those remaining true friends will be with you, and you with them, until the end. You treasure those friendships and know that they can never be taken from you even if that friend leaves this life before you. The lasting thing of mortal life is friendship, because although you may forget everything else, at the final hour you will not forget a true friend, nor will they forget you.
Part of the epiphany of growing older is the recognition that we begin to live on borrowed time at some point, and that we should make best use of that extra time to show appreciation for the gift of it. In growing older, one looks at the seeds he or she cast into the wind, and those that were carefully planted and nurtured. If the majority of the seeds took root, we are extremely fortunate. If they grew and were better than the planter or caster of them, then we are fortunate beyond belief.
Growing older means being able to have all these kinds of thoughts and knowing with certainty that even if we are not fortunate beyond belief, we are fortunate enough.
by John Kay
The article I did on Growing Older got me to thinking about the many folks I know in San Miguel who seem to be ageless. There is a Shangri La quality about this place that keeps people young in heart and mind despite their chronological age. I have been doing private research on this phenomenon. Whenever possible, I single out these ageless seniors and ask them the question, “How do you manage to stay so young?”
Sometimes they are flattered and anxious to answer. Other times they look at me with fire in their eyes, and ask for a definition of young or old, which I am hard-pressed to give.
Once I asked a lovely lady in her late 80′s how she managed to stay so sharp and active in business at her age. She walked away from me without answering. I caught up to her and mumbled something about not meaning to offend, and she said as politely as she could, “I stay young, and in business, by not asking foolish questions regarding age. What has age got to do with anything?” She was right of course, but I’ve continued to ask questions like that, hopefully with a little more finesse.
One gentleman (by his admission, over 90) said the thing that kept him young was curiosity. “Curiosity, my boy, that’s what does it!” Now I’m no boy at age 69, and the only thing I know about curiosity is that it kills cats.
The man went on to explain that walking the streets of San Miguel was “like turning the pages in a story book-always colorful, always different, and always something most curious happening.”
I told him about things I found curious in San Miguel Why waiters in restaurants never bring the check until bludgeoned to do so. Why firecrackers boom and church bells ring before dawn several times a week. Why cheerful people lob fireworks directly at your head from the churchyard on certain holidays. Why some folks, once a year, risk being gored as they chase bulls downs the street. Why drivers prefer to pass other drivers on hills and curves, ducking in and out of traffic like matadors.
He said, “Boy, you miss the point. Let me tell you about the really curious things. Have you ever seen so many, clean, young, teen-agers enjoying themselves in the central park of any city in the world like they do in our jardn-without fighting, being drunk, or high on marijuana-simply talking and enjoying each others company? Have you observed how well little children in Mexico behave without being screamed at by their parents? Have you ever seen anything like the respect these folks have for their teachers and elders? They don’t put old folks like me in nursing homes. I don’t think nursing homes exist in Mexico.”
He went on, “Aren’t you curious about why you don’t see street people in Mexico, propped up in a corner, slugging cheap wine out of a paper sack? Maybe it’s because there are no unemployment checks here, and a Mexican without a job will sell gum or lottery tickets or figure some way to carve something out of a piece of junk and sell it before he’ll take a handout.”
This man, who wasn’t old at 90-plus, taught me about curiosity, and that it doesn’t kill cats-it begets wisdom. I still don’t have an answer as to why the minds and hearts of old-timers in San Miguel stay young, but I’m getting more curious every day.
Success Is no Accident
by John Kay
One of my favorite writers in the field of economics and management is a fellow management consultant from England, also named John Kay. Kay is a Professor of Economics at the London Business School, and hailed by Business Age as the best management theorist in England. His new bookWhy Firms Succeed, is an American edition of his landmark book, and he applies his groundbreaking theories to the U.S. experience.
One of the principal measurements of success for firms, is financial success, but while reading this book, I couldn’t help but realize that firms succeed primarily because they have successful people in their ranks. I thought about doing a treatise on Why People Succeed, for my vast readership, now mostly consisting of my 31 children and grandchildren who I bombard relentlessly with weekly e-mails. Any such treatise would first have to try to define success: success in parenting, success in business or profession, success in sports, success in love, success as a student, success as a teacher, success as a respected human being…
Since success means different things to different people, it is almost impossible to define. But it seems to me that successful people, like successful companies, have common characteristics. They never stop growing or learning, they share goals that are realistic and achievable, they plan ahead in order to make the world work for them, they take nothing for granted, they question, they probe, they react, they are compassionate, they have leadership and communication skills, they take great pride in accomplishment.
Successful people choose well in which categories they wish to succeed, with the most important criteria for choosing, the need to capitalize upon, and utilize, their personal God-given talents. Successful people recognize that those talents change over time, depending on age, education or experience, i.e. being a successful athlete as a youth may be an important goal at the time, but soon it will be necessary to think about longer-term goals.
Successful people who choose the long term goal of security for themselves and their families, must prepare economically to provide the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, plus the wants of education, medical care, transportation, entertainment and recreation. All these needs and wants require an education, and the successful person pursues an education at the highest level he or she can achieve consistent with their abilities and goals. When the successful person finds a good job, or creates one for himself, he studies the standards of performance required to excel at that job or career, so he can adapt to changing times or circumstances. One can define ambition, honesty, persistence, reliability, and other personal characteristics associated with successful people, but it is hard to define one single factor that makes them what they are.
I would say the most important characteristic exhibited by all successful people is drive, which I further define as the ability to get the right things done.
It’s easy to get things done, but getting the right things done requires planning, vision, focus and personal dedication to the sifting and winnowing of current facts and priorities so as to determine the right things to be done at a particular point in time. Can drive be taught in schools, or management seminars? Is it a product of our environment? Is it in our genes at the time of birth, and thus a fortunate genetic accident?
Most of us in the field of management agree that drive, as an important component of success, can be learned, but it must be earned. John Kay (the one from England) and I both agree that the most important essential for success is to understand that success is no accident.