Five-Year Plans

He is Mr. Mexico to me — the personification of a country I’ve grown to love but where I’ll always be una extranjera, a foreigner. Like Mexico, he is strong but gentle, patient and tolerant, hard-working yet fun-loving, proud of his history but open to newness, always sunny, easy-going and big-hearted.

He was the first person to welcome me to Mexico when I arrived to retire here in 2015, greeting me at the airport with an enormous smile and outstretched arms. This is his business – chauffeuring and touring – and he’s a master at it.

“Here, let me help you with that,” he said in perfect English (he’d lived in the States for a number of years), reaching for my baggage after I’d emerged, nervous and dazed, from Customs. Immediately, I felt I was in good hands. I felt I’d arrived.

He became my go-to guy if I needed a ride here or there, my guide to adapting to my new life in Mexico; and we became fast friends. On our drives, I would sit in the front with him and we would talk. I learned that he was building a small house (“una cabaña,” he said), with his own two hands in his free time, on a hilltop with a 360-degree view, in the countryside between Guanajuato and San Miguel.

His “five-year plan,” he told me, was to finish building the house, retire, and move into it with his wife (their children were all grown), and live happily-ever-after. An ideal plan, I thought.

“My five-year plan,” I countered, “is to learn to speak Spanish – if not fluently, then at least passably well.” It took five years for me to be able to speak functional French when I lived in Francophone Africa, so I knew this new plan was, perhaps, possible.

Well, here we are, five-plus years later, and I feel I need to provide a report on our respective five-year plans:

Recently, on a shopping trip to the Home Depot in Celaya to get something for my new apartment, Mr. Mexico and I took a detour so he could show me, at my urging, the progress he’s been making on his house in the country. Alas, I saw it’s still a construction site.

Due to COVID, his tourism-dependent business had ground to a halt, and he didn’t have the dinero for more building materials. The downstairs is close to completion, but the upper floor still needs to be built. That’s where the bedrooms will be. So his dream house is still uninhabitable.

But he’s taking all this in stride. He’ll continue to work on it as soon as he can, he said. It will get done, in time, he assured me with a smile. He’s Mexican after all.

“Mr. Mexico” standing on what will one day be the second floor of his house in the country

Come to think of it, my Spanish-language skills are still a construction site, too, and I can’t blame COVID. Oh, I can squeak by in Spanish now, making myself pretty much understood by taxi drivers and shop clerks. But conversations that involve remembering how to perform verb-conjugation magic tricks? Not so much.

I tend to make excuses, such as these: When I learned to speak French in Francophone Africa I was twenty-five years younger than I am now; African French is simpler because, I found, most Africans use only the present tense of French verbs (example: Je mange chez toi demain – I’m eating at your place tomorrow); I was the only native English speaker where I was living, so I was forced to teach and to communicate with others solely in French every day.

Here and now in San Miguel one can get away with English almost everywhere, which is in a way a shame. I still take private Spanish lessons each week with my ever-patient-and-tolerant tutor Edith, and I have fun with Duolingo on my phone every day. But my progress remains glacially slow.

So I get discouraged.

At this week’s lesson with Edith I tried to explain (in Spanish) what might be at the root of my difficulties:

“Did you know that brains shrink with age?” I asked her.

“Like a wool sweater washed in hot water?” she said.

“Si! Exactamente!”

To illustrate my point, I drew a picture of a skull with a brain inside and arrows on it pointing inward. She seemed surprised.

“This is a medical fact,” I stressed.

Nevertheless! I stubbornly refuse to give up on Spanish. I intend to continue to inch along, studying verb conjugations (oh, those verbos complicados!) on my walks, hoping some of it will stick to the walls of my aging, shrinking brain. I also refuse to beat myself up over my failure to meet my five-year-plan goal. How important are five-year plans, anyway?

I must be more like my friend Mr. Mexico and take this disappointment in stride. In my daily efforts to learn more Spanish I must also strive to be more easy-going, less stressed. More like Mexico.

36 thoughts on “Five-Year Plans”

  1. I was so interested to read this, Bonniedear. Its implications are that we are human, neither perfect all the time nor imperfect. But accepting that is in itself a kind of perfection.

  2. Fun and interesting article. Somewhere in your FB version of post or in follow up comments you might want to include contact information for your driver and Spanish teacher as FYI. It is relevant to your story cuz If your Mr. Mexico gets more work he can finish his dream for he and his wife sooner. Just a thought.

    1. Thank you, as ever, Lyn, for commenting — and, in this case, giving me this excellent suggestion. I’ll give their phone numbers here: Edith is in SMA, and her # is: 415-144-2861; Ramiro is in Guanajuato, and his # is: 473-181-1946.

  3. I didn’t know about the brain shrinking. An excellent excuse I wouldn’t have thought of! You have your own little Mexican family. How lovely.

    1. Yes! I had a CAT scan not so long ago, and the doctor pointed out the shrinkage. I was shocked. Now it’s my best excuse. 🙂 And, yes, I treasure my Mexican friends/family.

      1. I had a CAT scan recently too and I am so happy that it showed that my brain has NOT shrunk at all. I couldn’t figure that out because at 83 it should be smaller, but my doctor said it’s because I have studied so many languages. My latest acquired language is Nauhuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Love it! So keep on with the Spanish study and never give up. Each language we learn extends your brain and your life.

          1. For some strange reason, the Amazon site for my book often says that it is “unavailable”. If it says this, just change your location from Mexico to the U.S.

  4. I’ve been having video chats with Julia from Mana Mana and I have to admit it may take another 5 years to get back to where I was with my simple village French. I admire your willingness to keep working at these challenging skills.

    1. Morgan dear — it’s hard for me to imagine anyone in Mana Mana having the technology to conduct video chats! They must have come a LONG, long way since we were there in Gabon! I keep telling myself my goal is simply to communicate simply. Fluency seems to be out of the realm of possibility. 🙂

      1. Bonnie, loved Natalie’s interview with u in Atención! BTW, this week Duo offered me Lightning interactions. They were SUPER! Realized faster processing doesn’t necessarily slow down comprehension… like when I was exposed to speed reading technology. Cool for an aging gal to remember!

  5. Great post. Warren Hardy, who has a very successful language school in SMA says that after 40, the teaching needs to be different of languages. I found the classes and tutors from almost 20 years ago exceptional. Laughingly, since I now am nearly twice the age of 40!, I use that excuse too but finally I have set into a pattern of speaking Spanish that works for me until someone answers me in “rapid fire” Spanish. Then I just
    say “mas despacio”, ha.

    1. Thanks, Babs! I’ve never taken a Warren Hardy course, but I do have two of his books (somewhere)! I’ll have to reopen them… Yes, it’s that rapid-fire Spanish that gets us every time.

  6. Dear Bon,

    It is always good to take things in stride, though it’s not always easy. I suspect your Spanish is a bit better than you admit to, and it will keep improving.

    I hope you continue to grow more comfortable and happy in your new home.


    1. It’s a funny thing, Paul dear: Some days my brain is more cooperative with Spanish than it is on other days. My consolation is that my Spanish can only improve. 🙂

  7. My feeling is that it’s always good to have a plan to work towards. Timing should be fluid because we never know what lies ahead! I too struggle with Spanish but I still take time to study each day. Maybe one day, it will click…or not!

  8. Learning another language has been shown to improve memory, maintain mental health, and nay even protect against the onset or advance of Alzheimer’s. I’m an ESL teacher and also a student of Spanish. I manage a Language exchance geoup here in SMA. Im hoping to start up meetups again soon.
    Look us up on Facebook :San Miguel de Allende Spanish and English Language Exchange group

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