GUADALAJARA: How I Got There

Palestine1963
Palestine, Texas

I met Andrés Olivares at a Baptist Student Union retreat in Palestine, Texas, when I was an undergraduate at Baylor and he was pre-med at Texas A & M. He was from Tampico, Mexico. I was from Wichita Falls, Texas. We married after graduation, worked for a short time at Dow in Freeport, Texas, then one day loaded our little Simca inside and out, and escaping from the suffocating heat of South Texas, started a twenty-hour drive to Guadalajara, Mexico, where Andrés had been accepted to medical school at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara.

Our first stop was Harlingen, Texas, to say goodbye to Valley Baptist Academy teacher and preacher Marvin Thompson, who had married us, and his wife Lorayne and children. We proceeded across the border to Reynosa, Mexico, where we visited Andrés‘s family and left books and things that we would not need right away. “Aren’t you scared?” Andrés‘s brother Alfonso asked me.  It seemed a strange question because, of all the emotions I had experienced about moving to another country, fear was not one of them.

The drive to Guadalajara was long, but I was fascinated to be at last in the interior of Mexico.  I had spent a summer as a student missionary in Juárez, with a short side trip to Chihuahua, but THIS was really Mexico! We stopped in Monterrey, where I met Tia  Chucha, then we drove on to San Luis Potosi, where we spent the night.  I was excited like a child when we saw the lights of Guadalajara, and after the oppressive humid heat of South Texas, the cool rainy weather felt like paradise.

We had planned to arrive at the home of friends Lee and Ruth Baggett, and we did, but they had not returned from their summer vacation, and the letter that told us where we could find a key had not arrived before we left Texas. We knocked on the door of the house across the street to ask if perhaps they had left it with those neighbors, the Gallegos Espejo family. They didn’t have the key, but Senora Gallegos insisted that we stay with them, and for a week we had not only a bedroom but breakfast and dinner with that generous family.

During the day we looked for a place to live and took care of business at the university and at the American School of Guadalajara, where I had been hired to teach sixth grade. Our first apartment was on the third floor at the corner of Avenida Lopez Mateos and Colomos, so we said our grateful goodbyes to the Gallegos family. The apartment was nice but a bit expensive for our budget, so we moved down Lopez Mateos, and although the apartments were not as nicely furnished, I liked the place better than the first one.  They had once been a kind of resort hotel, and the bathrooms and kitchens had beautiful blue tiles.  The yard had full-grown banana trees.

We attended English services at Gethsemane Baptist Church and got together often with the Baggetts and David and Joyce Harms, who encouraged us to move to their apartment building on Morelos Street.  Since it was unfurnished, the monthly rent was less, just 600 pesos, 48 US dollars at that time, and the apartment was bigger and nicer with three bedrooms, an open patio for washing and hanging clothes, and a maid’s room with its own bathroom.  We moved in with a formica table, plastic-covered chairs, and a bed, gradually acquiring other pieces of furniture as we were able to pay for them.

We became friends with Baptist missionaries Dr. Lamar Cole and his wife Oneida.  I had met their older daughter, Chloanne, once at Baylor.  Their son Edward was in my sixth grade class, and later I taught English literature to their daughter Carolyn.

I was sick a lot during our first year in Guadalajara.  It seemed strange because although during my summer in Juarez, I had drunk water stored in open barrels and eaten without much regard for the source of the food, even sharing meals with the people in the impoverished colony where our team worked, I had stayed well the whole summer. After learning about the relationship of life changes (good or bad) to a weakened immune system, I understood why I was so sick.  In a year and a half (1964-1966), I had finished college, become engaged, married, and lost my mother. I had lived in nine different houses or apartments, five different towns, and two different countries.  I had held seven different jobs.

Wherever I went, I carried Buscapina anti-cramping medicine, and Chloromycetin antibiotic. I was treated for amoebas. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me when I had intestinal worms.  I took the worm medication and boiled my underwear, following Doctor Cole’s orders. Our first Thanksgiving in Guadalajara, we joined a number of missionaries at the Coles’ big house for a pot-luck feast.  That night, Andrés took me to the Hospital MexicoAmericano because I was very, very sick and dangerously dehydrated from food poisoning.

It might seem that between working and being sick, with Andrés in his first year of medical school, there wouldn’t have been much time for fun, but there was.  We got together often with the Baggetts, the Harms, and the Coles and other friends from church and school. We went out to dinner and to the movies at least once a week.  At Christmas we took an all-night bus ride to Reynosa to spend the holidays with Andrés‘s family.  We went often to Lake Chapala, an hour’s drive from Guadalajara, and enjoyed the tourist attractions and restaurants of this beautiful city.

Teaching sixth-graders was a challenge.  I had to master the science and math lessons just ahead of the students, since I was not formally prepared to teach anything but English and journalism.  Andrés tutored me in the evenings.  The students spent half a day in an all-English self-contained classroom and the other half in all-Spanish.  I had two groups of all-English. The school was a two-story cinderblock building around a large open courtyard with hallways outside, facing the courtyard.  Behind the buildings was an open yard with a soccer field in one area, a volleyball court in another, and basketball goals in yet another.  The school office and the library were one-story buildings at the entrance.  A teacher’s lounge, bookstore, and snack bar were located in the classroom area.

The American School of Guadalajara was a private school with sons and daughters of Mexican professionals and high-earning business people. The Anglo portion of the school, about forty percent of the students, was made up of US citizens with a sprinkling of Canadians and British. Their parents were missionaries, medical students, early retirees, diplomats, solvent adventurers, and high-level employees of international corporations like Kodak. Many of the English-speaking teachers were highly-qualified wives of medical students from different parts of the United States who came from diverse perspectives and backgrounds

The students wore uniforms–dark blue pants and pinstriped shirts for the boys, ugly pinstriped shirtwaist dresses for the girls, navy cardigans for all.  They were well-behaved.  Every Monday morning everyone gathered in the courtyard to salute the U.S. and Mexican flags as they were paraded by older students.  The students stood up when the teachers entered the classroom, and they said “Thank you, Miss!” when they were dismissed. There was a break between the English-Spanish switch, and “lonches” (sandwiches made with a bolillo (French bread) split in half and filled with ham, lettuce, and jalapeno chiles) were available at the snack bar, along with other treats.  There was no formal lunch hour, since the students were out in time to go home for traditional Mexican lunch, around three o’clock.

The librarian, Edna Mardus, was a youthful and energetic 62, and we became friends.  She was usually surrounded by kids, whom she knew well enough to make tailor-made recommendations of books she thought they would like.  My school librarians had always seemed like their job was to protect the books from the students, so her style was a revelation to me!  In the teacher’s lounge, she always had interesting stories to tell, as did her husband, Fred Mardus, who taught math, physics, and chemistry. The Marduses had no children. Fred had been born in South America to Hungarian parents, an identical mirror-image twin, born on February 29th.  He loved to tell what the odds were of someone like him (or his twin brother) being born.  In 1968, the whole school joined in the celebration of his 16th (64th) birthday.  He and Edna had traveled all over South America and Europe; they were gifted storytellers and delightful people. Many of the US teachers were, like me, married to medical students.  We got together at each others’ houses and had parties almost every weekend.  Andrés had a group of Mexican and South American friends in medical school, and we had a lot of get-togethers.

We had gone to Guadalajara for medical school–five, maybe six years. As it turned out, I would stay for twenty years, and Andrés, now retired from medical practice, has been there more than fifty.

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