My beloved headphones died after I had been in Mexico City for about a month. It was sad. I loved those headphones—they fit my weird ears well, they sounded great, and they had lasted for years. The only place I knew of that sold headphones in Mexico City was Walmart, so that’s where I headed to find a replacement pair.
The electronics section was right by the entrance. I found the headphones but saw that there was a lock on the rack they were displayed on. I couldn’t grab a pair of headphones and walk to the checkout; I needed to find an employee to get them for me.
I’m not a shy person, but I was suddenly feeling very self conscious about my Spanish. My Spanish was (and is) horrible—leftovers from a lazy middle school education. At that moment in Walmart, I became extremely embarrassed about my ability (or lack thereof) to communicate. I got really nervous thinking about asking someone to help me. I knew I’d mess up some words. I knew the employee would think I was a dumb American. My heart was pounding abnormally fast and heavy. It felt like the beginnings of a panic attack.
I took a lap around the Walmart to calm down and let my nerves settle. What is going on?, I thought. I don’t care if a random Walmart employee in Mexico City thinks I’m a dumb American or that I have terrible Spanish! But there was more to it than that. At that moment, the enormity of what I was doing—living alone in a foreign country in which I didn’t speak the language, all while trying to grow my small internet business—hit me. I wanted to be back in America. I wanted my friends. I wanted the mountains. I wanted English. I wanted to be lazy. I wanted to be comfortable again. I wanted a normal, stable job like normal, stable people have. What was I doing in Mexico? What was wrong with me?
I took several deep breaths while pretending to be very interested in some cookies in the food section of the store. I don’t remember what my thought process was after that. I probably told myself to stop being a pansy and to just buy the freaking headphones already, because that’s what I did. The Walmart employee that assisted me didn’t laugh at my butchery of his language. He understood what I wanted and I understood when he told me to pay at the front of the store and then come back to the electronics department with my receipt. I left the store still with a faster-than-normal heart rate but also with new headphones.
That was a couple months ago. A couple days ago I decided it was time to buy new headphones, some over-the-ear biggies with bass and the ability to drown out some of the noises of Mexican neighborhoods. I walked over to the Walmart here in Cancun, found a pair of headphones I wanted (they were locked behind a glass counter), and looked around for someone to help me. I found a dude unloading boxes from a cart, asked him to help me, and told him which headphones I wanted. He grabbed them and put them behind the checkout counter there in the electronics department. As I waited to check out, I saw the same headphones in a different color. I got another employee’s attention and said I wanted those, the white ones with the green accents, instead. Did I want both the black ones and the white ones, the employee asked? Nope. Just the white ones. I handed over my pesos, was handed the headphones, and walked home.
No anxiety. No worries about feeling stupid. No nervous heart palpitations. No big deal.
I’ve been in Mexico for 3.5 months now. I’ve bought bus tickets, booked hotel rooms, gotten my laundry done, asked for directions when I was lost, ordered food, and bought new clothes. All in Mexico. All in Spanish. I’ve learned more in these 3.5 months than in the last 3.5 years I was in the States. It’s been one long string of trial-by-fire experiences. The ride has been been uncomfortable, painful, educational, and wonderful, but overall I’ve loved it. Now that I think about it, coming to Mexico might be the best decision I’ve ever made.