How the system really works! Or not….

Something that has always bothered me about Mexico is the number of people standing on street corners and public markets begging for money “for their operation”.    Having been born in a country  where health care is a given,  I really did believe that those people begging for medical money had, in fact found a way to use their disabilities as a source of income.   After this mornings conversation with our gardener, I am not so sure.

It seems he and his wife are caught in a loop of red tape which I will try to explain.  You may think you are reading Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine but honestly, no one can make stuff like this up.

You will recall, our first and unsuccessful attempt to give blood was in the Seguro Popular in San Pancho, in the state of Nayarit, which is the home state of our gardener and his wife.

Due to a medical emergency which could not be dealt with in San Pancho, his wife was rushed to the Pitillal branch of Seguro Popular, which is in the state of Jalisco.

At this bright, friendly hospital, which I quite liked, our gentle gardener and his wife were lead to believe that they would perform the operation to remove her tumour once they had donated the allotted blood.  We left the hospital feeling confident that our blood would complete the requirements and the operation would proceed.

OMG, not so fast.!!!  Now that the Jalisco branch of the hospital has our blood, and our gardener and his wife have exhausted ALL avenues for donors, the powers that be have decided that her operation is not urgent enough and she must go back to hr home state and the San Pancho hospital to have her surgery there.

Uh-oh, a red light.  Had to know it was coming.

One would think that isn’t that much of a problem, all the blood has been collected and credited to the patients name, so…. they can just ship it out to the other hospital.   I think most reasonable people would deem this a logical solution to a rather small problem.

Trouble is, the hospital in San Pancho does not seem to want to do the operation.   They have even gone so far as to issue a false document stating our gardeners wife had been scheduled for an operation in April for which she failed to show up.

Our gardener swears there was no appointment in April, and I believe him.  Why would the hospital have scheduled an operation before enough blood had been collected?   Predictably, some administrative dummy in Jalisco has decided to accept this piece of garbage as the truth, which is complicating matters even further.

Needless to say, our conversation with our gardener this morning was not the positive one we had been anticipating and because he was so angry, he was speaking so rapidly it was difficult to follow the whole story.   Lucky for me, our maid was also here and she was able to fill me in on some of the details I was unable to get.

Spiny – how our gardener felt this morning!

She tells me he will go to the Recursos Humanos, which, as I understand it, is a Human Rights commission to see if anything can be done.   Hopefully, they will help him, but I fear things will just drag on so long that it will be faster for us to just wait until we are able to donate blood again!

There are times when Mexico really shines and there are so many things that make this country great, but honestly, Mexico, this time, you have failed miserably.   Shame on a hospital system that treats its patients so poorly, and shame on the government for allowing it to happen.

Strong words for an outsider, but, based on this event, I do feel that my opinion is justified.

Fat Cats looking down on the general population?

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Giving Blood – Our first experience

Awhile back, our sometimes neighbour called us from her home in Mexico City.  She does this every so often, just to check on her house and, fill me in on any gossip she has heard from her other friends here in Nuevo.   We have shared the same gardener for nearly 2 years now, and  this time, during our conversation, she asked how our gardeners’ wife was doing?   Apparently, she had been sick for quite some time, but I knew nothing about it.    Hmm, come to think of it, our gardener,  is normally a happy, chatty person.  I had maybe noticed that he hadn’t been as cheerful these past few weeks, but I really didn’t think much about it.

So, on his next visit, I asked what was wrong with his wife.  Because he has an accent I find extremely difficult to understand, I don’t get everything he says, but I was able to ascertain that she has some sort of tumour, possibly related to the female anatomy, but I honestly can’t say for sure.   It sounded kind of personal, so I didn’t pry too much, but what I did get from the conversation was that she needed an operation.

Their health care is thru Seguro Popular, which I understand, is free to all Mexicans.  I asked him why, if she was so sick, they had not operated already.

Turns out that one of the costs of this free service is that in order to get an operation, the patient must first come up with blood !!   Yes, before she can have her operation, she is responsible for finding enough donors to get her thru the operation.   I have limited understanding of all the details, but the bottom line appears to be no blood, no operation.

He continued to say it has been extremely difficult for them to find suitable donors and they had already exhausted their supply of  friends and relatives.  All of whom, while more than willing to donate have been deemed unsuitable donors by the hospital for a variety of reasons.  At this point, I really had no choice but to tell him that I would love to try to help.  He brightened and said “y el señor tambien?”   Which meant that, Kevin also had no real choice but to step up to the plate as well.

You would think we could just march into a Red Cross or local branch of Seguro Popular and donate blood on someones behalf and get on with our day.  Nope, not that simple.

Blood donations for a specific person must be made at the hospital that is treating the patient.  They were using the hospital in San  Pancho which only accepts blood donations on certain Mondays between certain hours, first come first served.

So, the appointed day comes, we wake early, have a light breakfast grab a coffee to go and are out the door by 6am so we can be there for 7am to meet our gardener and hopefully be among the first in line.

This hospital did not give me a good impression.  It was dark, and the staff, while not unfriendly were certainly not friendly.  The doctor interviewed us begrudgingly and seemed quite pleased to be able to kick us out of the queue because we had thoughtlessly eaten a bowl of Frosted Flakes before leaving the house.  Telling our gardner that we screwed up so badly was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

The next appointment would not be for 2 weeks, and we would be on vacation in Canada then, so our second attempt at donating would be delayed another month.  Because of that stupid mistake, his wife would not get her operation and will remain in pain while her tumour presumably grows.

In hindsight, this turned out to be a good thing, because in our absence, there was an emergency for which she had to be transferred to the Seguro Popular hospital in Pitillal.    Our gardener was very happy with this, because the difference in hospitals is night and day!  Aside from friendly staff who made them both feel like they were important, the biggest difference is that anyone can show up on on any day and get in the line up to donate blood!!   Yay!

So, last Thursday, we drove to the hospital with our gardener, so he could be sure that our donation was credited to his wife.   Wow, he certainly was right about the difference in hospitals!  It truly did feel like the staff cared about what they were doing.   We remembered not to eat before our appointment this time, so there were no snags and we were able to donate blood for our gardeners wifes’ operation, which, if I understood correctly will take place on the 24th of June.

As a way of thanking us, our gardener had us stop at the local taco truck so he could buy us breakfast.

Doing the right thing has a way of making us  feel very humble.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Its summer the weather is fine and watermelons are plentiful!

I love watermelon, But I have to admit after the first half, I am looking for ways to get rid of it!

Yummy as it is, just plain fruit gets kind of boring after awhile.

Being it is the weekend, I thought I would focus on drinking it.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to use it is just to fill up the blender with chunks of the watermelon, seeds and all, add a little water, a small chunk of bit of ginger,  peeled and  roughly chopped, some sugar if you like and blend away for about  45 seconds.

Strain the mixture thru a fine mesh sieve and there you have it, Watermelon Agua Fresca!!

You can then drink the juice, or freeze it in ice cube trays, then put the ice cubes in the blender for a watermelon slushie.

A great after work treat, and if you have had a stressful day, add a splash of tequila and you have a watermelon margarita!

Oh, if you want the flavour of a watermelon margarita but don’t want to go thru all the effort, just cut some cubes (abut 2 cups), add 1/4c silver tequila and 1/4 cup simple syrup or a couple tablespoons of sugar.

Let it sit for a few hours, stirring every once in awhile so the tequila gets into all the pieces.

Serve in a Margarita glass with a salted rim and a fork.  There you have it!

Enjoy your weekend, and remember to eat and drink responsibly.


We moved here armed with 2 Mexican cookbooks and a great determination to learn to cook the cuisine while we were here.

And we did get an excellent start on it!!  Those who have been following us from the beginning will remember Kevins’ hilarious account of using the washroom right after working with chiles.  Yes, he learned the hard way why men here wash their hands both before and after using the washroom!

The honest truth, though is, I lack motivation.  I can get some of the best tacos in the bay right down the street and  the only effort I have to make is to put one foot in front of the other for about 15 minutes.   A 5 minute drive gets us to Valle Dorado where the options to taste authentic Mexican food are endless.   I’m talkin’ GOOD Mexican food.  Not the stuff one often finds in the tourist zone, made by people who know they will never see you again so why try anyway.    Made by cooks who know that their business is only as good as their last service because word in a small town travels fast and even a poorly made tortilla could stop people coming to their spot.  And, it is inexpensive.  So why go thru all the effort in my own kitchen?

After 7 years here, our knowledge of Mexican Cuisine is mostly limited to knowing which restaurant or taco stand has “the good stuff”.

There is, however, one Mexican Food challenge I have been working to perfect – Tamales.

Even though, every night, there is a truck at our Oxxo, selling Oxacan-style tamales, we have yet to try one.    Our reluctance to do so stems from our first weeks here, when  we would buy tamales from a vendor who passed by our apartment nearly every day.  They were wonderful.  Until the day Kevin bit into one with a whole, uncleaned shrimp hidden inside of it.  So whole, the antennae and shell were still on it.   Thus ended our love of the tamale lady, and tamales in general.

We don’t buy tamales anymore, but the flavour still haunts me.  Plus, I love the concept – Little bundles of corn husks, hiding more corn  and filling inside.  They are tasty snacks that are nice to have on hand, and, they re-heat beautifully in the microwave!

Perfecting this particular Mexican food has become my challenge,  and, for the most part, I have had pretty good reviews.

As a matter of fact, my Ecuadorian girlfriend liked them so much, she set aside a whole afternoon so I could teach her how I make tamales.  (Yes, this the truth!)  We made a fairly large batch and she took half home.    In an uncontrollable fit of generosity, she actually shared our hard work with a Mexican woman in her condo.  A couple of hours later, the woman returned.  Not to thank her for the gift, but simply to tell her that they were dry, period.   Suggestions, tips, insider secrets….????   Sigh.

So, today, another try, at less dry tamales.  Armed with a pot full of leftover braised pork shoulder, I tried again.

For todays version of my tamales, I used Alton Brown’s recipe on as a guide.  The braised pork and liquid were from earlier in the week, and the masa recipe I took from the bag of Tamale Masa.

My results while not entirely authentic, are a very tasty attempt, which at the end of the day, is really all we wanted.