A snowbird flies to the land of gentle breezes
By Ali Zerriffi Original Print Publication: March, 2009
We say Canada is God's country, but our long snowy winter is a cold tunnel from which everyone is looking for an escape route, many to Mexico. We try to plan our temporary exits carefully because for years they can only last a week or two: colonial cities or the beach? Culture, or just battery-charging hedonism? Canadian snowbirds strike out looking for a temporary defrost from which they will return sunburnt and starry-eyed, already planning the next one. That next one becomes longer and longer, until it settles into a migratory pattern, if not a full-on move "down there."
San Miguel del Allende
Geographically Mexico is an easy hop-skip-and-a-jump, but living here has been an adventure. Naomi and I have discovered a new country and a new language, a rich culture, and people who still practice courtesy and the art of social living. We have rediscovered the quality of "slow" and try to infuse our everyday life with appreciation of life on a human scale, at a human pace.
We live in a small town, San Miguel de Allende, a place that has charmed so many visitors so completely that they never left. They come for a few days and this maddening urge to nest overcomes them.
When we moved here we gravitated toward community work as "freelance volunteers," and then became more deeply engaged with the organizations that appealed to us (the library for me and the botanical garden for Naomi), eventually even geting involved with projects we didn't know much about (opera? I hated opera!). Now we are setting up a new organization that will help the nonprofit community with training seminars, conferences, fundraising support, and project coordination. There is personal satisfaction in giving back to the community where you live, but there is also a feeling of liberation that comes from doing volunteer work. It allows for creativity and passion; it gives a sense of identification with the place and its people; it gives meaning to one's life in a foreign land; and keeps boredom, the retiree's constant nightmare, at bay. People here, at least among those who get involved, have to try very hard to be bored.
While it is not Paris, London, or New York, we do appreciate the music, the plays, the lectures, and Mexico City, that fascinating magnet, just a few hours away. Mexico City, so feared yet so unknown, with its incredible museums and art galleries, archeological sites, and old world neighborhoods with top notch restaurants, and so many other little hidden treasures scattered over that huge metropolis.
Naomi and I have lived in the US, Canada, and Morocco (where I grew up), and have visited a number of countries in our search for our place "in the sun." Mexico has won us over with its strong dash of picante.
Ali Zerriffi served on the board of the library (bibliotecasma.com), and is currently on the board of Opera San Miguel (operasanmiguel.org) and The San Miguel Project (thesanmiguelproject.org). He and his wife Naomi work closely with the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and the University Of Texas Pan American to bring continuous education and academic exchange programs to San Miguel.
Naomi is a working member of the Board of El Charco del Ingenio, the local botanical garden (elcharco.org.mx).