By Margot Lee Shetterly
Mexican Spanish sounded like a new language to Ochoa when she moved here: "It felt like the Tower of Babel."
Anabel Ochoa goes on the air every day at 1 pm, the lisp in her husky smoker's patter betraying her Spanish roots. After the break, she'll invite calls, from the frustrated bride, the pregnant teenager, the curious dowager. She'll address their issues with the understanding of a sister and the clinical accuracy of a gynecologist.
For now, however, she takes her time with the words. Today's meander is about the delights and displeasures of surprise. "Sorpresa...me sorprendes...from the Latin root ‘sur' and ‘prendere', meaning ‘to overtake'..."
"Mexico's Sexologist" arrived in Mexico 20 years ago, with her husband, writer Josu Iturbe, seeking a rest from her psychiatry practice and wanting to "live, dream, and write in Spanish." What a shock it was, then, to realize she didn't speak the language.
"I came here and it felt like the Tower of Babel. I felt more like a foreigner here than I'd felt in other places I'd lived, like India or Morocco. I was hearing the same words but the meaning and the emotions were completely different."
So different that Ochoa soon penned La Palabra Común, an erotic dictionary of words meaning one thing in Mexico, and something different in Spain.
Her credentials are impressive-a degree from the University of Bilbao in social psychology and sexology, a PhD in Eastern Medicine from the University of Peking at Sri Lanka--but it's clear that her exceptional communications skills, her Nabokovian love of wordplay, the thrill of teasing text from subtext and clarity from confusion have been just as important to her success in becoming the intimate voice of authority for millions of Mexican women (and men). "Since I started doing this there's been a big change in the way people talk about sex."
Ochoa is a fierce feminist, frank about machismo, oppression and the importance of pleasure. She's penned best-selling books on sexuality and has written for virtually every newspaper and magazine in Mexico. Since 2000, she's been an actress in the Mexican version of Eve Ensler's acclaimed play "The Vagina Monologues," and in 2002 was awarded a Best Actress prize by the Asociación de Críticos Teatrales de México.
Asked if she's the reason Mexican woman have grown more open in their attitudes about sex, she says, "No, I just happened to come along at a time when Mexican woman were changing."
So, I say to her, you're a midwife of sorts?
She takes a drag on her cigarette, pauses to think.
"A comadrona? "More of a comadre, a word that exists here but not in Spain. A comadre is your best female friend, the godmother of your children, your closest confidante. She's the colaborador de la madre. It's really such a beautiful word."
Editor's note: Anabel Ochoa passed away November 19, 2008.