Bilingual is Better

Unexpectedly Pregnant—Abroad: Surprising Traditions and Superstitions , Ojo de venado bracelet

Never, ever did I plan to have children, but even more far-fetched in my envisioned future was to confront pregnancy in a foreign country. Nonetheless, I fell in love and life surprised me with an extended stay along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, in my husband’s hometown. Included during this “stay” I experienced a blissful courtship, marriage, becoming a legal Mexican resident (phew, that’s finally out of the way!), and then… a positive pregnancy stick. Wait, what?

After the immediate shock wore off, I realized I was excited, inspired to be a mother. Nervous, clueless—yes, yes. Fearful… I feared not so much the pregnancy details (ignorance was bliss), but rather what was to become of my new familia. The U.S. residency process for my husband was certain to be a time-consuming challenge. What’s more, to race our baby’s birth date seemed highly unachievable. After much back-and-forth with the U.S. Consulate, we slowly began to accept that I had to do what I initially considered the impossible. And so it became that I was to have my baby in Mexico.

Throughout my pregnancy and early motherhood, I experienced many cultural differences…

Swapping Spit

I finally started showing at 8 months (bragging point).  My husband and I were out for tacos one night when we were asked to share our table with another (pregnant) couple.  “¡Claro!”  After some light conversation, the woman asked politely if we could exchange saliva.  If I’ve learned anything in my travels, it’s to be as adaptable as possible and to consider the unknown as a learning adventure.  I was happy to! I admitted I was unfamiliar with the tradition, asked if she could ‘go first’, and followed her lead by licking my thumb and touching the back of her earlobe.  She explained that this way our children would be born healthy and happy.

El ojo de venado

Neighbors, friends, family, anyone who knows you’re pregnant will give you advice. I was given a Deer’s Eye. Well, not a real one, and it wasn’t really for me; it was for our soon-to-be newborn. Our neighbor took this special seed, made it into a tiny bracelet with red beads, and told me that as long as my baby wore it, all negative vibes would be warded off.  (Phew, because I was worried!)

El hilo rojo

As with all tiny babies, hiccups are a common, adorable occurrence. The first time my sister-in-law held our hiccupping baby, she immediately ripped a piece of red string off her shirt, licked it (again with the spit) and stuck it to my infant’s forehead. “Para el hipo” she said shortly.

Qué hacer cuando le hacen ojo

After a day at the market, my husband’s family told me what I needed to do to remedy all the negative vibes that my baby absorbed that day (caused by so many people looking at him). This tradition includes a specific way to use an egg to absorb and get rid these negative vibes. In case you’d like to try it, here’s the recipe:

  • 1 huevo/ 1 egg
  • Albaca/ Basil
  • Alcohol/ alcohol
  • 1 glass cup

Instructions: Soak the egg in alcohol and basil. Massage your baby’s head and shoulders using the egg. You may dip the egg in the mix a few times, if necessary. Some say a prayer during this massage. Then, crack the egg into the cup, and the absorbed vibes will be gone. (You should see one or two “spots” within the egg—these are sure signs that it worked!)

Remedio para la mollera

Imagine your newborn being held upside down, grasped by the ankles while someone is slapping at his feet as if they were the bottom of a ketchup bottle, all the while dipping his head in water. (!?) I was with my mother-in-law, and she’d taken it upon herself to remedy our baby’s fontanel (the soft spot on his head). She was dipping his head in a jícara (a carved coconut used like a bowl). As you can imagine, my reaction as a new mamá was not calm. I was quite frightened! I addressed my concerns as kindly as possible and asked her just what she was doing to my poor baby. Evidently, this is the fix when an adult feels that a baby’s fontanel is too indented.

I’m so grateful for these encounters and I must say that in the end I’m left with so much; insight to my husband’s childhood, a better understanding of this aspect of our son’s culture, openness to alternative remedies, and humorous stories to share with my son and the world. Have you experienced a pleasant or not-so pleasant foreign cultural tradition?

Lori and ReefLori Jena Freise and her family live in both Mexico and the USA. You can read more blogs from her and her colleagues about translating, bilingualism, the growing language industry, and working at the Translationz office here.  You may also connect with her directly on LinkedIn.

{Photo courtesy of Lori Jena Freise}

Recent Posts