Wednesday, October 8, 2014

From Dirndls to Deserts: First Impressions of West Texas

Texas, especially West Texas, is like nothing I've ever seen. So here are my first impressions of our new desert home.

1.If you don't like Mexican food, you're in trouble.

This was the other thing everyone said when we learned we were moving to West Texas-"At least the Mexican food will be great!" This is very true. We spent our first two weeks living in a hotel, so we had ample time to explore the city's Mexican offerings. We had some truly delicious meals, but after a week of breakfast tacos, green chile enchiladas lunches, and dinner carnitas, we started to miss some variety. The food is also really spicy. Which yay for authenticity, but it definitely took some getting used to.

2. It's very, very brown. 

Granted, everyone told me this. Even the guys who moved us in laughed when I told them I was from Georgia. "You've moved from the green-green to the brown-brown!"

The houses are brown. The mountains are brown. Where grass should be in a front yard, you have brown rocks. An agent at one of the apartments we looked at even helpfully pointed out the chocolate brown accent wall in the otherwise beige apartment. "If you like, we can finish painting the whole room brown!"

"Why, so it can match the rest of the city?" I grumbled to Fionn, who shot me a look.

I get it, we're in a desert. But can't we paint the houses a fun color or something?

3. I need to learn Spanish.

We are right on the border with Mexico, so there is a lot of Mexican influence and culture in the city. The Spanish influence really makes me feel like I'm living abroad sometimes. Last week Fionn and I were at the grocery store when we realized we were the only ones speaking English. We had to laugh because it reminded us so much of our time in Germany-except this time, I don't speak the local language!

After years of working hard to learn German and French and integrate into their societies, there's a certain irony to moving back to my own country only to realize I don't speak the local language and that a lot of jobs are closed to me because I don't speak Spanish. I'm trying to see this as an immersion opportunity by taking some Spanish classes here, but it's still pretty weird (and oh so frustrating).

4. Clouds are a thing of the past.
When we first arrived, the city was experiencing a freak rain storm that caused a once in 250 year flood. Everyone was driving like they'd lost their dang minds. The total rainfall? 3 inches. THREE.

I grew up on the coast of Georgia. I learned how to drive in a hurricane when I was 15 years old. I'm very familiar with rain. I was shocked that 3 measly inches of rain could flood homes and cause panic on the highways and bring the city to a halt. But when you live in a desert, that's the reality.

 Since that storm, there hasn't been a single cloud in the sky. Fionn likes to joke it must be pretty boring to be a weather man here. "Today is sunny and clear...yep, still sunny and clear tomorrow too..." It's bright, shining sun all the time. 

I never thought I'd miss dark, rainy Germany, but this pale little Irish girl is sure buying a lot of sunscreen.


Since I don't have to worry about oppressive 99% humidity, my hair looks great every day. Yesterday I rolled out of bed, brushed it and it looked like I'd had a salon blow out. I couldn't figure out what it was when I remembered the lovely humid-less climate I now live in. And unlike Germany, I don't have the cold air static frizz to deal with! A girl could get used to this... 

6. We've met friendly people

We haven't had much opportunity to meet people as we worked on getting settled, but the people we have met have been quite nice. Our movers were incredibly nice guys who took time to tell us about fun stuff to do in the city and surrounding area, the manager at the hotel we stayed in assured us we would come to love the soaring mountains and big, open sky, and other people we've met along the way have welcomed us and encouraged us to explore. 

7. I don't like the tap water

It has that slightly salty back taste of beach water, probably since it comes from a desalination plant. My first few cups of tea were ruined before I caught on. Blargh. 

8. Cost of living is cheaper

Things are definitely cheaper here, which is a nice plus. That also means the pay is lower, which is frustrating as I search for a job. But hopefully we'll be able to explore around without breaking the bank.

Always nice when my favorite fancy ice cream is cheaper

More than anything, this experience has reminded me just how huge and diverse my country is. Despite all my traveling and time spent abroad, the farthest West I had ever been before now was Louisiana. I knew nothing about the Southwest or even about how different life outside the deep South is. As Fionn and I drove along the desolate stretch of desert on I-10, I couldn't help but marvel at the things around me. I saw mountains and mesas that I'd only seen previously in a 4th grade social studies textbook. I saw oil pumpjacks and signs for Indian reservations and even a bison in a pen. 

When we arrived to our destination in West Texas, everything felt so foreign. The scenery reminded me of Morocco (the only other desert I've ever been in), the sky felt too big, and the sunsets were so pretty they almost looked painted. I grappled with a new language and foods and place names, and my phone repeatedly sent me "Welcome to Mexico!" roaming texts when I drove too close to the border. 

In short, West Texas feels a lot like my newest expat adventure.

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