Susanna McKibben is a young American currently working as Administrator for the Merida English Library, she is bilingual, lived in Merida for six months while she was a university student, and loves the “White City”. She has worked in a non-profit cross-cultural organization, has supervised volunteers, has a deep love of literature and also has vast knowledge and experience in culinary arts as she has worked in the U.S. as a private chef.
Susanna is excited to be part of an organization that fosters and encourages language literacy and cultural exchange; she was kind enough to accept an interview with The Yucatan Times and this is what she said to us.
SM: Hi, my name is Susanna McKibben
TYT: Where are you from Susanna?
SM: Originally from Columbus Ohio.
TYT: How long have you lived in Merida?
SM: I’ve been living here in Merida for a little over a year and a half, in September it will be two years.
TYT: And how you like it so far?
SM: I love it, it is very nice. I studied here when I was in College, ten years ago, I was here for 6 months, I lived with a family, and I just fell in love with the city. I always kind of wanted to live here again but, didn’t really know that would happen. And then the opportunity came up for my husband and I, so here we are.
TYT: Your husband is Mexican right?
SM: Yes, he is from northern Mexico, from Sonora. So he had never been to Merida, and it was my idea to come down here. So he is kind of an outsider too, his hometown is closer to the United States.
TYT: Do you see a big difference between Merida 10 years ago and Merida today?
SM: Absolutely, especially in the downtown area, obviously the city has grown a lot, but back when I came the first time, La Gran Plaza was new, and there was nothing really after that, all of those places like Altabrisa, City Center didn’t exist when I was here.
I used to spend a lot of time downtown when I was here, but nobody else did. What I mean is that there were really no bars back then, the only restaurants were on Calle 60 and right now there are so many new places, that it is like totally another city.
And I loved it then, but it’s even better now, I mean they didn’t even have the “Bici Ruta”, Ciclo Turixes, it has changed a lot.
TYT: Where did you used to live with the family 10 years ago?
SM: They lived in Jardines del Norte, so I used to take the bus everywhere.
TYT: And you are relocated here from?
SM: I was living in North Carolina, and my husband was living in Nogales, Sonora.
TYT: Where did you guys met?
SM: We met on the border, he was living in Nogales and I was living in Tucson, Arizona, so we used to meet on the border, but before we came here, we were living in separate places, doing long distance for a while.
TYT: Where in Merida do you lve now?
SM: I live in Colonia Francisco I. Madero, it is right by the Parque de la Paz, near the Hospital Militar on the other side of the railroad tracks, it is right outside the historic downtown, so it is more affordable, but it’s great because it’s really close to “Centro”.
TYT: Do you think that area of the city is safe?
SM: Yes, I think it is safe. We know all our neighbors, and I ride my bike at night by myself back and forth downtown and I never have felt unsafe. There are other cities where I wouldn’t feel safe doing that, but I’d never had any problems here. For example, Nogales, Sonora it feels more tense, it is not as relaxed as it is here. I mean Merida has a totally different vibe, it just feels much less tense than Nogales.
TYT: Do you have any experience in Merida regarding medical issues?
SM: Luckily not that many. But the times that I had needed it, it’s been very easy, affordable and reliable. Like for me, coming from the United States, everytime I go to the dentist, it is kind of shocking that it is only 350 pesos for a good quality work, that for me is just incredible. So, in my personal experience, dental care has been a lot more easier here than in the United States.
TYT: Why do you go to that dentist, by recommendation?
SM: Yes, my friends recommended him to me. And it turns out his office is right up my street so I can just walk up to his office, and that’s a huge advantage.
Another thing is that I ride my bike everywhere here, we have a car, but I don’t use it that often, and though the buses and the combis can be a little scary (while riding my bike), the traffic here is slower than in other cities I’ve lived in, people can’t go as fast, because the roads are narrow.
I ride my bike to work every day and back home, but I don`t take the same route everyday, depending on the traffic I can take different routes. And that is awesome, because I can get pretty much anywhere I want in my bike, unless I’m going to Altabrisa, that’s a little bit too far, but I don’t go out there that much anyways.
In North Carolina, where I lived before, there are some roads where you just couldn’t ride your bike at all. Because there is no shoulder, the traffic is really fast and so you just couldn’t. But here I can get anywhere on my bike and that is nice. Or else I can take the bus, so it is easy to get around.
TYT: Have you noticed improvements in any important areas during the time you’ve lived here?
Well, I have seen more businesses open, ever since I came here for the second time, one year and a half ago, I’ve seen a significant number of new businesses open, several of them downtown, and I think that’s cool.
TYT: You were talking about the difference you see now in downtown area comparing it to ten years ago, when you came for the first time, tell us about it.
SM: Yes, as I was saying, there were no bars, or maybe just one, there were only “touristy” restaurants and that was it.
And now you have “La Negrita”, which has become extremely popular, to the point that it gets so crowded these days it is hard to get a table. We also like “El Cardenal”, and this new place called “El Pipiripau” just opened up, it is cool, it’s nice to go during the day.
TYT: How did you get the job here at Merida English Library?
SM: When I decided I was coming down here, I started looking for jobs online, I don`t remember if I was doing a Google search or found it on MEL’s webiste, I don’t really remember, but there was a job posted for an administrator here and I`ve always loved to read, I’m bilingual, I like talking to people, it seemed like a very social job so I thought that it would be interesting, so I applied online, then we had a skype interview, and they hired me.
But, it took 9 months for me to get my working permit. So I got here, and I already had the job, but I had to wait 9 months to start working, and luckily they waited for me, but in another situation I would’ve lost the job opportunity.
TYT: So, immigration could be a service that needs improvement right?
SM: Absolutely, yes. I mean I don’t know why it took so long at the Institituto Nacional de Migración. I submitted all the proper documents, and then it took them 9 months to issue the working permit.
I used to go every week to ask if everything was OK or if they needed anything else from me, and after a really long time they said that there was a document that needed to be translated, but they had all the documents for months… why they didn’t say so earlier? I don’t know… it was frustrating but, anyways, at last they granted the permit.
And I think I need to go for renewal soon. Right now, I am a temporary resident with a working permit.
TYT: Would you recommend Merida as a place of residence to friends and relatives?
SM: Yes, absolutely, it’s a great place to live, it is easy to get around, people are really nice, the weather is nice, there’s a lot of amazing things to see around the area, I mean there’s so much to do, you know with the cenotes, and the grutas, and the beaches.
TYT: Have you visited archeological sites?
SM: Yes, when I studied abroad here, they took us everywhere, so I went to Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Ek Balam, Dzibilchaltun, even all the way down to Palenque.
And now that I came back, my husband has not been to many of those places though. We really love cenotes, so we go to cenotes a lot. Even working here at MEL I have plenty of time to go visit places. I work Monday through Saturday, but get off at 1 on Saturdays, so I still have time to do things. And on Sundays we are free, so, yes we have time. We’ve also been to Cancun a couple of times.
TYT: Any friends or relatives ever come to visit?
SM: Yes, my mother in law came, my sister and brother in law, and my cousin too, they just came to visit a few days ago.
We’ve had a couple of friends staying with us and we have a bed and we have hammocks, so, we just leave them the bed and sleep in the hammocks. We love sleeping in hammocks, specially when it is hot.
TYT: Well, thank you very much for your time Susanna.
SM: You’re welcome.
Interview by Alejandro Azcárate for TYT
The opinions expressed in this interview reflect those of the interviewee and not necessarily The Yucatan Times.
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