Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mexico City, after the fact

Here's Rolene and I in the Alameda, some nice park blocks near the Zocalo, which is the square at the center of Mexico City.

Rolene and I are now in Oaxaca City, about 6 hours SW of Mexico City. Now that I've left Mexico City I can think about it more critically. I don't know if it's just part of my personality that it can be hard for me to discuss something as it's happening, or if Mexico City is so overwhelming that it's essentially impossible to talk about any case, I've had some time to think and can now try to express those thoughts to you all.
A friend commented in an email a couple days ago that I seem to be comfortable here and asked me how it felt to be in Mexico City again, if it felt the same as when I lived here in 2006. I told him that I'm comfortable, in a funny way. It feels like home in that I feel like myself the way I do in the Bay Area. But at the same time, things are new and exciting and Spanish challenges me, so I have to pay more attention, which in some ways makes me feel more like myself than I do at home. 
I'm sure that this challenge with language is fairly universal for people who have traveled and had to speak in a new language. I find myself suddenly without the ability to articulately express myself verbally, which is a area I am very confident in at home and which is part of my identity. I am a good speaker; I feel heard and respected when I share my opinions. Without that skill, who am I? How do I define and express myself? I have to trust that people will try to understand my intentions, as I do theirs, even if our words fall short. 
In this new culture, nothing can be assumed and the rhythm of life is so different than it is in Berkeley. While it can be tiring to be constantly assimilating and incorporating new information (new words, new sense of direction--no hills and bay to help me tell east from west, new body language and customs), I appreciate how it allows me to see how there is more than one way to move through the world and interact with those around me. 
One of the reasons I feel so comfortable here is that the sense of community is so much stronger than in the States. We are very individualistic, as a culture, in the US. Well, at least in the parts where I've lived and visited. I love that when people enter or leave a room they greet each other with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek, even if they don't know each other or have any reason to know each other. I love that people stop to talk on the street even if they are already late (this may account for the infamous "mexican time") and that they call out to each other and talk to one another on the bus. How strange it must be for a Mexican immigrant to get on a bus in Berkeley and be encountered with silence and see everyone wearing headphones keeping their eyes down, because god forbid we make eye contact with one another. Now, this is not to say that I don't sometimes wish that people would stop talking to me or trying to sell me something, but I guess I prefer telling people to go away to wishing someone would chat with me as we roll down San Pablo Ave. 
I also love how unabashedly people are in love here. Teenagers, or old people for that matter, make out on park benches. Couples run across the street, giggling and holding hands, and fall into an embrace in celebration of making it, miraculously, across the street alive. People don't look away from these public displays of affection and whisper behind their fingers to their friends, "Get a room, already!"  
I feel connected to strangers here. This is partly the Mexican culture--all the handshakes and kisses and exchanges of "buenos dias" with people I may never see again. But, I think this sense of connection may be another effect of traveling, wherever one might go. When traveling, we have to trust that people are giving us good directions (although, don't trust that too much here because people are so eager to help they will give you directions even if they have no bloody idea where you want to ask a few people before heading out), or that they are giving you a fair price, or that they are trying to help you rather than take you for a ride. We have to trust people, or we end up missing out on the kind of interactions that make traveling what it is. The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation has a line that says, "As viewed, so appears." If we think of the world as a dangerous place, our mind will pick out dangerous people and places. If we view the world as safe and abundant, that is what we will see when we look around. When I move through the world with this philosophy and assuming that my needs will be met, I find myself experiencing a life beyond my wildest dreams. This is what traveling does for me--it stretches me and opens my eyes to a greater reality. 

Well, I've got to go now because Rolene and I are headed to Chiapas on an overnight bus and we have to get a taxi. There's a parade going down the street our hotel is on, which could make it hard to get to the bus station. I don't know when I'll have internet again, but I will soon tell you about Oaxaca and visiting the ruins at Monte Alban. It was amazing. Love to you all...

1 comment:

  1. Oh, man! I miss Mexico!

    I remember how lonely I was when I came back. We United Stateseans have such a thing against touching each other. It took me a little bit to get used to kissing everyone hello, or being talked to by strangers all the time (besides the 'hola guera, hi mami' thing), how crowded everything is... But when I got home I really missed that kind of contact. It breaks down some of the barriers we like so much.

    ps- Only ask women for directions. Men will make shit up just so they seem like they know what they're talking about.

    Te extrano mucho, mi amiga!