Allow me to finish my thought at the end of my last blog. What prompted the bleak thought that life can be fundamentally difficult and infinitely more difficult than it needs to be in our modern world? I sat on a jam packed bus en- route to Teótitlan. Estaba en las nubes ( I was spacing out, gazing out the window) when it occured to me that my view was being filtered through a gigantic, plastic, promotional sticker of Despicable Me movie characters. Behind them many mountains.
Corporate, consumeristic incursions such as these have become so expected that they almost blend into the landscape of our world. It is not only on the bus, but in the streets, at the food vendor stands in villages, virtually everywhere that these manifestations of some illusory global promised land appear like ghosts of our future. Look around at the people on this bus. They are living a relatively hand-to-mouth existence. Relatively to the standard of living for us gringos, so am I. Daily life worries show on our faces, in our posture, in the way we insist on pesos in change. How did we get to this point, where we’ve allowed money to permeate our lives so completely that we don’t think twice about the constant manufacturing of consent that’s occuring under our noses, that is so interwoven into the fabric of our consciousness and the windows in our reality that we never question it, keep fighting to “get ahead,” so we can send our kids to ciniplexes showing Despicable Me in every country across the globe. How can we ever get off this treadmill, divest from this way of being? Bueno, ya basta de este tema tan pesado.
You might say that swimming in a lagoon full of aquatic fireflies was the highlights of my week. It’s a literal basking in the afterglow, a tourist activity near Puerto Escondido on the Southwest coast of Mexico done from lanchas (rough-around-the-edge jet boats) when the moon isn’t too full for just a few months each year when the ocean and river connect and mix. Dive in and you basically glow by association with these microscopic organisms. The lagoon is dark and beautiful by night. Fish stocks here are in decent shape because indigenous fishing communities have always seen fit to protect them, our guide informs us. Indigineous communities are usually better than the rest of us at protecting the resources we depend on, I reflected as the boat hurtle ahead into a deep stillness. My guide agreed appreciatively.
After returning to Oaxaca, I set about tying up loose ends. I bought a bus ticket for el Districto Federal. I took Ita for a piece of chocolate mousse pie and a beer- the good stuff we joked- at the Left Bank books equivalent of Oaxaca which also operates a restaurant. I photographed the gap in the fence along the creek that runs under the street corner where the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca is located. After weeks of walking past this place, where the cement slopes conveniently down to the water’s edge, it occured to me that the gap and the paved slope are essentially a dumping grounds. The stream is shallow, smelly and scummy. It exhibits few signs of life or ecological health.
The more I passed this spot, the more outrageous it seemed to me. Oaxaca, I think, is a place with people and groups already concerned with and working on water issues, especially water supply and conservation. Yet, it is also a place which would benefit greatly from having a paid advocate or group of advocates for its waters, such as a waterkeeper. The prevailing sentiment among those I talked to in Oaxaca was that too little is being done to protect and restore local waterbodies. To me the polluted and much neglected stream in the middle of town served as an indicator that clean water is not valued here as much as it might be.
After running all over town to get a few packages mailed home, on my last day in Oaxaca, I reluctantly hailed a cab for the suburbs, where my ex-pat friend suggested I go for a few things I couldn´t find anywhere else, including possibly an ATM that might dispense American dollars. My entire time in Oaxaca, I´ve been hoofing it almost everywhere, partly because I like walking, it´s good for me and I can see more that way. But an alterior reason has been the intimidation that a country mouse like me experiences, even in the United States when boarding a bus, much less a bus in a foriegn country and culture.
It´s not a rational thing, my inhibition about taking buses, subways, and other crowded forms of public transport. It´s something about the noise, the bustle and the unnerving way everyone moves like they know where they´re going. (Coincidentally, my travels are revealing me to be a culture junkie, most content to just sit and watch and listen to peeople, so once I get the feel for how to navigate a place by its public transport, I am fascinated and addicted.) But, in the case of this superstore, even I had to recognize I´d never get there without a vehicle. As soon as I got in the cab, I realized this would be one of those travelers´decisions that validates itself almost instantly. Like an honest mechanic, the driver acknowledged up front that street repairs would neccessitate a slightly longer route and higher fare. Like following a good lead while dancing, conversation with this guy just flowed. He was maybe in his 50s and happily not the least bit creepy. He has been driving cabs since he was 14 and knows Oaxaca streets like the palm of his hand (the Spanish equivalent of our English expression ¨like the back of your hand.¨)
Like numerous locals in the past few weeks, he commented on how much bettter my Spanish is than that of most gringos he runs into. I thanked him for lying. In reality, I´m still a mess grammatically. But I´ve gotten well past my fear of saying something wrong or tripping on a word. So I just forge ahead, often in blissful ignorance of my errors, perhaps giving the impression that I know what I´m doing. Note: this can lead to problems in a conversation, whereby a Spanish speaker, judging by my confident delivery and basic ability to communicate what I want to say, assumes a level of proficiency higher than mine actually is and rattles off a response at a pace that makes my head spin. I have to ask them to slow down, and all parties in the conversation have to back up and recalibrate.
I described to the friendly cabby my insane itinerary, totaling 38 hours through 4 countries. Mexico to Argentina via Toronto and Santiago. It´s so crazy as to be laughable. You should just airdrop a letter home on your way to Canada, he joked.
The superstore, as it turned out, did not have an ATM with American dollars. (Nowhere in Oaxaca does. If you think about it, maybe this says something good about the place.) On instructions from my cab driver, I braved a bus on the way home. Although I had already been on buses here a few times (to Teotitlan, for example,) this was my first time doing it alone, without a native guide. On and off like a pro. I had successfullly figured out which bus to take, when to pay how much, how to talk to the bus driver, where to get off. In Mexico at least, taking the bus requires quite a bit of pro-activity. No spacing out allowed. Now on to another country to figure this routine out all over again!
Walking ¨home¨from the bus station to finish packing, I thought, to my surprise, this neighborhood of Oaxaca which seemmed so chaotic and extranjero to me when I arrived now seems logical, comfy, like my neighborhood. There was so much I didn´t get to do in Oaxaca, I suspect I´ll be back.