Saturday, December 4, 2010
El corazon within the Darkness
Winter has placed her hands over the land and is keeping me in stillness, giving me time to contemplate the heart which marked my journey to San Miguel. When I was writing my stories in the Apartamento Rojo, staring out the glass doors at the clear view of the Enchanted City, I never gave one thought to the Iowa winters. Strangely, though the last few weeks have been largely focused on bracing myself for the cold with the purchase of scarves, boots, and pairs of gloves, I am not dismayed about enduring the long months of Iowa snow and ice. Instead, I feel fortunate. Indeed, I have never felt more fortunate in my life.
When I crossed the border into Laredo a year ago, I noted the startling change in ambience immediately. Though San Miguel is spreading out into the stretches of its outskirts, new complexes being built by mostly foreign bidding, the truth is Mexico continues to be a country where people are living on the edges of survival. As I drove south, half-built or abandoned adobe houses the size of an American garage sprinkled the paisaje. It wasn't until I reached the lush bajio of Guanajuato that I felt hope for the stricken landscape.
The turning point of my decision as to whether my stay would be six months or longer came through the search for reasonably priced and comfortable living space. After leaving the Valle del Maiz I searched in vain for a place I could afford, and ended up sharing space with a colony of fleas. And although I did eventually find a very lovely apartment, I became intimate with the chameleon character of fortune.
One of my favorite sayings is "There but for fortune go I" but in San Miguel I traveled roads I never thought to walk upon. It took me a long time to comprehend that paying six dollars an hour to teach English at the Universidad de Guanajuato extension in San Miguel was average pay in Mexico. My heart collage, however, represents a particular "fortune" one finds in Mexico: vibrancy, colors which startle you into an aliveness that an office cubicle infamously disregards. Why do people come to Mexico, if not for this? Why did I return? We want to be rocked into an awareness, to return to the sense of tactile and visual excitement. And aren't we fortunate to participate in this culture? And are we aware of the level of poverty which so many Mexicans contend with on a daily basis?
Yesterday I ventured to the mall to find my last purchase: plush slippers to warm my increasingly cold feet at night. I recalled what my students had discovered in interviews with Latinos, their sense that Americans were too materialistic. I found myself feeling quite appalled at not just the intent to "shop till you drop", but the amount of meaningless merchandise for sale. I thought about my students, working, one and sometimes two jobs, single mothers and young men in trouble with the law. I thought about my friend who teaches first graders, and how one of them got a toy from Goodwill for his birthday. And I went home, without my slippers. Warm socks will do just fine.