One of the reasons that this blog didn't start up until Ben and I realized we were just disappointing our future selves by not documenting this trip, is because I have a really difficult time with negotiating my liberal arts degree of 'critical kindness' towards all things new, different or unique; and my desire to write out, document and share my love of small handmade and hand delivered stories to other human beings.
To casually display the fight against the existentialist struggle.
I told our host, Gaby, in Monterrey, that I was working in my head on my 'What I Am Going to Say About Mexico That is Honest, Not Stereotyping; Kind, But Critical.' This is part of that series of thoughts.
Today, via my college email address, I received a bulk-letter from one of the administrative bigwigs at Tulane, my alma mater, telling students to use caution, and check the state.gov website for travel information about going to major Mexican tourist areas and the Mexican frontera. Drugs, death, violence, pickpockets and rape! Frankly, short of Tijuana, all of the cities listed on the website seemed charming compared to New Orleans, New York City, Chicago, and sure as heck better than Gary, Indiana. What are we (Americans) telling ourselves about the outside world? Are we writing these blurbs about our most dangerous cities, when all of those out-of-state college students just showed up in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year?
Right now, Ben has the whole darned motorcycle apart, up the street (Carlos and Nasul's house is located on the hillside, and the immediate surrounding blocks are pedestrian stairwells only, paved with large stones held together by cement and loosely attached, somehow, to the mountain), so we haven't been driving anywhere for the last couple of days.
Therefore, every few days we walk down to the markets and go to buy groceries. Zacatecas is an old town, and it is difficult to build modern day grocery stores into the city--there are no streets that run straight and buildings, stairwells too, tend to just pop out of nowhere, built on top of other buildings, buildings that are dug into the sides of the mountains surrounding the main valley of the city.
These markets tend to be mixed results for us--sometimes three days of delicious groceries or an incredible lunch comes for less than three dollars (or 45 pesos). Other times, we are ripped off--less than a pound of rice for 20 pesos, or a $1.33. This may not seem like a lot, and in a way, it isn't, either economically or emotionally. But in some ways, it is. We watch and listen, as we get ripped off by someone--we know whats going on and they know that we know. Everyone is clearly aware. What we're paying for is more than just some white rice, we're paying for years of bad blood between two countries, for a child's education, our stilted Spanish, for our blue eyes. In this is the critical kindness. I don't blame this individual for overcharging me, and I let him do it, willingly. It is easy enough to say no. But it doesn't help him if I say no, and it doesn't help me if I say yes. Overall, no one is winning in any of these situations. How do you call someone out on this without skirting around the obvious reasons that you are being ripped off?
One night, my friend Anna and I were waiting for the streetcar in New Orleans. A woman came up to us and asked us for money for a cab. Her boyfriend had just beat her up and kicked her out of the car. We gave her everything we had short of the small fare for the streetcar back Uptown--did we want to be scammed and do the right thing or not give her money and possibly let this woman try to walk home by herself in the middle of the night?
It makes me really nervous to fall into the travel blog/travel writing hole of essentializing groups of people and blaming them for historic, political and social events outside of their reach, or summing them up into quaint exoticized moments in my life. These stories may seem negative, but they're really about the difficulty of walking a fine line between forgiving, comprehending, and criticizing. How do you humanize a person, a place or a country without generalizing or being unfair (in either a good or bad way)? How do you write a story about something without taking advantage of the person who made the story--the climb up the hill or the noteworthy news?
I spend a lot of time, looking at the florae and the terrain on our trips. A lot of the time on the motorcycle is spent between towns; it makes the metropolitan area from New York to Boston seem claustrophobic. It is hard to catch pictures of plants while we're moving,
most of the on-motorcycle pictures tend to be of distant objects (ok, mountains).
So I've been trying to take pictures of interesting plants more often,
so that I can show at least what some of the plants are like, the more "exotic" ones that catch my eye.
I wish I could give names for these plants, but you'll just have to appreciate them for what they are. Included are some photos of the mountains I've loved, too. Just so you can start to feel the expansiveness of Mexico, the rolling desert plains and mountains we've been travelling through since we left the United States.
We had to slow down for these sheep. I would say that half of the animals we've seen have not been penned in. But they tend to be a little smarter, the cows, the horses, the chickens, etc. and they realize that there is no food to be found on the road.
I actually was able to catch a picture of one of small dust whirlwinds that suck up the dry ground. Everytime we crest a mountain, there are dozens of these to be seen on the horizon:
Grapevines in the desert for Ryan: