Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ah, Mexico!

On the one hand, everything gets more Mexico-like as you approach the border, until you start to think, “Well, this is almost like Mexico here, so it’ll probably be a fairly subtle transition.” But it’s not. You cross the line into Mexico (with hardly anyone taking any notice of your passage at the border—who cares what comes in?) and are immediately confronted with bewildering streets, strange signs and symbols, the different customs and rhythms of Mexican traffic (which you will perceive as sheer chaos), and shortly, the smell of Mexico.
The smell of Mexico is hard to describe (like most smells), and of course, it is not one consistent entity. It is composed of numerous ingredients. Firstly, there is no real system of emissions standards and inspections for vehicles in Mexico, and many of them are in quite bad repair and beyond the point where they would likely be retired in the United States. Secondly, the cheap, and in many cases the only system for dealing with basura, or garbage, is to burn it. You might think of Mexico as a non-industrialized country where the garbage to be burned was composed of mostly natural materials, but this is not the case at all. The garbage is as full of plastic bags and packaging, disposable baby diapers, putrescibles and old shoes as it is in the United States. In addition, in many places in Mexico the sewer system is not up to the challenge of toilet paper, so soiled paper this is put into the garbage and burned as well. It is quite a melange! It would be great if there were a single day when everyone burned, but such is not the case. It is all burning garbage all the time.
Where we are, at Casa Emaus, is on the crest of a hill between Tecate and Tijuana, overlooking the Ejido Maclovio Rojas. To the east of us the land still supports dairy, so this smell can be added. There are also a veritable plague of flies that comes with this proximity to bovines, though mercifully they don’t seem to be the kind of flies that like to light on people all the time. They love all food and food surfaces of course.
In Mexico, a butcher’s shop smells like a butcher’s shop before you get to the door. Various pipes and standing water emit odors. On this industrial corridor in Northern Mexico among the maquiladoras, there is constant diesel truck traffic spewing soot on the way up hills, and blaring the jake brake on the way down. Dogs frolic freely throughout, doing their thing.
To encounter a human being who is malodorous is very unlikely. I’m not sure why this is, but I have found it to be so. Within a couple of days, our little troupe will smell worse than any one hundred Mexican laborers you could find. I know this from personal experience. Having camped and sat in hot cars for the last several days without proper showers (there was a swimmer’s shower at the Salton Sea, which many took advantage of yesterday), we may already be there…
I think so romantically about the two-thirds world (and really, as the world goes, Mexico is decidedly a middle-class country). I think that I might really enjoy living simply in Nicaragua. I am convinced that the powers of fascism are running almost unchecked in this country, although it may be politic for them to do so under guise of some Democrats in power for a while (as happened under Clinton). I am prone to accept Thoreau’s maxim, “That government which governs least governs best.” Then, I come to Mexico, and I start to think that at least a functional municipal system of governance might be a good thing in as much as it might help us to bury for all time, rather than burn, our basura. As a card-carrying environmentalist I am opposed to “sanitary land fills,” but there are worse alternatives. Zero Waste seems like an end of pipe dream down here…


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