"You either write your own script, or you become an actor in somebody else's script." -- John Taylor Gatto

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Glass Botto"n" Boats

I spent 2 years in Mexico from Dec 1990 thru Oct 1992. I loved it. If you had asked me back then, I would have guessed that I would have been back many times since. Odd thing is I never went back. Until now. Twenty years later (actually 17 1/2) I went back to Mexico for the first time. And guess what? I still love Mexico. Why? The regular-Jose’s (Joe), the regular-Juan’s (John) and regular-Maria’s (Mary) in Mexico are some of the nicest people I have ever met.

Oh sure the Canadians are nice, as Rick Reilly points out here http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=reilly_rick&id=4906756. I have been to Vancouver and the surrounding areas (Abbotsford, Victoria, Surrey) many times – even Kelowna. I lived in Montreal for four months, and have visited Toronto, Mississauga, Windsor, etc. Sure the people of Canada are nice. But they aren’t Mexican nice.

I lived in Brussels for a few months too – and I’ve visited (multiple times) many European countries. Spain is wonderful. Friendly too. There was a different level of friendliness on the subways in Spain than I experienced in, say, Austria, or Germany, or Switzerland. Even French people are surprisingly nice if you try to speak a little French…don’t boisterously walk around like you own the place…and show a little respect for their wonderful country. The same could be said for Great Britain, the Czech Republic, BeNeLux, etc. But there’s something a little more open and warm about Mexicans: Kindness.

I went to a store in Mexico named “Soriana” (think of an enormous Fred Meyer or Dominicks or Wallmart.) After I purchased my mangos, an older man approached me. He started asking me how to say certain things in English. Things like “I am a carpenter” and “I will fix your doors, your windows, tables”, etc. Where he lives, near Los Cabos, work has dried up, and lots of English-speaking people have built homes. He hopes to go door to door letting them know that he can do repairs or build them whatever they may need. He was having particular trouble with the word “fix.” The -cks sound at the end wouldn’t come off for him. But he kept at it. I wrote down some phrases for him on a piece of cardboard he was carrying. After we finished, and he had shaken my hand umpteen times, and invoked blessings from Heaven upon me, I tried to give him his pen back. He wouldn’t take it. He wanted me to have it. He said that I had given him help, and he wanted to give me his pen in return. Not in so many words, but the meaning was understood. A small gesture, to be sure, but one not lost on me.

Another time we took a taxi way out from the city. Past the pavement. Not only did the taxi driver come back for us on time; on our way back downtown, we realized we were out of baby wipes for our 10-month old. He took us way out of our way to get some more. He parked and went into the store and did some minor shopping while we did ours. Then he took us up and down a few streets to show us some interesting sites. And in the end he charged us the same fare as the first trip out of town. His reason? He said he wanted us to feel welcome in Mexico.

There was someone else in our group that needed to drive to a gated resort for a party, but didn’t have directions. She stopped and asked a Mexican guy on the street. He and his friends started talking – but realized there was no good way to tell her without getting her lost. So – he jumped in his own car and said, “follow me.” He drove her to the front gates. No pay.

I know Mexican people don’t have a corner on the kindness market. But how many of you can imagine these types of experiences in Germany, England, or France? It might happen. But it happened so often in Mexico that it appeared to be the rule rather than the exception.

I know we have major problems with Mexicans and the US Border. It drives me crazy and needs to be fixed. I also know there are little things that make us laugh a bit at Mexico. The many peso devaulations over the years. The crazy border crossing stories. The dusty roads and corrupt government officials. One snorkeling boat we were on was misspelled with “Glass Botton Boat” painted on the side. We saw “looby” for “lobby”, any many other funny signs.

These kinds of things make us laugh, and maybe cause us to look down on them a bit. It might even make us feel superior at times. But that would be a big miscalculation.

The people I lived among 20 years ago and for the last 2 weeks have one thing in common: they are helpful, cheerful and kind beyond measure — even in less than brilliant circumstances. I think having this kind of attitude toward our fellow human beings is one big lesson we can learn from them. Hopefully the lesson will not be lost on me.

1 comment:

M Diane said...

I enjoyed reading about Mexico and was reminded of my trip down deep into Mexico. Oh, I have been over the borders several times -- in California and even a couple of times in Texas; but about 18 years ago I got to go down deep into Mexico -- at least in my memory it was down deep, and especially when compared to just going over the borders. I got to go into people's homes -- not even people who were expecting me because there were no phones to say that we were coming. I was with someone who knew the people and we just got to stop in to visit. We were always welcomed -- always treated to something to drink and sometimes even invited to stay for food. I still have and still use the kitchen gifts that were graciously offered to me -- not brand new, but something they used and knew I could also use. The hand-stitched tortilla cloths with crochet and embroidery that made them so pretty were used on the table to wrap around warm tortillas to keep them warm.

I still have them and still use them. A very gracious lesson from a truly kind people. Perhaps in many ways I need to remember that lesson and not have it wasted on me. I don't give something away very often -- like almost never. I am reminded of a time I gave away a loaf pan to someone who could use it. Some many months later I had forgotten what I had done with the pan. (Does that show that gifting from my kitchen is not a habit?) Well, I went looking for my pan and then I started asking my family if any knew the whereabouts of my pan. The person to whom I had given the pan graciously gave it back to me -- and then said that they had thought I had given it to her but perhaps I had just loaned it. I was so embarrassed that I didn't say anything but took my pan back because I needed it at the time. I have never spoken of it since.

I am grateful for your post to remind me of the growth I need to make, lest the lessons in kindness really do get lost on me. Thank you far more than you know.