Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mexican Interlude

I spent a few more days in Mexico city with my parents seeing some sites, spending time with my cousins who live there, before they had to fly back home. It was important seeing them again and knowing that I'll be back home with them soon. As well as revisiting family I had mundane matters to take care of, such as repairing my laptop screen and finding another rucksack buckle for the interim one I had bought back in Lima and that had cracked in El Salvador. I didn't feel the need to do much sight-seeing though, having been in Mexico City before. In fact it was here that I started my first round the world trip, all the way back in 2004, and it was the first time that I had ventured out of my Europe-USA-Canada comfort zone. It was here that my worldly learning curve began and so returning was thought-provoking exercise in reviewing past experiences and opinions and seeing how much my thoughts had changed in the intervening years.

Big public education sign exhorting people to pay for their electricity and to adopt a more "legal culture". The non-payment of taxes and services is a huge burden on many developing countries where the bureaucratic infrastructure often can't cope

I remember noting back then that Mexico was far more developed, the people like "us" and the cities like "ours" than my media upbringing had led me to believe. Looking on now, with eyes that have traversed (almost) all of Latin America, it's no wonder. Partly because the media images we are fed tend to, invariably, be false and misleading, but also because Mexico is easily one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the region (only outdone by Chile and Panama). It might be bottom of the OECD rankings for most quality of life indicators, but at least it's in the OECD. Signs of relative prosperity are everywhere: new cars, decent transport infrastructure (though my dad would have something to say about the roads), the greater frequency of receipts in shops*, and the emphasis of public health campaigns on issues such as autism and people with disabilities, rather than basic preventable diseases that mainly afflict poorer countries. Of course there is substantial disparity within the country. The south, with its more rural population, small-scale agriculture and patchier infrastructure lags behind the north, with its educated, urban population and legions of factories and maquilladoras that service the hungry American market. But by and large it feels like a country that is on the up. Its politics is (ever so slowly)  getting more transparent, the youth are no longer eagerly dreaming of emigrating to America, to become busboys, gardeners or maids, and would rather pursue meaningful careers at home.

Serendipitously, as well as seeing my cousins, my time in Mexico allowed me to see two friends. Lisbeth, who I have known since my student days, has recently moved back to Mexico after spending several years working at the University of California in San Diego, and is a great example of a Mexican out of choice because of better opportunities, family ties and work-life balance. It was wonderful to be able to reconnect after so many years and catch up on our various paths up until now, plus I got the opportunity to have a guided tour of her hometown of Toluca. My second encounter was with John, an American who had hosted me in Macedonia whilst he had been doing his Peace Corps service there. He has long-since returned and is now working in a bilingual school in an upmarket district of Mexico City, so we met up for tacos and a chat to revisit the intervening three years (it's only when I look back like this that I see how long it has been). All in all Mexico City was a welcome stop to recharge, regroup and rest before the final home straight.

Lisbeth showing me round the, surprisingly impressive, Cosmovitral, one of the largest works of stained glass in the world, and pretty cool to boot.

*It may seem like an odd thing to notice, but receipts are a good proxy for a working bureaucracy, as transactions that generate receipts are logged and generate governmental revenue in the form of sales tax. Many developing countries find it difficult to fund public spending because tax revenue is low and very little of it comes from private income or internal spending.

No comments: