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A GLIMPSE FROM AFAR
Del Ixtapalapa, Mexico
Here at work I train several young men, all about five foot four, all with strong, Mayan features. Some dress in virtual rags; one pulls out a pack of cigarettes. I point to them, then point to the twine he uses as a belt. I tell him he should not buy this, and buy that. This strikes the group of young men as hysterical, they bend over laughing, jabbing their fingers at the guy. The young man later sits behind my machine, reading a manual out loud, to himself. An hour later when he has finished, he comes to me, frowning. He points to the manual, and then to the machine. I take a look: he has spent an hour reading a manual on someone else's machine.
At the hotel I am reminded of my first visit to Mexico City. Wanting to tip fairly and according to local custom, I had asked the hotel porter, after he had carried my bags to my room, what a standard tip would be for such an effort. He paused, hemmed and hawed, then said, "Oh, about $20," which earned him an immediate and well deserved Getdafugaddahere.
Outside we eat lunch on a dirty sidewalk. Sergio and his wife run a little taco stand. You can order chicken tacos, pork tacos, beef tacos, or lamb tacos. Sergio listens intently to your order. If you order chicken, you might get chicken. Or you might get pork, beef or lamb. If you order two, you might get two. Or you might get one. Or three. If you order coffee, as we do in the morning before entering the building, you may or may not get it with milk, or sugar. Sergio will ask three times what you want as he prepares it. He is a good man. We have nicknamed him The Professor. We laugh that we shouldn't order at all, but just take what he gives us. On my last day I buy lunch for six. An assortment of tacos and lunch plates, drinks, salad. I pay for three first, then ask for the bill after the second three come out to eat. I have to explain to The Professor I have already paid for three. The total: $12. I leave him a tip which he presents proudly to his wife. We have nicknamed her Ginger, or Mary Anne. Earlier I had spoken with her.
"What is your name?" I asked her in Spanish. She responded with what phonetically is 'Berta.' I ask if she speaks any English at all, and she says no. I ask why.
"I am very Mexican," she tells me.
Today's newspaper explains that 28 percent of Mexicans describe their opinion of America as one of hatred. It claims that most Mexicans are aware that the United States took half their country in a previous war. On another page is described how Mexico is second only to India in money sent back by workers in the United States. To the tune of 34 Billion dollars a year. In the same paper an article declares that in Chiapas police are torturing and murdering civilians, and also an article complaining about a U.S. government report criticizing Mexico's human rights record. The article asserts that the motivation for the U.S. report is "revenge for Mexico not supporting the Iraqi war."
Newspapers carry headlines such as, "U.S. Troops Kill Women and Children In Iraq." Pictures of mutilated children contain captions such as, "They murder seven women and children. U.S. troops commit yet another crime". Today's newspaper states that in the middle east there are newspapers that claim the reason for the American invasion is simply that Iraq is a Muslim nation. Nothing in the article gives reason to refute the claim. Another op-ed article discusses the reason for the war. It concludes that President George Bush is the sole cause. The article quotes "thoughtful analysts" words such as, "Bush possesses the characteristics of the 'dry drunk' in terms of his incoherence while speaking away from the script," and "Certainly the president is no intellectual...possibly Bush finds complexity intimidating." There is, of course, no rational discussion of valid, debatable issues relating to the war. Of the six men I work with four are American, one is Canadian, one is Japanese. The four Americans are all strongly in favor of the war. The Canadian disagrees. The Japanese man remains silent. I look at him and wonder what he thinks of weapons of mass destruction. The Canadian abruptly changes the subject whenever the war in discussed. This morning I called him over to our group.
"You were right," I said to him. "It isn't gonna end with Iraq. Did you hear what Bush announced this morning?" The Canadian leaned in, hook, line and sinker.
"It's the Alberta oilfields next."
At night three of us stroll the crowded avenues of the Zona Rosa. I throw my arm around the Canadian's shoulder and tell him that our mission is to have him donating to the Bush Re-Election Campaign by the end of the evening. His response is not even words, but a garbled, choked sound. I buy a pizza. As I walk along, a street man with a shoe-shine rig drops down and begins soaping up my shoes. I attempt to convince him that my suede shoes do not need a shine. Apparently I fail. I have never had much luck with Mexican street shoe-shine guys. Once before I had one drop to his knees and begin shining my shoes. When I said "No," and tried to pass, the man continued. When I said a bit louder "NO," the man continued. When I bent down and shouted "NOOO!" the man fell back on his bum, stared incredulously and blurted, "Are you CRAZY?!" Now the man continues, washes my shoes as I sit on a step. When he is done I pay him with slices of pizza. We sit and laugh, eating pepperoni pizza. He speaks no English. The joke we share now is that with my new, shiny clean shoes, I am a nuevo muchacho.
I think about it all. To suggest that an uneducated, illiterate world is buying into a vast, bottomless hatred of America due to a one-sided media, feeding on latent anti-American sentiment, is the sole reason for the world-wide protests against the war in Iraq would be to understate the anti-war case. But how can a man who cannot remember a simple order, or a guy who reads an entire manual before discovering he's looking at the wrong machine, discern any truth behind the pounding, repeated, unending distortions and half-truths their own newspapers inundate them with on a daily basis? It is a very, very large problem for the United States. Adding insult to injury, todays newspaper points to the firing of Peter Arnett from CNN as proof that the American public is being misled by its own media regarding the war.
Back at work the group of young workers surround me as I read the most
recent news. The coalition forces are attacking Saddam International
Airport, and appear to be moving in on Baghdad. The young Mestizos are
interested in my thoughts. I try to tell them that my opinion is that it is
a tragic, sad, but necessary war. I know most of them probably disagree
with me. They do not show it. Only one speaks up, and the others nod.
When I glance quizzically, the one who speaks some English translates: