Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cuckoo Racha

My shoes are strewn around the apartment – one in the bathroom by the toilet, one by the bookcase in the living room, the brown Keen in the kitchen by the stove – and I pad around in one flip-flop.  All night, I’ve been slapping at cucarachas the size of trucks.  I’m 5 for 5 tonight. They’re too big to dart – they lumber – giving me ample time to raise my size 10 in the air and connect with a loud smack, leaving yellow guts on my ceramic floor. I try not to look, but I have to scoop them up quick, or the baby ant armies will arrive in formation and deftly abscond with the corpses, a funeral march of insect proportions.

In my sloppy hast, I left a single leg on the kitchen floor –  came back 15 minutes later limping in my single flip-flop – and the leg was being carried out the service area door to the hoots and hollers of the victorious ant army – until I got out my bottle of Windex and commenced the chemical warfare.  I won.

Now perched on my sofa sipping my paloma, too squeamish to venture into the dark waters of sleep, I hold vigil.  Tiny movements of the wind in the drapes give me a start. I image the queen bee entering my Rincon, busting the door down, and devouring me.  

I take another gulp of squirt-diluted tequila, my ice melting fast, the sweat from the glass dripping onto my leg, and hope the agave gets to my head quick enough that I won’t know what hit me if that queen beetle did show up.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Other Mexico

This is how the other half lives.  

I eat cornmeal encrusted salmon with wasabi-jalapeno dipping sauce; I gaze down at the lap pool from Nancy’s balcony;  I’m invited to a embassy-brat fiesta with a buffet table laden with American packaged foods, those flat pretzels  with hummus and flabby shrimp cocktail. And everyone’s so friendly and healthy and happy and they speak English and the toilets flush.

Makes me realize just how isolated I’ve been in Green River, just like the people in the communities, emulating them by accident, or out of necessity, to protect myself from the allure of the ‘otro lado’, the other Mexico, the other side of the peso, the VIP cinemas and saki bars and museum cafes….It’s all here in Polanco.  

Love and money and green spaces and recycling and rock-n-roll – no banda or ranchero in this pueblo. Lacoste shirts are in again, the gator on the breast bigger than ever; no mistakin’ who’s got dinero here. And boat shoes, please, those again? Bottles of Red Label whiskey in the middle of the table and a little serving cart with sodas and a silver bucket of ice with tongs.  

Nancy’s got a marble-floor apartment with granite countertops and wraparound balcony, maid brigade service that changes the towels and sheets daily, and I think about all that water, a special walkie-talkie phone to the embassy for earthquake or narco emergencies, concierge service, a gym, breakfast room, internet.  All this for 70,000 pesos per month?!  Granted, it's a temporary assignment, and Nancy didn't choose it - but when I compare this to Diaz Rincon 1-bedroom in the Rioverde Centro - 1500 pesos monthly - it's mind-boggling.  It's 50X more!

Do I miss all this? Book store cafes where no one is buying books?  Trendy cafes where a Corona cost three times what Rita charges at El Fenix and the waiter says:  you pay for this pointing to the lovely square and lovely square people occupying it.  Encrusted salmon entree, 300 pesos, but I sure can’t get that in Rioverde. So I pay.  And it’s worth every pesito.

Do I miss all that?

Yes, and no.  What I do really miss is this:  the ideas, connection, collaboration, camaraderie in this colossal effort.  

Sitting around the conference table with Nancy’s embassy colleagues on Monday, there was passion and energy for my ‘cause.’ Viva Viveros certainly wasn’t part of the USDA’s mission here; they are in Mexico to promote American products. Their website is But they want to help anyway.  They know people from Coke and Walmart and Bimbo at the Chamber of Commerce – big businesses that have a commitment to go green and socially responsible.  Laura from Monterrey is going to connect me to them – and invite our vivero groups to participate in the Green Fair in Monterrey in August.  And Elenita at the Ben Franklin Library wants me to come back and do to do a broadcast webchat about the women of Zamachihue. That’s the most press they’ve ever gotten.
So I reach across to the other side, almost guiltily, like dipping into the cookie jar.  But I know this much:  nothing it this world that’s worth doing can be done solo. And I thank Nancy for giving me a taste of the good life, a better life than either of us ever had in WDC, USA.

And I say this knowing in my bones Mexico’s deepest problem is this inequity – one day I can be in the campo with my Zama women, pissing in a hole in the ground, electricity strung by orange extension across dirt roads…and the very next day, three Auto Naves bus connections and 8 hours later, I’m in DeEffe eating cornmeal encrusted wild sockeye salmon from the Pacific Northwest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I lament that the season of the piña is coming to an end.
Big fat grenades piled in pickups on the side of the highway, 15 pesos a pop, grab them by their bristly fronds and lop them open with a machete. First cosechas from Veracruz the sweetest of them all, juice running everywhere, down your arms as you bite into a wheel, down your legs, sticky between your toes.
But gracias a dios, the temporada of the pitaya has just arrived.
Round and red as rubber balls, these desert fruits perch atop their long-necked organ pipes waiting to be plucked, daring you. Some, already splayed open, reveal their scarlet guts: the birds got to them first, and now the bees nestle deep inside their flesh drawing out the sugar.
Javier reaches toward the blue morning sky with his gancho and lodges the V snugly beneath the fruit. Then with a flick of the wrist he loosens it from the thorny neck and it falls to the ground with a thump, decapitated. I dive for it like it’s a candy that just spilled out of a piñata. Cuidate, Javier tells me. It’s spikey and pricks my finger. But Don Javier knows how to handle it: from the tiny incision he peels away the papery skin like a flower revealing the magenta flesh inside. He offers it to me, bloody juice pouring into his palm. I take it gingerly, from the bottom, and bite into the ball of fruit, nature’s snow cone, wet and watery, sweet and sultry, it awakens my mouth, and I yearn for more. 
One is not enough, Rita tells me. She could eat them faster than she could pick them. It requires patience and delicacy; and she was always too eager, stabbing her pray with the tines of her gancho, leaving an entire cactus bush full of wounded fruit – and only a few on the ground at her feet to take home in a bucket to her mom.
Eight hours, her mother chastised, and only eight pitayas? Summarily, her mom dumped them into the sink and marched out the door with the empty bucket. She was back in an hour with a brimming bucket, gloating. You father never taught you anything.
But that wasn’t true because Rita says she’s an expert at eating them. Before her father died he brought buckets and buckets of pitayas home to her. He taught her how to peel them without pricking her fingers; and he watched in delight as she gorged on them, red juice running down her chin, and her tongue dyed purple with his love.