Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mexican Improv

This morning I awaken to the sound of trash bells ringing:  the trucks are arriving and telling the residents to get their bags and cans of basura out onto the sidewalk for pickup.  I’m not sure they use this system because the people can’t plan ahead, follow a schedule, and put their bags out the night before like we do in the good ‘ole USA? Or because there are so many stray, hungry dogs that will attack the bags, the residents have no choice but to put them out on the sidewalk at the last second when they hear the bell.

Either way, it speaks to the spontaneous culture I’ve been living in for the last two years. Very little is planned:  things arise in the moment and people react, calmly and efficiently.  They sell natural gas that way, playing a jingle over a loud-speaker that prompts residents to come out to the street and pay the man to refill their tanks. And potable water is bought and sold that way too – an annoying beep-beeeeep-beep-beep.  Even the knife-sharpener has his chime, and the elote man his blasting mariachi.

Although it can be noisy, there’s something beautiful about this practice. You don’t have to keep a calendar. You don’t have to be disappointed or frustrated when an appointment cancels because you don’t track them. You’re just living in the moment.

And there are days when the spontaneous culture drives me absolutely loco! The less time I have, the more I need to get things programmed.  At the beginning of my service in MX this wasn’t a problem:  I had no appointments, and that was uncomfortable for me.  It’s true: a calendar full of activities makes you feel…important. But then I got used to it; I even lost my Blackberry after a few months here (a subconscious adaptation move?), tried replacing it with a Palm, then lost that, finally reverting to the old paper method.

But now, with just four months to go in my service, and some goals (and obligations) to fulfill before I leave, I need people to live up to their commitments – so I can live up to mine.

Last week was a disaster of broken promises.  A lunch date is one thing; but this was a last-minute cancellation by Procuraduria Agraria. We had scheduled a trip the trip to Zamachihue to gather the information needed for the Reglamento and the Acta Constitutiva, documents necessary for the registration of Vivero Esperanza de Zamazhihue as a legitimate native plant business and essential, in turn, to the community’s ability to sell the plants with facturasto the government for their reforestation projects.

What’s worse, it was the third week in the row of cancellations – and the women were waiting.What’s even worse, no one called me to cancel. I had to make calls and send texts to Cualtemoc, all unanswered, and finally send an email to the director to discover that, in fact, the trip was off. I’ve learned this much in Mexico, to confirm the day before; otherwise I end-up waiting out on the corner at the Pemex station at 7 am for a ride that never comes.

At first there’s anger – I feel the steam coming out of my ears and expletives coming out of my mouth.  It's a feeling of disrespect – not just for me but for the women of the community – as though our time is not valuable.  Then there’s the feeling of dejection and protection, ni modo, whatEver – if they don’t care why should I?  

But then, with luck and practice, the Mexican Improv kicks-in. I notice my brain searching for a Plan B, and beneath that my heart pushing to rise above the malaise and stick to MY commitments. Even if it means taking the bumpy throw-up bus 2 and a half hours to Corn City, that’s what I'll do.  
Truth was, the ride wasn't all that bad, as long as I kept my eyes closed or focused forward. The temperature at that hour was suffer-able, and the dust wasn't billowing into the windows like last time, thanks to a blessed sprinkling of rain. But best of all, as my bus pulled into the tiny station along the highway, I could see Angelica see me and smile.  She and her senior were waiting on the bench for me, as promised.  I did not have to contemplate a Plan C. They were as committed as me. 

We even took advantage of all being in the capital together to visit the Municipal head of Ecologia to talk about reforestation project in the region, practice our pitch, and try to sell some trees.  

Then it was time to take the one-hour dirt road journey to the community for the meetings with the mujeres to develop the Version 1 of their Reglamento.  More improv: the Ejido Hall was locked and the Comisariado with the key was nowhere to be found. So we gathered on the patio, brought in some chairs, pinned a sheet onto the wall, strung some electricity in on a fat orange cable, and started up my PowerPoint slide show.

Two hours later we had decisions on our Vision, Organization Structure, Leadership Team and Profit-sharing Plan – all the information Cualtemoc needed to get moving, no excuses, on creating the Acta Constitutiva.  I wish my SeeChange clients could be so efficient.
Then we retreated to Angelica’s house to eat her mama's infamous mole rojo with the handmade tortillas morradas, the ones made of the pink corn and so thick they tear like fabric and hold in all the spicy-sweet sauce.  And for desert, cool wet cactus tunas.

Mexican Improv has its rewards.