There are a lot of things I could tell you about this week. But instead I’m going to take a break from traditional updates to tell you a bit more about the culture of Mexico. I asked people to give me some questions or conceptions regarding Mexico, and I’ll add a few of my own here. I hope this gives you a better idea of what life is like down in Mexico.
I heard it all the time when I was preparing for this trip: “Be careful of the drug lords.” While it is true that drugs are trafficked across the Mexican-US border, I am no where near that border. If you look at the map to the right, that will help with the explanation. I live in the red portion (if you can see the numbers, I’m in 14 and visit 15 occasionally). While Mexico City is huge, and there is drug activity there, it is not sufficient to cause such fear as we hear about in border towns. Where I live, I am safe as long as I use reasonable precautions like I would in a large city in the US.
Here in Mexico, we use the peso. A peso is worth about 1/12 of a US dollar. That changes from week to week, but the value always falls in that range. When I was first here, that caused a decent bit of sticker shock since Mexico and the US use the same symbol for the peso and the dollar, respectively. For example, I pay $9 for a 600 ml Coke at the artisans’ market, but that’s less than a dollar in US currency. It takes a little getting used to, but I’ve mostly adjusted. I imagine going back to the US will cause a reverse sticker shock of sorts, and I will probably spend a few weeks doing the conversion into pesos so I actually know how much I’m paying!
Standard of Living
Yes, there are many poor people in Mexico. There are plenty of people who live day-to-day. Some of the children here at Niños likely did not know where their next meal was coming from before they came here. However, there are also some very wealthy people here. Just a few doors down from my home here, there is a very nice gated community. We drive by every morning on our way to school, and I marvel at the difference between the people behind those gates and the man selling juice just outside.
This was probably one of my favorites. One of my friends from school asked about sombreros in the culture here. This is a great question! To be honest, I don’t see many sombreros in daily life here. My first trip to Mexico, I saw a few sombreros on the plane down, which startled me a bit. They also sell beautiful sombreros in the artisans’ market I’ve visited several times. Sombreros are more common with mariachi bands and things like that, but they aren’t really part of daily life.
Here in the Mexico City area, I live on what used to be a lake. When the Aztecs settled here, they built an elaborate system of canals and islands. Many of those ancient canals are now modern roads. The city has been sinking for many years, but this doesn’t cause problems in day-to-day life. It does affect things like the world’s 2nd largest Catholic cathedral, which is now on a hydraulic system that is correcting the uneven sinking.
I am surrounded by mountains on all sides. Sometimes when we are driving to school in the morning, it feels like we are just a bubble in a giant’s glass, being swirled round and round the sloshing liquid inside. I orient myself by the locations of 2 major mountains–Iztaccihuatl (the “Sleeping Lady”) and Popocatepetl. The picture on the right depicts both the mountains and their legendary counterparts. If you look at Iztaccihuatl, you can find the form of a woman lying on her back. Popo (as he is affectionately called) is a volcano. When I first came down, Popo was spewing some ash and such. However, the wind almost always blows it in the opposite direction of where I live. Some mornings, I’ve had the opportunity to see Popo spewing ash far away. I am completely safe (not even in the moderate danger zones), and I am grateful for the chance to see a volcano from this secure spot. If you want to read more about Popo and his Sleeping Lady, you can check out this link: http://www.inside-mexico.com/legends/volcanes.htm.
Another fairly common natural disaster in the Mexico City area is the earthquake. Apparently we had one not long ago, but my roommate and I slept through it. The earthquakes are usually not very bad. The last one that caused a great deal of destruction was in 1985. Since then, much of the construction has been updated and improved.
I hope this has shown you a bit more about Mexico and the people here. If you have any more questions, feel free to comment!