26 October 2007

A crying shame.

This week I had to drive to Monterrey in the North of Mexico to buy some material for the company that I work for. When I was returning I found myself driving south in a stretch of high desert country and the road ran parallel to and between two mountain ranges for about 75 miles. There was nothing growing there except for some low bushes, a few mesquite trees and some yucca plants. Not far south of the city of San Luis Potosí near a small hamlet named Huizoche I encountered a stretch of road where poor people on both sides of the road were selling dried rattlesnake meat and snake oil. Apparently these people live on whatever they can catch in the desert which is primarily snakes and lizards and they sell some of it along the road to tourists so that they can buy tortillas and other staples. I stopped to look at some of the snakes that were hanging from a pole along with an assortment of old bottles that were half filled with a honey brown fluid that was supposed to be snake oil but look suspiciously like it might be motor oil.

As I looked over the merchandise I was suddenly besieged by a group of women and children in rags who desperately wanted to sell me something to earn a few pesos. I ended up buying a dried snake each from two women with which to show my friends and I passed out some coins to the other people so that at least everyone could buy some tortillas and not have to eat their sales stock. As I was fending off the more aggressive sellers I felt someone tugging at my trousers at about knee level and I looked down and there was a little boy no more than three or four years old. He was scantily clad against the cold for the sun was going down and it was getting chilly. I think it must have been about 45 degrees and I wasn’t wearing a jacket and I was starting to shiver a bit in the blowing wind. The little boy, however, was wearing less than I was and there was snot running from his nose. He looked up at me and into my eyes and he asked me if he could have a coin too. As I bent down to put a few pesos in his little hand I wanted to pick him up and rescue him and take him home with me to a better existence but I knew that I couldn’t.

People shouldn’t have to live like that in North America but there are literally millions of them living like animals in shacks made of sticks and cardboard and eating rodents, road kill, and snakes all over Mexico. People can talk all they want about it being the problem of the Mexican government or how these poor people should lift themselves by their own bootstraps but the fact is that many, many little kids are going to live and die under miserable conditions. None of the people that I talked with had ever used a telephone and none of them have televisions or even electricity or running water and they will never ever enjoy a day at the beach in Cancún. As I got back into my big shiny new company pickup I realized that I must seem like a visitor from outer space to that little boy. His face will haunt me forever and I will pray for him every day. I just don’t know what else to do. Somehow, someday, I think that all of us collectively are going to pay a heavy price for this disgraceful disregard for the fellow human beings in our own part of the World.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.