Friday, November 30, 2018

Mexico City: Toilets I Have Known, Including This One

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

I'm no stranger to strange toilets.

I've seen the toilets of:

Outhouse in Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia. Straight to the stream

I've seen some fancy schmancy toilets, some humble toilets, some toilets perched on the sides of hills, some godawfully filthy toilets, and some toilets that included instructions for their use.

Toilet with instructions, Tbilisi, Georgia.

I've seen toilets that were holes in the floor, some with nice tile surrounds, some with wood surrounds, and some that were just holes in the ground.

Some toilets had toilet paper. Some had water sprayers. Some had little buckets of water. A museum in Mtskheta, Georgia, offered a page from a newspaper crossword puzzle.

Museum restroom, Mtskheta, Georgia.

In Mexico City, there are public baths or toilets that you can pay to use.

One day, I turned into one. Cost: 5 pesos.

I was at the front of the line for what appeared to be the entrance to a quite nice little toilet room. However, whomever was in there ahead of me was taking her own sweet time. Someone directed me upstairs to other toilets, and well, it wasn't quite so nice there.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

One does what one must.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Mexico City: My Daily Eats

My typical fare in Mexico City. November 2018.

In my early days here, I had my share of tacos and gorditos deliciosos, but then I settled down into more typical eating for me.

Most days, I boil eggs or make an omelette for breakfast. Day-to-day, my lunch, dinner and night-time meal are a variation of:

  • Bread from my preferred panaderia;
  • Hard, salty farmers´cheese from the Saturday market;
  • Tomatoes;
  • Fruit;
  • Carrots;
  • Jicama.

In the photo above is a giant, angry-red orange from Michoacan. It is sweet with a fragrant, sharp note.

Also above is a clutch of variegated rosemary, which I add to my tomato sandwiches or omelettes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mexico City: My Laundry

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

Once a week, I take my laundry to one of the several lavanderias in my neighborhood.

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

Sometimes my laundry is ready for me to pick up the same day, sometimes I´m asked to pick it up the next afternoon.

To have my items washed, dried, folded, and placed in a tightly-wrapped plastic shroud, it costs 20 pesos per kilo.

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

One time, my laundry weighed 3.5 kilos and it cost me 70 pesos (about $3.50 US). Another time, my laundry weighed 3 kilos, so it cost me 60 pesos (about $3 US).

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

The people who operate the lavanderia that I patronize are amiable and professional.

I estimate a minimum of three lavanderias within four square blocks of my residence. Does the local demand for external laundry services support such an intense supply or is the competition to attain and retain customers fierce?

Are the lavanderias owned by a chain, franchised, or individually owned? I see the name "Edison" associated with them, but I don´t know if this is a chain brand or perhaps the brand of the machines used.

I don´t know the answers to any of these questions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mexico City: My Bakery

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

Every day, I go to the same bakery. In addition to offering the prosaic bread I seek, it seduces its visitors with sweet concoctionary dreams.

From the crowded sidewalk, the interior looks like this:

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

Bolillos, white and brown, nestle in a wide, deep nursery of sorts, sometimes warm from the oven, where they await plucking by those of us ready to gobble them up.

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

A brief tour in this video below:

Let´s talk costs of my daily bread:

  • White bolillos x 2 = 3 pesos
  • Wheat bolillos x 2 = 5 pesos
  • Seeded, flat roll x 1 = 5.5 pesos
  • Total for day = 13.5 pesos = 66 cents US

I am put in mind of the Bowie Bakery in El Paso´s Segundo Barrio.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Life Hacks From the Road: The Fine Print, Literally

Blurry product label.

When shopping, there are times, even with my reading glasses, I can´t make out the small print on a product package.

Damn it, that´s frustrating.

One day, a hack occurred to me.

I whipped out my phone, selected the camera, and used the built-in zoom.

Voila! I can read the tiny print!

I´d forgotten this hack the other day when shopping for coffee at the Walmart in Mexico City. I had to ask a passing woman if she could tell me whether the chocolate flavoring of the coffee meant there were added calories.

Clear product label.

Other life hacks from the road here.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mexico City: The Midwestern Wope

Ball on roof, Picacho Street, Las Cruces, NM. July 2013.

We sat at the dining room table in the guesthouse's communal sala, or living room.

Three of us English-speakers were at the table: me + two guesthouse volunteers. "Bo," of Minnesota and Wisconsin origin, was talking to another volunteer, I don't remember who.

I was probably busy eating lunch.

But my radar blipped at something Bo said to the other volunteer, which was: "Midwesterners have a special word they use: ope." He elaborated on the alleged lingustic factoid, saying that we midwesterners utter this word when we bump into something or someone or drop something or suffer some other minor spatial accident or near-accident.

My knee-jerk reaction was: "Maybe that's true in Minnesota, but that's not something we say in Missouri." (Hopefully, I didn't say this out loud, but I may have.)

LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER, I was in the communal kitchen, at the stove, where I dropped something and I said, "Wope!"

Jesus, it hit me. We Missourians say this ALL THE TIME.

There are variations:

Bo, I'm sorry I doubted ye.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: The Roses Left Behind

El Paso Municipal Rose Garden. May 2017.

One day, "Lina," a young married woman with two children, showed me photos of the rose bushes from her garden back home in El Salvador.

The photos are all that she has now of her garden.

El Paso Municipal Rose Garden. May 2017.

Lina showed me her roses while we stood in the communal kitchen of the guesthouse - the guesthouse where I had a tiny, but private room, and where her family of four slept on mats on the floor, next to strangers, in the meeting room above us.

Lina used to have her own kitchen, her own sala. She had the garden. She and her husband and their two children used to sleep in beds. Their own beds. Her children went to school.

Regardless of your view about human migration - documented or undocumented - let's always remember this: No one casually leaves behind everything of comfort they knew before. No one casually pulls their children from school. No one casually enters into a journey of thousands of miles into an uncertain future, but with known dangers to themselves and their children. No one casually gives up control over their own home domain to enter into a temporary shelter to sleep on the floor with strangers.

No one casually abandons the roses they tended in their personal gardens of Eden.

What reality would be so dire that Lina and her husband would take their two young children, abandon their home, school, neighborhood, and close family, and flee into the unknown? To be imprisoned, en famille, in a Mexican jail before finding release into a Mexican shelter?

Death. Specific, detailed, written death threats against Lina's husband for something he saw.

El Paso Municipal Rose Garden. May 2017.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Mexico City: Misadventure in Translation

A very special shampoo. Mexico City. November 2018.

The delightful Rasha, the woman-who-loves from Oman, and a fellow guest at the guesthouse, speaks a lot and a little of a several languages: Arabic, of course. English, fluently. Some Swahili, some Spanish, and ... oh, let's go back to the Spanish.

Like me, Rasha had a private room with a shared bath. For convenience, fellow guests often leave some of their toiletries in the shower, such as shampoo.

Rasha loves fragrances, and sometimes will use shampoo to wash her hands because of their lovely scents. Well, there's that reason, plus in the shared baths of the guesthouse, tiny pink bars of soap may be present in one moment and gone the next, so shampoo might do in a pinch, anyway.

One day, Rasha was in the bathroom and when came the moment to wash her hands, she remembered a chubby tube of shampoo in the shower. Rasha lifted it to her nose, inhaled the scent, and liked it. Rasha read the label, yup, shampoo. Who cared that it was for men? It cleaned and it smelled good.

Rasha wetted her hands, squeezed some shampoo on same, and lathered up. Mmm, the creamy shampoo felt nice and smelled nice. She rinsed off, walked out of the bathroom, and set about the next business of her day.

...... Until not much time later when she noticed that her hands and fingers had become streaked with walnut brown stains.

Aieeee! What happened?!

Rasha dashed backed into the bathroom, snatched up the squeeze bottle of shampoo, re-read the front, and, only then, processed the full translation:

"Fades the gray" 
"Coloring shampoo"

Rasha found some real soap and vigorously scrubbed her hands and nails to remove as much colorant as possible.

It took days for all of it to disappear.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Mexico City: Mexicrania

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

Dear Toronto Brains, I have found your missing skulls. They are in Mexico City.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

The exhibit is Mexicráneos, written about here and here.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

A slide show below, which includes some of my companions:

Mexico City - Mexicraneos

You'll see in the slide show that I had my favorite skulls.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Life Hacks From the Road: Bread Bags

Sadly dry bread. Mexico City. November 2018.

In Mexico City, I went every morning to a local bakery for my day's bread.

The bread baggers asked: Paper or plastic?

We should get paper, right? Of course. Not only for the environment but for the bread.

Well, damn.

I discovered that putting my bread in a paper bag for the day resulted in dry, crumbly bread before the day was out. Putting my bread in a plastic bag resulted in soft, chewy bread all day.

Counter-intuitive to me.

My solution: Re-use my plastic bag on my daily bread pick-ups.

It could be most of the world already knew this about bread.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Mexico City: March of the Zombies

March of the Zombies, Mexico City. November 11, 2018.

Families that gross each other out together stay together?

March of the Zombies, Mexico City. November 11, 2018.

I don't know. And I don't know how my brain parses the entertainment distinction it makes between a show like Dexter, about a serial killer, and the venerable old show, The Sopranos, about old-school gangsters. Why did I feel entertained by Dexter but repelled by The Sopranos?

March of the Zombies, Mexico City. November 11, 2018.

Why do I feel entertained, in a feel-good horrified Halloweeny way, by what I saw at the March of the Zombies, yet almost traumatized by certain scenes from the Queen of the South and the first episode of Season 7 of Walking Dead? In regard to the latter two TV shows, I had to turn them off and never return.

A slide show below:

March of the Zombies

A creepy baby movie below:

Thousands of zombies marched from the Plaza de Revolucion.

Ooh, I could reach out and touch these zombies:

This video starts out blurry but once it sharpens up, you can see how many folks marched!

I got sortova kiss from this tall dude:

Zombies vogued for a TV journalist next to me, then one granted me a little love, too:

It was all so much creepy, creative fun! Damn cool makeup.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Mexico City. The Prosaic and the Profound

Pupusas being born. Mexico City, Mexico. November 2018.

Today, this is what happened:

A refugee Salvadoran family of four, some of my housemates, invited me to a dinner of homemade pupusas and curtida. Delicious! Served with the curtida, a sort of cabbage slaw, and a drizzle of thin salsa atop the pupusa, one eats it with one´s hands, tearing off a portion of the puposa and folding, then embracing a bit of curtida, then bringing it to your mouth for a smooth, crunchy, tart, bean-y, fatty bite.

The pre-dinner conversation among the Salvadorans at the guesthouse was of how flavorfully important pupusas are in the culture! It was a passionate conversation. Not just anyone can make a great pupusa!

 A young woman from Honduras, refugees from one of the caravans, will give birth in about two weeks. Where? She does not know. She and her husband have a cheeky, chortling one year-old who loves to kick a ball in our community room. Can you even imagine what would prompt a young couple with a small child and another due, to leave everything they know behind, to walk into an uncertain future?

After dinner, I learned how to say fart in Spanish. And what you call someone who farts a lot. (BTW, that someone is a "pedorro.")

A woman I know told me of something she did that was so emotionally brave, it kind of blew me away.

Earlier tonight, while I lay in bed, I listened to the young father of the one year-old singing in the shower with a confident, operatic voice.

One of the young Salvadoran women here witnessed a man outside the Revolucion metro station assaulting a woman who was presumably his wife. While other witnesses stood by watching the assault, my housemate ran for the police to get help.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mexico City: The Community Cold

Anti-cold arsenal. Mexico City. November 2018.

Everyone at the guesthouse has or had (or will have) a cold, including me. Scratchy throat, runny nose, occasional sneeze. I´m getting off easy so far, with no persistent cough.

Reminds me of the first days of school in Rustavi, which made for a happy reunion of all of the country´s bacterial and viral families in all of Georgia´s schools, transportation of said microbial populations provided at no charge via shared cups, utensils, the lack of soap in the school bathrooms, the blithe exchange of promiscuosly-touched coinage with bare-handed clutching of khachupuri. And of this memorable adventure in health.

So, here, at the guesthouse, there is the communality of the bathrooms, kitchen, keyboards, doorknobs, and faucet surfaces. With gregarious contagions transported from the stadium where some of my caravan housemates stayed before coming here, or from the U.S., or from wherever any of us came.

I walked up to Walmart and laid in a stock of:

  • Eucalyptus lozenges
  • Cold medicine
  • Chamomile tea
  • Anti-bacterial liquid

Uncharacteristically, I impulsively bought a can of V-8 juice. I´m not sure I´ve ever bought this product. One does strange things in unfamiliar surroundings.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mexico City: New Housemates and the Saturday Market

Corn at the Saturday market. Mexico City. November 2018.

Last night, new refugees arrived, this time from the second caravan. They were a group of LGBTQ folk from Honduras, including one group member´s younger sister.

One of the young Salvadoran men from the earlier group of refugees has been looking assiduously - so far to no avail - for an affordable place to live, as his shelter time at the guesthouse is to end in the next 24 hours. There´s not only the tangible anxiety involved in the search -- money + safety + suitability + location to potential employment -- there´s the anxiety of leaving the intangible comfort-warmth-camaraderie of the guesthouse.

Today I went to the nearby Saturday market, where I bought fresh cheese made with peppers, a kilo of carrots, a jicama, some fresh basil, a tomato, and a bag of fresh rolls.

The cheese is less salty than what I bought last Saturday, and a bit creamier.

I subsequently learned that what I thought was the minty-version of basil was really yerba buena - more minty than anything else.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mexico City: A Mystery at the Plaza de Revolucion

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

I packed some cheese (“salado” - salty) and an apple into my backpack, then stopped at the tortilleria and bought three warm tortillas. I walked to Plaza Revolucion for a picnic lunch.

I ate by the spray park, perched atop a charcoal-black wall, watching a big, well-nurtured German shepherd try to negotiate the spray cycles to get a drink of water.

Teens danced through the spray.

After finishing my lunch, I moseyed around to the monument´s entrance, where I witnessed several people donning white, full-body hazmat-type garments.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Two women, dressed in severe, black pant suits, manipulated a mannequin woman into various positions under a tree.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Ahhh. Students of crime scene investigators at work.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

The women in black laid a handwritten note on the pavement next to the tree well. They handed it to me to read, if I liked. I did. It was a suicide note. ……. Or was it?

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Eventually, the women arranged the deceased against the tree with a noose around her neck. Arrayed in the vicinity were: the “suicide” note, a fresh cigarette, an opened pack of mints, some loose mints from the pack, an empty water bottle, a bit of trash. Even some dog poop, with hovering flies. I did not remember if that was present already or not.

A video below:

A mystery to be solved.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mexico City: Communal Dinner

Fresh-gathered fruit for the communal dinner. Mexico City. November 2018.

Every Sunday evening there is a communal dinner at the guesthouse.

Last Sunday, a man of faith named John - bilingual Spanish and English - took the lead on the dinner. The centerpiece of the meal was spaghetti. Everyone brought something.

Rasha, of Oman, and I walked up to the corner rotisserie and bought two chickens, which she augmented with several containers of rice and a chipotle-based BBQ sauce.

Others brought couscous, chicken curry, pizza, mole, bread, refried beans, doughnuts, papaya, and freshly-picked local fruits, the name of which I forget.

People at dinner included tourist-guests like me; people of the caravan from Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; guesthouse volunteers, and other folks connected to the guesthouse in some way.

The men from the caravan set up the tables and laid out plates, cups, and cutlery.

Before sitting, we made a circle around the two tables and introduced ourselves: our names and places of origin.

You can guess what I am going to say, right?

We were just a gathering of people from different parts of the world, some fleeing violence or poverty (or both), and some of us assured in our security of physical safety and food and shelter.

No Wall. No fear. No ugly talk.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mexico City: I Am a Lunch Guest

Salvadoran chicken soup. Mexico City. November 2018.

On Sunday, I entered the sala to discover the Salvadoran men just sitting down to a lunch of Salvadoran chicken soup. 

Jose invited me to join the group, to sit down in front of a full bowl of savory soup: chicken, planked potatoes, cilantro, a vegetable unknown to me, a pretty broth. 

Someone placed a warm stack of fresh tortillas on the table. 

One of the group led everyone in a pre-meal prayer of gratitude. 

The Salvadoran men are refugee members of the first caravan. The guesthouse has opened its doors to these men, although the only space they can offer is the floor of the upstairs meeting room, where the men sleep on mats. 

Salvadoran chicken soup. Mexico City. November 2018.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mexico City: Sharing Salt

Communal salt. Mexico City. November 2018.

I brought my ancient Tupperware salt shaker with me.

While I reside at the guesthouse, it is in the communal kitchen for all to use. We are the guests from the refugee caravan, casual visitors from the U.S. (like me), legal advocates from the U.S., guesthouse volunteers, visitors from other parts of Mexico.

When I leave here, I will take my salt shaker with me.

Each time I use it, wherever I am, I will think of all the warm hands that enfolded it, from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, the U.S. 

I will wrap one of my hands around the shaker, lift it up, pour the salt onto my food, and think of the warmth.

This thought makes me happy.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mexico City: Making a Nest

My room. Mexico City. November 2018.

It´s good to build a nest when you´ll be in one place for a month.

This is especially important when sharing two showers, four toilets, one refrigerator, and one kitchen with up to 15 men and five or so women.

One day I walked up to Walmart and bought:

  1. A bathroom floor mat to step on when I get out of the shower;
  2. Plastic sliders with which I can wear socks and walk on wet surfaces, like in the bathroom; 
  3. Apple-cinnamon spray for my room; and
  4. A coffee mug with a lid.

I also splurged on a jar of decaf Nescafe for myself plus a large container of ground black pepper to share with my housemates.

The aroma of the decaf crystals, mmm, nice.

Some other rooms of my past

By the way, most of my housemates this week? They are sleeping on mats on the floor in a meeting room upstairs. They are members of the 1st refugee caravan, lucky enough to be in a shelter with a roof over their heads, a kitchen, some quiet ... safety.

I have a bed. I have my own room. I am the really lucky person, due to a large extent, to a random throw of the dice in our universe.

I do not take this for granted. No, that´s not really true. Most days of my life, I certainly do take much of what I have for granted. I´ll have food for the day, shelter, clothing, the means to clean my clothes, and physical safety.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: A Gathering of L'Eagles

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

When I came to Mexico City, I didn't anticipate any intersection with the US morality test that is the Central American caravan.

Upon my arrival at the guesthouse, however, I discovered a lucky few caravan members had been given refuge here.

And then I encountered two women at my guesthouse: Rasha, a woman from Oman; and Katharine Gordon, an attorney with immigration expertise, affiliated with Al Otro Lado.

Rasha, the effusive, sparkly Omani; and Katharine, a mid-westerner; talked about going to Jesus Martinez Stadium the next day, where Katharine and other attorneys could deliver general information about seeking asylum in Mexico and the U.S.

Rasha has experience with giving succor to Syrian refugees who landed on the Greek island of Lesbos. I call her a "woman who loves." She reminds me of another woman who loves.

I asked if I could follow Katharine also, despite the fact I brought absolutely nothing to the table except my eyes and ears as a witness to a diaspora in action from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Katharine generously agreed to let me tag along.

We agreed to meet at 8:00 the next morning, at which point we'd head to the stadium.

But the next morning, things had changed. Katharine learned that many of the refugees had left the stadium to begin the next leg of their journey to Tijuana, where they believed they would be met with a more law-abiding US border process (i.e. accepting asylum seekers in accordance with existing American law) than other port entries. In addition, even though Tijuana is father away from Mexico City than other ports of entry, it is a safer route than the more direct ones, which suffer under the weight of  violent cartels.

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

A gathering of US immigration attorneys who have flown to Mexico City laid a new plan for the morning: Get together for a brief training meeting at the Holiday Inn Express about a mile from the stadium. Katharine wondered if Rasha and I were still interested in going. We were and we did.

A woman named Gretchen Kuhner, who is the executive director of IMUMI (Institute for Women in Migration), shared some information about how Mexican law touches on asylum for humanitarian reasons.

Also present at the meeting was a team of US attorneys from CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights), in Mexico to offer realistic, general immigration information to the caravan refugees so they could make informed decisions about what to do, such as stay in Mexico or proceed to the US.

Katharine Gordon was present for Al Otro Lado.

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

Atenas Burrolas, a human rights and immigration attorney in North Carolina, was on board. As was a New Orleans attorney, Graham Prichard.

With all of the bad press that attorneys get for their avarice and cynicism, I was mighty blown away by the attorneys at this meeting, leaving their homes to share knowledge and expertise with people in flight from their own homes.

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.