As a sat at a table on the sidewalk of a café, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at the smoke that drifted over from the woman sitting next to me. Normally, I wouldn’t have been so bothered by the smoke because if I choose to sit outside, I know that I will be sitting next to folks that like to light up. That’s fine. But this particular café, quaint and over-looking the green of Parque México in La Condesa, had “No Smoking” signs placed on every table. This woman decided to just hide that sign and enjoy her cigarette. I try not to let my mind think that, if I were at home, I would say something to her or to the waitress but here, there’s no point. The waitress, working for the establishment that put up those signs, chose to ignore them just like the woman did. Why would anyone bother following the rules when no one is going to enforce them?
I had an interesting conversation with one of my classes one day about this. I had heard that driving while talking on a cell phone was illegal here but I was shocked because I ALWAYS see people driving and talking on the phone. I know that at home people still do it, but I also know of several people that have gotten tickets for texting or talking on the phone. The law exists and people are punished when they are caught. Not here. “So, it IS illegal to drive while using a cell phone?” I asked them. “Oh, yes, but no one pays attention to that.” Huh. Guess they haven’t taken Oprah’s pledge.
These are all small reminders of the larger reality that I’m living right now. There are laws, there are police, but no one seems to care. I got upset and became an Ugly American in my mind. “Things would be so much better if…”. As difficult as it is, I try to not let my mind think that way. The point of me being here is to learn about the way of life here, not criticize or try to “fix” things. I turned my frustration into a small gratitude for humanity. I mean, this city has millions of people living here. Yes, there is crime and plenty of law breaking, but there is also a huge population of law-abiding citizens who follow the rules because they are good people, not because they think they will get caught if they don’t. I think that says a lot. Or maybe I’m just reaching for some optimism….
We recently received an email from our Fulbright people warning us about the recent travel advisory released by the US Department of State. The email contained a link about “how to be safe” while living/traveling in Mexico. At first I didn’t want to read it. It might tell me not to do things that I really like doing, like running. I finally did read it and I wasn’t too surprised by what it said to do and what not to do. Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Check. I haven’t worn jewelry since I got here, except my running watch. Don’t wear designer clothing. Hmmmm… do my worn out 7’s count? Or, what about that tiny little “swoosh” that is on most of my running clothes? Kidnapping, street crime, harassment/extortion, drug trafficking. Don’t use ATM’s that have direct access to the street. Oops. Closest one to my house is in the Torre Mayor, but step outside of the glass case and you’re on the street. Back to the mall ATM’s I will go. The website goes on and on… so much crime, so little reason for the criminals to NOT commit these crimes. Except for that whole humanity thing I’m going to hold on to… I have to believe that millions of good people exist in this urban jungle of crime.
(If you’re interested in reading the Department of Sates website, here is the link: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_970.html)