This is a paper I wrote for anthropology, just found the topic interesting enough to share. I recommend watching the video I based this on for context.
When I first left the United States for Mexico, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I knew there was more out there, maybe answers, or truth, but I wasn’t sure what. I thought it was a journey to find myself, to know who I really am. Chimamanda pointed out what should have been obvious to me from the start. I love stories, they are my only true passion, the only thing that drives me. I can listen to anyone talk, as long as they are willing to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be personal, it just has to tell something about them or the culture they are from.
The story of Mexico all my life has been blood and bodies. The cartels murder people endlessly, the police and military kidnap people, illegal road blocks appear so often that the locals are not even surprised by them. I have always feared Mexico, even when I was traveling to Tijuana every weekend for marital arts, spending the night in the school so I wouldn’t have to wait in line for hours to return both days. About seven years ago I crossed into Mexico on a Friday to hang out with a friend. It was a good night filled with beer, awesome Mexican food, and good people. I went back to work on Monday and thirty-eight bodies had been found over the weekend. One of the guys I worked with had a neighbor who was shot seventeen times in the head by an Uzi. The other had an uncle who was run off the road and killed because he looked like someone else. The next week I a guy I knew walked out of a restaurant just before two guys ran in with AK-47s.
The story of Mexico told in the States is true. While they were filling the pages with the incident at Fergerson, Mexico was dealing with forty-three students who were rounded up and executed by the police on the order of the mayor of the city. Supposedly the mayor shot one of them himself. This happened because the mayor didn’t want the students protesting his wife’s big even. Worse, when they went looking for the bodies they kept finding mass graves, but it took a while to find the right one. Bodies and blood are not hidden here like they are in the States, they put pictures of the dead in the newspaper and on the news for everyone to see. The killers usually want the bodies to be found. They leave notes pinned to the victims telling who they are and why they are dead. Sometimes they just drop masses of bodies in the road, or on the lawn of a politician’s house. But that is not the only story.
There is a story of the expats here, language teachers from all over the world living in the heart of Mexico. I have a theory that anyone who wants that job is damaged in some way, if only enough that they can abandon conformity and everything they have ever known to live in a strange culture. There is a story of the indigenous people, living in extreme poverty, even compared to the rest of Mexico. All of the 257 indigenous villages have a poverty rate above 55%, and a few are as high as 70%. Their children work the farms and beg in the streets with their parents. Most of these people are trying to hold on to their language and culture long past the time when it was able to help them survive. I see them selling fruit from baskets in the street, wearing the traditional dresses of their people. There is a woman here who washes windows at a stoplight while her two toddlers sit in a stroller on the sidewalk. Hopefully they’ll be able to go to school eventually, but the story of discrimination is the same as it is in all cultures.
There are stories of working people, telling the lie of the lazy Mexican. These people work longer hours and harder than most Americans, and still never make it out of poverty. There is the story of the people growing drugs at the order of the cartels, or simply because it’s the only way to make enough money to survive. There are stories of people living like kings while those around them starve, and people acting like kings when they have nothing. There are stories of people fed up with the way things are, trying to make a difference, and people who’s only goal is to escape to somewhere more peaceful and safe. They seem to have a soft spot for Canada here in particular.
One of my friends sometimes calls me the Bard, an old nickname from a game we once played. The true Bard is a seeker of truth, but above all a collector of stories. The purpose of a Bard’s travels is to collect stories from every corner of the world, to truly come to know everyplace there is to know. I had always taken the name lightly, until recently. My resolution for this year was to be the Bard, to stop living as I always have, drifting through the outskirts of life, never being part of any one sub-culture. There is no reason to leave home and abandon everything I have ever known if I am only going to continue the same story I always have.
I had recently decided to go to Africa, if only because it scares me. Chimamanada has it right, it’s because of the single story I have heard about the dark heart of Africa. Disease, war, blood, and famine. Another story of bodies and blood. I only believe that story because I have never been there, and even reading other stories about the place is not enough. Before now I never knew what I was looking for, but if I am the Bard, the only things I can search for are truth and stories.