After where I’ve been, in San Francisco and Mexico, I am far to paranoid to live here. Every moped that comes too close puts me on edge, every dark alley feels dangerous, and everyone I who looks at me is a potential threat. In some ways I’m thankful, I have an awareness that will keep me safer here than it ever did in Mexico, but I worry that it will keep me from relaxing into the culture here.
I loved Mexico. The people are amazing, family rather than friends. The food is glorious. The ancient ruins, the art, and the culture are part of me now, and I love that, but it is dark and dangerous as well. When I tell people about Mexico, I tell them that it’s great because nothing’s really illegal, and it’s horrible because nothing is really illegal. As long as you keep your head down, life as a teacher there is great, and you can easily find a place to call home.
The problem comes when someone sees you as a target, and sooner or later someone will. Every teacher I know of got robbed there, some extremely violently. People disappear, bodies turn up on the streets, and you never know when you’re going to cross the wrong person. Everyone has a horror story, and nothing is ever completely safe. It’s hard not to sound like I’m bad mouthing the place, but even the stories I find amusing have a bit of black to them.
I was talking to my new boss about getting an apartment here, and he wanted to know what I was looking for. I told him I wanted to share the bathroom with less than four people, that I didn’t want shit to fall on me from the ceiling while I slept, and that I wanted more than one plug in my room. He started laughing. My standards of comfort are so low right now that anything here will be amazing. Like I said, it’s hard not to sound like I’m bad mouthing Mexico.
I miss the morning tamales, still fresh and hot. The fresh squeezed carrot and orange juice. Mole, pastor, burritas de lengua. I miss fighting, learning the piano, conversations over scrabble, board games, friends, family, and a thousand other moments from Mexico. I just can’t balance that with the stories I’ve heard, or even the little I’ve seen. In some ways it’s no worse than the States, but you can’t call the cops without worrying about what will happen. I had a glimpse of the fear that people of color deal with when they need the cops, I can’t imagine what being born into that fear must be like.
Being in this city is like suddenly finding the calm in the storm, and it is what I hoped it could be. I know people say it’s dirty, that the tropical climate destroys the buildings faster than they can be maintained, but I don’t see it. There is almost no garbage, and the weird smells are almost always food rather than filth. The damage to the buildings ages them beautifully, and every road is perfectly paved.
I think the one thing I truly didn’t expect is the teachers here. They all seem so normal. There are nine couples as well as forty other teachers being spread across the island and the few oddities are things like a green lantern ring tattoo or a mildly annoying sense of humor. In Mexico, I thought teachers chose this life because there was something off about them, and that seemed to be par for the course. Here, it’s more of a sense of adventure, finding something new and exciting. I wonder if the difference is real or if I just saw a reflection of myself, fleeing to Mexico when my life fell apart and now finding a place that better suited my personality. Maybe I just need to wait until these people let their guards down and the strangeness leaks out.
A star fell on the way to the airport in San Francisco. I wasn’t even sure what wish to make, that just hoping that I was making the right choice was too much to ask for. When I left for Mexico, I kept looking back, a couple hours from home by air. I could drop in for a weekend, and for every holiday. Here, there is no looking back, not really. There is nothing in the States that hasn’t changed since I left for Mexico, and I can’t balance the fear of Mexico with my desire to stay there. I have homes in a number of places, but that is not the life I want, not yet.
For the moment, the chaos of this beginning is where I want to be, and for a moment my life is perfect. I know it won’t last, and I don’t really want it to. Patterns and comfort will come soon enough, but for now I am reveling in finding out that so much of what I know is wrong.