Monday, November 21, 2011


All of the posts we've written until now have been descriptive - where we are, what we did, what we ate! But along the way, we have been talking and thinking a lot about Mexico, people here, life in general and other musings. What I write is all my opinion, so Matt may have other views, and of course, I invite you all, my friends, family, readers, to share your thoughts and opinions here, too. I hope to have a chance to write about these and other thoughts along the way.

Poverty, Charity, and Begging

In some ways, the poor we have encountered in Mexico have seemed more poor than those in the states, and in other ways, less. Overall, we have seen very little homelessness here, that is to say: we don't see people sleeping in the streets or carrying their every possession in a shopping cart or even reeking of bodily fluids. It would seem that everyone has some place to call home and tried their best, despite lack of funds, to look their best. But what some of those people call home would certainly be considered sub-par in the states. Our neighbors here in Melaque have 4 walls and a ceiling, but they don't all connect - I can see into the front room through the gap between the wall and ceiling. The house is essentially made of cement bricks and not really finished, nor are their doors. There are several blankets laid on the floor and I'm not sure if it is used as a play/living room or bedroom or both or neither. So, on one hand it's better than sleeping on the streets but certainly not the finest living conditions. While on the train from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, we saw several such "huts" that seemed to be one room made of cement and a sort of adobe, perhaps some aluminum siding, tree branches often for a wall or two - very makeshift. It reminded me of what homes may have looked like on the American frontier 100-200 years ago. Except these houses had TV satellites (which in Mexico can cost as little as $10 a month). So, it's a very confusing question of: are these people poor? There's electricity, there's water (sometimes hot), there's TV! A better question may be, are these people happy? The only interaction we've had with someone who lived in this condition was a man in Creel who walked with us a bit up the highway after our hike. He was of the native Indian tribe, Tarahumara, likely a farmer who after a ten minute conversation asked for a peso which Matt gave. Did he ask for it because he needed or because he thought us "wealthy" tourists could spare it? He seemed happy, proud of his heritage, well-nourished.
Creel over all had the most beggars, mostly children, which raised even more complicated feelings for me. A 5-year old girl or boy, who looks a little dusty (everything is dusty in Creel), looks at you with sad eyes and asked for some money. Then the internal battle begins: most tourist guides in the region discourage travelers from giving money to beggars because it just results in more begging. (why work when nice tourists will give you money for free?). They recommend giving to charities instead. There's also the "teach a man to fish" story, but what could I teach in just a moment as I pass through? Not much, I should think. At the same time, I dont want to be a cold-hearted tourist who turns a blind eye to poor children. Of course, we can't give all our money away, either. Etc etc etc, the battle rages. In every city, there are also many impoverished people selling "hand-made" trinkets of the area, some of which may be hand-made, some may be store bought, either way, they are the type of trinkets we certainly don't need. Once again, I feel I'd like to help out, but should I spend my money on some tchatchki I don't need? Is our money at the hotels and hostels and restaurants and tourists sites enough of a transfusion to local businesses? These are all questions that I ask myself. In the meantime, I have not yet bought anything, except a hat, which I really do need.
Overall, cost of living here is very low and it doesn't take much to get by, but where is the line between getting by and living well?


I just finished reading my first book of the trip, "Les Misérables" by Victor Hugo, translated (to English from French) and abridged. Normally, I wouldn't buy an abridged version, but I got this one from a Barnes and Noble closing sale, it was very inexpensive, and even abridged, is nearly 1,000 pages. It's big, it's heavy, and part of me is very happy that I've finished and is ready to trade it a book-swap for something a little more backpacker friendly. On the other hand, at home, books are among my most prized possessions and the idea of leaving a book behind makes me a little sad. It makes me more sad that this is a B&N edition, which I may not be able to get another of in the future. I'm not sure why I have such an attachment to Physical books, especially since there are very few that I've read twice, but I cannot remember ever giving or throwing away books. Perhaps one day, I will buy another copy of Les Mis, just to have it!

I enjoyed reading the novel which the famous broadway musical is based upon and found interesting the differences is plot and emphasis between the two. For instance, Javert's suicide is a very short, non-dramatic moment - no soliloquy, no huge argument with God. As I bid 'adieu' to this cumbersome book, I'd like to share a quote that caught my attention. Hugo was a huge supporter of public education for all and uses lots of moments to give a moral lesson.

Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 2:
"Humanity is identity. All men are the same clay. No difference, here below at least, in predestination. The same darkness before, the same flesh during, the same ashes after life. But ignorance, mixed with the human composition, blackens it. This incurable ignorance possesses the heart of man, and there becomes Evil."

Matt also finished his first book, "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham. He said it was interesting as it is Grisham's first work of Non-Fiction.

Ex-Patriots in Mexico

There are many Americans, and surprisingly (to me) Canadians living in Mexico, either full-time or for the winter. Most are older, 60+, and there is definitely a stereotype starting to form in my mind. In some ways, it's a little bit like the wild west down here and those types who are attracted to it are a little rough around the edges. A little coarse, load-spoken, independent, and firm in their mind sets. If I met a person like this in the states, they would not be the person I would imagine expatriating becuase they are SO american, but the Canadians are this way, too!
My former image of an ex-pat, based of course on the artists who left the states after WW1 and WW2, was someone cultured and artistic, who left the states because they were disillusioned with the American dream/society - think Ernest Hrmmingway and Gertrude Stein in Paris or Jack Kerouac in Mexico. How amazing were they? But the people we've encountered thus far seem more the type who may have retired to Florida, but Mexico is cheaper and who cares if anyone visits you anyway, and they sure do have some tasty tacos down here! I'm surprised by how few of them speak Spanish with any competency.
While the beautiful landscape and low prices certainly are appealing, I find myself wondering who I would socialize with if I lived here. Locals my age, in the coastal towns, are mostly not college educated and agriculture and tourism are the two biggest industries. Would I have enough to build a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with them? I don't think I'd really fit into this ex-pat community - too young and too liberal! And as for Jews - most Mexican Jews live in Mexico City (no, thanks), while there is a small community in Guadalajara (hours from the coast) and a smaller community of American Jews living in a lake town that's mostly retired folks. As much as the idea of a vacation home in Melaque is very appealing, I don't think I could live here full time.

Those are the things I've been thinking of lately - would love some feedback and other thoughts!


  1. Poverty/begging: I know exactly what you mean. I have a very vivid memory of when we were in France with Dad. We were at some cafe and there was this couple sitting at a table nearby. A small boy came up and was begging for change. He looked so downtrodden and miserable and he definitely had the stereotypical sad eyes working for him. The man at the table told him no and to go away (rather harshly, if I recall). It is heartbreaking, but I definitely know the internal struggle that you described.

    Books: Sometimes you have to give up the physical reminder of a memory and just accept that all you will have is the memory itself. With as much as I've moved, I've had to do this quite often. It's always difficult, and I always worry that without the physical reminder, I'll forget the memory. And to be honest, sometimes that does happen. But then years later, when something random then reminds you of that lost memory, it is a wonderful feeling.

    Expats: When I was in Guam, the expats there were exactly like you described in Mexico. I think the image of the cultured intellectual who leaves because of disillusionment is the minority case. The one that sticks out in my mind was a guy that just wanted to open a bar but couldn't afford to do it in America, so he moved to Guam where land was relatively cheap at the time. Old, scruffy guy that liked to drink, smoke, and swear a lot.

    Great post, sis. Love you!

  2. I agree with Jeremy. It's a great post. Hope to see more of them.

    I don't think that you have to leave the US to be conflicted about giving money to beggars. It happens more and more and in the least expected places. As a tourist who might not be aware of local customs I agree that you are safer to not respond to even the saddest eyes.

    As far as books are concerned, don't'll inherit all of mine someday!

  3. Great Post Sarah...keep it up.
    You could give the book to a kid..maybe that child will start a business and become a book seller.

    Adios, bubelah.

  4. A small correction, the Grisham book is the second book I have read, last week I finished a book about expatriating to Mexico.