The Myth of The Persecuted White Man

I am not a white man. I am a man who believes himself to be white, and there are many people who believe it as well. I stole this language from Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer far more articulate than me, but the idea has been tumbling around in my head for a while now. I am not rejecting my white male privilege, my white male experience, nor the experience of others who’ve benefitted or suffered from this malignant idea that is race. I am however rejecting its intrinsic reality because it dehumanizes our species.

I was seven maybe eight years old when I stood with my mom at the edge of human horror, the Guatemala City dump. Tin and cardboard houses rimmed the edge of a steaming garbage pit. Packs of dogs, spiraling vultures, and starving people all fought each other for the shit that others had thrown away. I remember wondering why my mom didn’t want me to touch the ground with my bare hands when I saw kids my own age living on that ground. Her expression told me she didn’t have a good answer. Why are we born to whom we’re born isn’t a question that has an answer, it’s purely random. We do nothing to deserve the privilege that our parent’s wealth, our statehood, or our genes happen to give us; that was my first lesson. My second lesson was simpler: just because I don’t see something happening in front of me doesn’t mean that it’s not happening somewhere. And as long as my lungs draw breath, my humanity is intrinsically tied to the humanity of those on whose backs my privilege rests.

We white men can’t help but be on the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorder. It’s hard not to feel in your bones that the privilege and power that comes with your every step isn’t god-given. When confronted with the painful reality that the world might not exist simply to serve our desires, we lash out. Poor uneducated white men who make up the vast majority of the voting block supporting the racist, misogynist, and xenophobic policies of Donald Trump are not intrinsically bad people. However, they are more viscerally confronted with the reality of their ordinariness than men of the educated and wealthy intelligentsia. Furthermore, they often lack an emotional and social toolbox to deal with this new reality. This impotent male rage played out in horrifying fashion recently in Cologne, Germany where immigrant men gathered in mass and sexually assaulted groups of women. These men are scum deserving prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, but they are also symptomatic of something more universal. They’re men who have held power over women their whole lives due to global misogyny, and suddenly they’re thrust out of their positions of power and forced to assume the role of refugees. When confronted by this new reality, they lash out like animals.

Men who believe themselves to be white in America are suffering another delusion about our whiteness: the myth that we are being persecuted. Talk radio, tv, country music, and political rhetoric all tell the same story: that traditional values are under assault, freedoms are being taken away, family values are disappearing, and that there is a culture of political correctness. This reaction shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; white men have been running rampant over the world since time immemorial and just as society has evolved to legitimately push back against this injustice, there comes a man in Donald Trump who harnesses the impotent rage that has been building among those who are losing their power.

Fighting against oppression in language and structure isn’t political correctness or repression, it’s an acknowledgement of injustice and an important step to bettering the human race. There hasn’t been a legitimate debate in American politics since I’ve been alive, but up until now, through vague racism, half-truths, and remarkable leveraging of religious beliefs, the Republican party has been able to pass themselves off as more than greedy xenophobic evangelists manipulating uneducated whites to vote against their own interests. Today however, Donald Trump has wiped off the spit shine that has covered the pile of shit that is Republican politics. In one way, the anti-immigrant, anti-muslim, anti-women rhetoric spewing out of the republican primaries has led to possibly one of the most honest conversations our country has ever had.

When our country was founded, slavery was the law of the land. Then on May 9th 1865 the confederacy lost the civil war. Soon thereafter, Jim Crow laws were enacted and lasted one hundred years until 1965. Since the civil rights movement in the sixties, we’ve continued to have disparities in justice, incarceration, education, and housing policy, not to mention the vast inequalities and discrimination in regards to gender, sexuality, and religion. America was never “great,” but it’s always had the potential to be the very best. We have the potential to be great not because of some bullshit idea of American exceptionalism, but due to the fact that although our country was founded on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, we are also a nation of immigrants who were given one of the most brilliant constitutions and forms of government the world had ever seen.

That brilliant government however, will only work if it’s held up by an educated and healthy populace that’s free from discrimination on the basis of gender, race sexuality, and religion. Lofty thoughts from from an armchair philosopher though, because on an individual level I’m not sure where to go from here. Starting tomorrow I’ll be working 12 hour days 5 days/week with a 24 hour shift on Saturday, work being an easy excuse to slide into the power and wealth that can seem natural and god-given to men like me. I’m under no illusion that I’m anything but fortunate however, because I’m finally out of the classroom and training in possibly the most interesting job in the world. However, it means that if I’m not intentional about staying engaged in the world around me, I’m going to find myself gliding along on that moving sidewalk without a thought to breaking it. Fortunately though, I have incredible examples in both my brother and mom who work for social justice with self-reflection and passion that feed off the energy their work creates. Furthermore, I have a father who reminds me through examples and words how important it is to carry myself with integrity and treat those around me with respect.

I’m writing today at the very real risk of mansplaining, so I can begin to formulate this conversation, a conversation I want to keep having as long as I can and as long as it’s necessary. I’m writing in honor of the people around me to whom this conversation and these values come without thinking.

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I had to put this in here because she somehow stays ageless while I can’t even zip my fly consistently.

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American Healthcare

 

 

As a medical student at The University of Minnesota I’m learning that patient’s stories are not only a privilege to hear, but probably my best guide for being a good physician. I’m also learning that that these stories have as much to do with our broken healthcare system as the physical ailments themselves. I believe in my country, but I believe we can do better and that we as a nation must ask ourselves if this is the world we want to live in.

This past summer, while volunteering at a free clinic run by medical students from the University of Minnesota, I was walking a young mother through the process of applying for health insurance for her 4 year-old daughter. She is a child and citizen of the richest country in the world, yet she is not automatically enrolled in healthcare. Mother and daughter had to wait in a dank church basement, at night for over two hours, in order to have a first year medical student listen to her cough. This past year I often found myself providing first-line healthcare to men, women, and children without health insurance. This is an opportunity for me to practice clinical skills, and learn about both medicine and healthcare policy. This opportunity for privileged students like me to provide subpar care as a stopgap measure for our nation’s most vulnerable people is not only problematic, but shameful.

The facts regarding healthcare management are unambiguous, it would be cheaper and more effective to have single payer healthcare: a universal healthcare system in which every American would pay into a single government-run plan. Single payer universal healthcare is the American thing to do.

Single payer health care is the American thing to do because it frees employers from being mandated to pay for their employee’s health insurance and allows them to invest that money back into their businesses. It’s American because it insures that every man, woman, and child in the United States doesn’t have to worry about delaying care, being bankrupted by healthcare costs, and losing health insurance if they lose their jobs. The US spends twice as much per capita on healthcare as the average developed nation that provides universal coverage, and we rank dead last out of the top 19 highest income countries in preventing deaths amenable to healthcare (Nolte et al, 2008) (Woolhandler, 2002).

This summer I also interned at a rural hospital in northern Wisconsin where many patients had chronic diseases that couldn’t be fixed by a single procedure or pill, but required long-term health maintenance. One patient was a 67-year-old woman with uncontrolled diabetes. Before becoming eligible for medicare, she hadn’t seen a doctor for her diabetes because she couldn’t afford to buy good, low-deductible low-copay insurance. She is one more American paying the physical costs of our broken system, as our nations economic costs are rising as she begins to receive care to deal with her worsening chronic illness.

Single payer healthcare is American because it reduces unnecessary costs. The overhead of Medicare is around 2%, compared to an average of 13% for private insurance (Sullivan, 2013). The US would save an estimated 380 billion dollars anually if we instituted as single payer system (Woolhandler, 2011) (Lewin Analysis, 2012). Medicare is our grossly overburdened and inefficient government system that doesn’t have the benefit of young, rich, healthy patients, yet it is far more efficient than the private healthcare system. Single payer healthcare removes the middleman from between the consumer (the patients) and the providers (healthcare professionals). The middleman—the insurance industry—produces nothing, skims revenue off of this transaction, and disrupts the flow of the market. Furthermore, this middleman is currently telling the consumer what they can and cannot buy, as well as telling the provider what they can and cannot sell.

While at this hospital in rural Wisconsin, I also shadowed an internal medicine physician at the Bad River Indian Reservation. One of our patients came in with 3rd degree burns covering his hands that were so severe he couldn’t hold a cup of coffee. He had delayed coming into the clinic due to fears of high costs, and refused to seek further treatment at the burn clinic—after the doctor suggested it—due to high copays. He had insurance, but he was underinsured and suffering from it.

Most of all, single payer healthcare is the American solution because we live in a land of opportunity with the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness guaranteed to us in our Declaration of Independence. Neither life, liberty, nor the pursuit of happiness is possible when we don’t have access to healthcare without the fear of being bankrupted and billed into poverty and ruin.

We are a nation that rewards innovators and fighters, those who strive to be the best that they can be. But how many young men and women are stopped from achieving their potential and bettering their country due to barriers to healthcare affecting themselves and their families? America can easily create the best healthcare system in the world because we already have what it takes. We have the top healthcare centers in the world—many of them here in Minnesota—and we already spend the money that would allow us fantastic coverage and care without the wait lines. What we don’t have however, are enough people in power that are courageous enough to fight for those who don’t have a voice and who suffer under our current system. We need to come together as a society to make this kind of change, because it’s the American—and the right—thing to do.

 

 

  1. Nolte E, Ph.D., and McKee CM, M.D., “Measuring the Health of Nations: Updating an Earlier Analysis,” Health Affairs, January/February 2008.
  1. Woolhandler S, M.D., et al. “Paying for National Health Insurance – And Not Getting It,” Health Affairs 21(4); July/August 2002.
  1. Sullivan K, J.D., “How to Think Clearly about Medicare Administrative Costs: Data Sources and Measurement,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Feb.15, 2013.
  1. Woolhandler S. “Cutting Health Costs by Reducing the Bureaucracy,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2011.
  1. Lewin 2012 Analysis: Beyond the Affordable Care Act: An analyis of a Unified System of Health Care for all Minnesota , Growth and Jestice http://www.growthandjustice.org/publications/P10
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It’s good to write again

I’m sitting across from an old man at the Seward Coop. It’s gray and cold outside and the old man is wearing my watch and a sweater that looks like one in my dresser. I can’t type well because my finger is still healing but if I go slow it’s not so bad. Obliterating my finger was a gift, pain medicine and stasis all at the cost of a fourth digit. Cheap lesson in empathy and I found I’m well suited to doing nothing. Running today was drinking with a friend I enjoy but don’t need anymore.

I ran and I started by breathing but when the breath got long and my mind wandered I moved to feeling and when that was more than I wanted to do I began to listen which lasted until I smelled the decaying river so I stayed in my nose and memories until I hit the bridge where I opened my eyes.

This running sensory deprivation test is borderline bourgoise on a Thursday at noon, but it served its purpose. My mind was quiet and I what I experienced was beautiful. It felt like sliding through an old memory. I wonder if that’s what art is, just existing in a -sense- for a moment. Birds cars and the wind blowing a leaf across the sidewalk becomes an orchestra, and the salt line running down the asphalt is a painting that only I am looking at. Dog shit still smells like dog shit, but reading and writing is like painting my thoughts.

I degloved and broke my finger off two days after skiing the City of Lakes Loppet and two weeks before I was going to ski the Birkibeiner. I started the race well and was skiing easy in the top pack of five until my body broke down. No exogenous source or reason, I simply hadn’t trained enough. I looked at the 35 kilometers ahead of me and I thought about giving up. I kept skiing because I wanted the lesson.

I’m still processing the lesson and I’m ready to drink so I was going to tie this off with a quip about Donald Trump, man buns and our worst selves. But he doesn’t deserve a quip and neither do man buns. He is the embodiment of the worst in every one of us and therefore shouldn’t be mocked dismissed or endorsed. He needs to be observed cauterized and pathologized so that we can become a better nation and a better people. I just passed my finals though so I’m taking the day off from training to be a doctor. Instead I’ll drink and stew and create a differential tomorrow.

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3rd Week of October

Last Friday night, I stumbled into my apartment sweaty, tired, and mostly sober from the bus ride home from a downtown bar. Actually it was an old American Legion that moonlights as a music venue. It was the first time I’ve ever had my name on a list to get in anywhere, so it didn’t matter that it was an American Legion. My roommate Christyn and I picked a bad night to go out, the bus to the bar was hot, packed, and filled with men going to drink and see Mexico play Panama. The return trip was stuffed with the same guys coming home, sweatier, stinkier, and more boozed.  Christyn stood against the window while I braced myself in front of her with both hands pressed against the wall. It wasn’t fun but there was a little breeze from the window and my mouth was still smoky from the house mescal.

Running the next morning I felt like I was breathing fire. I ran early because we were supposed to be picked up at ten to go to our boss’s mandatory all-day birthday party. I struggled running through the wooded trails and glared at running groups who thundered past me smelling fresh and liquor-free. I took a shower when I got home and shoved eggs down my throat ignorant that Mexican time meant I had three more hours of free time ahead of me. I started into Notes from Underground and just when I was getting into it I got a text that our ride was outside.

We left around one and wound our way to the family mansion/farm a couple hours away. It was a hot day with scattered rain that turned the backyard into a jungle, and I made good on my promise to Christyn to sweat and eat until they took the food away. After the food was inevitably taken from me, I helped bring chairs up to the porch where the remaining guests reconvened and ate more dessert washed down with steaming hot coffee.  It was a good day and the car ride home left me with a lot of time to think.

I’ve noticed lately how people congregate and talk to people of similar social standing, class, education etc, and that for the same reasons some people’s words and conversation are given more or less weight than others. To be more specific, it seems like people are always trying to talk up, forgetting that up is an illusion that we create. This mentality shouldn’t bind us, and if the technological revolution had any potential for positive change, it should have blown apart this smokescreen. Instead we continue to erode our relationships and humanity through iphones instagram facebook and twitter while maintaining the social stratifications this technology should bring crashing down. We obviously want to talk to other people that stimulate us, but to assume that prestige, education, wealth, or culture could limit the infinite complexity of a human being is absurd.  This isn’t just a feel-good abstraction on life, it’s insane and limiting to deny the complexity and interest of another human being.

I thought hard on judgment again as I swam through a thick poisonous smog for my Tuesday afternoon run. After dodging in and out of traffic for the fifteen minutes it takes to get to the park, I snaked around the track and ran straight up the backside of the mountain. It’s on a path that I’ve been beating myself up on the past few weeks. The trail is a steep dirt incline for about four minutes, then it turns left and keeps climbing on an even steeper incline for 2 more minutes, then it reaches a ridge and turns to the right to continue up an even steeper and rockier incline for the final push, another minute and a half. It doesn’t matter how slow I go, I shred my lungs just going up without stopping.

As I was making the final ascent I ran past an enormously overweight older man who was walking slowly up the hill. I didn’t think much about it and kept running out into the forest, winding my way in and out of the woods until my stomach told me it was time to turn around. I looped back through the trails but found myself running down the same steep dirt path I came up on and past the same old man who I ran past on my way up. I saw that he was walking laps of one of the steepest trails I’d ever run on. Not only was I impressed by his training technique, which is probably the most effective way of man of his build could get a cardio workout, but I was reminded of the madness that it takes to judge one another, which I most certainly did as I ran up the hill for the first time.

I was eating a cheese sandwich and grapes on the top of a small pyramid in the middle of a park near my apartment a few nights ago, and when I looked out over the city I saw smog in the distance rolling into the mountains like low hanging clouds. When I looked in front of me, the air seemed crystal clear. It reminded me how easy it is to forget that I live in a fishbowl of my own experience. The fundamental beauty of living in a foreign land is in this opportunity to climb outside my fishbowl and look back in at the world.

Sometimes though, the world pulls you back in, like the other day when I noticed a boy playing hide and seek with me while I was working out.  He was good so for a while I didn’t notice we were playing. I think I was doing some stupid looking jumping thing I recently invented when I saw a shadow fall behind a tree. After 10 or 15 minutes, I caught him sneaking around the tree and grinned when he saw me; he smiled back and I thought that was it. As it turns out, Jose Martin had more social grace than me, so he walked up  and introduced himself while I was panting with my hands on my knees. We went through the normal pleasantries of exchanging names, birthdays, and birthplaces, and then both went back to working out. He made a fast friend when he commented on how tall I was, that I could reach the pull up bar without jumping, I told him I get that all the time. He even had the decency to pretend not to see when I stepped in dog poop.

If I want to live my life with my eyes open, I will often have to dig deep and forgive myself my own humanity and if I can forgive my own shortcomings while being privy to every reason I could possibly have for my own actions, how is it that I find myself so easily judging the behavior of others? Barring actions which humanity has for centuries held as violations of what it means to be a person, withholding judgment as much as possible seems to be much more rational. Unlike the sharp pain that I get in my lower back signaling dehydration when I’ve been running for more than a few hours without any water, the evolutionary advantage conveyed by judgment of others is twisted by our migration from caves to the 21st century.  Making time to be with people gives me more than anything else in the world and judgment impedes this. I got choked up today saying goodbye to Rosa and Raquel, two of the women who work at my boss’s house/the office. They gave me hugs and promises that they’ll save me homemade Dia de Los Muertos mole for when I come back. Those to women are not only my two best friends in Mexico, but they keep me healthy by sneaking me food when I come into the kitchen to heat up my cheese sandwiches.

After work I jogged back down to the dilapidated park where I do push ups and pull ups, set my watch and keys down, and commenced my meditation on pain. I was shortly joined by two tatted-up guys my age who sat down a few feet from where I was working out and immediately started doing drugs. My whole reduced judgment philosophy fell into flux as I noticed that they were literally just doing drugs and staring at me. After a few more minutes of awkwardness I walked up to them, said hey, and continued my workout. They seemed chill enough, so besides making sure they were never at my back, I continued like I would have. However, as I jogged back home I thought about how judgment was one of the most confused remnants of my caveman brain. I’m trying to deal with this confusion by separating judgment from the necessary and important act of observation. That being said, living in Mexico City constantly reminds me of the staggering advance of civilization, and living in my brain constantly reminds me of the monumental sluggishness of human evolution.

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Subway Brutality and Supermarket Friendship

I spent another weekend walking the city; something in the air makes me do it. I forgot how stimulating it is to explore someplace alone and quietly, to be completely lost, to stop and rest when I’m tired, and to eat when I’m hungry. It reminds me of when I did nothing but explore new places while backpacking alone through Venezuela and Colombia. I made friends asking for directions, uncomfortably posing for pictures with a group of high school girls, and with the waiter who brought me a cappuccino on restaurant porch overlooking a lake while the sun was setting. I took the subway downtown around noon on Sunday and walked to Parque Chapultapec. The park was filled with crowds of people, tall trees, lakes, paddleboats, and food tents. I walked up a curving road to the Castillo, a relic of an older time sitting in the center of the madness. The castle is now a National History museum, and unfortunately I got there forty minutes before it closed. After I spent a half an hour awed by murals, I stepped outside and leaned against the castle’s stone balcony looking out over the sprawling city. The storm clouds were high and threatening over the green sky, and the dark mountains seemed to hold the metropolis at bay.

My heart pounded as I stared at the harsh beauty of the immense city. It’s hard not to feel something while looking at the enormity, greatness, and folly of human civilization. In moments like this I feel like there is a thread of meaning connecting human experiences. It’s hard for me to shake this feeling because I want to believe that there is an enduring place for us in existence, a place in the beyond. After listening to This American Life last night, I wonder if this feeling is just a manifestation of the delusions of grandeur (Cue Rick Cousins on Collin Cousins). However, the concept that we classify anything as a disorder is problematic for me, especially in regards to someone else’s consciousness. As scientists burrow down the rabbit hole of discovering the biology of our brains, I find myself more and more confused about basic human concepts like holding people responsible for their actions and how we can change our own behaviors. If behavior is genetics and biology, and the desire to change behavior is also genetics and biology, then how have humans developed the cognitive dissonance associated with self-improvement. Maybe this is where we are unique from other animals, the blessing and curse of humanity in our ability to desire to change ourselves. Or maybe I just need to change how I’m looking at this whole idea, because possibly due to the impossibility of changing ourselves, what we actually want to change is our actions, leaving dissonance tied only to the feeling of regret.

Riding the subway home on Sunday night, I was leaning up against the track-facing door when a shirtless young man holding a bundle of cloth came into the car. He was skinny, covered in acne, and had bloodshot eyes. At first I thought he was just awkwardly trying to sell something or beg for money, but then he spread out the rag on the floor and I noticed it was filled with broken glass. He laid down on the floor, crunched his torso up, and slammed his back onto the glass, again and again. A boy sitting next to this brutality covered his little sister’s eyes, and most of the car turned to look away. The young man sat up, rolled up the glass, and walked the length of the car holding his hand out for money with pieces of glass still stuck to his back. Leaning up against the subway car in a clean white t-shirt with the whole world in front of me, I wondered where the meaning was in this kind of life. It’s moments like this, or when I see physically wrecked older people begging for money in the streets, that I cannot see or believe in a rhyme or reason.

Every two or three days when I pick up something at the grocery store near my apartment, I stop to talk to a man who sits outside next to the cubbies where people store backpacks and purses. He has some sort of disability that confines him to a wheelchair and appears to twist his body into tight knots. I give him money, set down my bags, and listen to him talk.  From what I can tell, he always begins by talking about his life and his philosophy. I often have trouble understanding the voice coming out from under his thick uneven mustache. I’m not sure he remembers who I am because ever day he looks at me with his bright dark eyes shining out from under his cowboy hat and asks me “So blondie, how long have you been in Mexico? Do you live close by blondie? Do you have time to see some tricks?” I say yes, and he reaches under the little blue towel that sits on his lap and pulls out a wooden paddle with a lamination on one side only. He shows me how he can spin it with his twisted fingers and his eyes closed and tell me which side is up.  Other times it’s magic tricks with strings or cloth. I used to try to talk to him, but now I just say ‘hi’ and listen because he talks for both of us. It’s the best part of my day, he speaks with joy and hope.

By no means am I trying to say that most people who seem like they’re suffering are always filled with hope and happiness. On the contrary, I imagine that most of the time people’s lives appear hellish, it is because they are hellish and because their bodies will only continue to fail them as they become poorer and more and more relegated to the shadows, there lives will get worse until the day they die. This idea rips the floor from under my feet, which I understand is a pale shadow of nothing compared to the the actual reality. It also makes me want to live and fight to better the lives of those around me until I’m gone or need care myself. This shouldn’t be the natural state of humans; if our intellectual evolution has done anything it should give us the empathy and respect to care for our brothers. If there is nothing more than this moment, then what can be more precious than to love people and care for them? I’m not a religious man, but seeing the hell that people go through on earth, I can see why people turn to God in hope of justice beyond this life.

Every day or so, I find myself closing my eyes and replaying one of two incidents, it’s one of those thought patterns that’s both self-directed and automatic, a delicate blend of the two. Sometimes I’m back in Silao, doing pullups in a park at 8 am. I hear something and look toward the bushes about a hundred yards away. I see her run out and get pushed to the ground. By the time I get to her, he’s already run away, the same asshole that looked me in the eyes while I was running. When his long blade flashed in the air, I stopped to grab a rock and I am still haunted by these seconds. Time doesn’t slow down like it does in the movies, in fact I don’t remember having any time to think, only to react. But I am haunted by the knowledge that those seconds could have meant her eternity. Luckily I didn’t have to call a hospital, only hold her and say it was going to be ok.

Other times when I close my eyes, I’m swimming as hard as I can away from the canoe and against the current, my head above the water as I pull it like I’m trying to tear it apart. Suddenly I see my mom’s head break the surface and I start bellowing at her. Later I swim to get the canoe before it crashes down the next set of rapids. It isn’t until I’m laying in the tent that night that water runs down my cheeks and in that moment I feel grateful for such my strong mother and the opportunity spend the rest of my life balancing the scales. I’ve come closer to death more times than I would like, but I never think about it much until afterwards. However, as my own mortality begins to flesh out, both life and death feel more significant to me. On one hand, I don’t want to be cavalier with the incredible and precious life I’ve been given, but on the other hand, I believe life is precious because of how I live it and who I am, and that having too tight a grip on my own existence could alter the man I want to be. Living in fear might not be a life worth living, and I’m believing more and more that living for others can be the best way of living for myself.

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Smog and the City

I ran straight up the mountain today, shredding my lungs for fifteen minutes until I reached the top. I don’t think I’ve recovered from my 800 meter repeat workout on Sunday morning after a late night out in the city. I played a different mental game on each lap of the 850m track and I started tasting iron in my mouth after the third. Today as I was running back home through the traffic and smog, I saw an old man running towards me in short shorts and a blue running tank. As we passed each other he nodded and pointed at me and I replied with a thumbs-up. I don’t remember the last time I gave someone a thumbs up, but it was the right thing to do. It hasn’t here rained for the last three days, and the dusty dirty air makes  it feel like I’m sucking down an exhaust pipe when I run or walk home on the busy street that runs in front of my apartment.

I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to learn this city and develop a mental map of where I live. Two weekends ago I jumped on the metrobus in front of my house and rode it until I felt like I was getting close to the center of the city. I got off the bus, asked where I could catch the subway, and then started off in that direction. I was almost immediately approached by a small older man carrying a plastic bag. He said that he heard me ask for directions and that he’d walk with me if I wanted because he was going in the same direction. We had been walking together for a couple of minutes before he started to tell me his story. He said that he had come to Mexico City from his home in Silao because he had heard that his father was missing from the elderly home that he was living in. He said he was robbed of all his belongings his first night in the city and had been living at the bus station ever since. He said that he was walking to send a telegram to his family so they would come and get him, and he said that he was eating when he could. I told him that it just so happened that I had recently got back from Silao, and his face lit up and he asked me about the giant Jesus on the mountain behind the city. I told him I visited the Jesus but I didn’t go to mass and he seemed happy.

We were at the end of the boulevard and he turned to shake my hand, saying goodbye and that he was headed off to the right. He told me that if I took a left I would hit the subway in a few blocks. Then he just walked away. I took a few steps towards the subway and then I stopped turned around and ran back towards the old man who wasn’t that far away yet. I handed him 20 pesos and said good luck, and he thanked me and walked away. Almost immediately I found myself hoping that he didn’t just fleece me, and figured that either his was a deeply sad and disturbing story, or he was the best con artist I’ve ever met. It didn’t take me more than a block to change my mind and hope that he’d been scamming the shit out of me.

I spent the rest of the day walking through wide city streets lined by huge colonial buildings, leaning on metal railings in hot subway cars, and trying to keep my feet as the metro-buses jerked their way through traffic. Everywhere I went was crammed with people. But it was beautiful. I wandered into churches, courtyards, plazas, through markets, and in and out of cafes and restaurants. I’m sure that I could spend every weekend here in Mexico trying to discover this city, and I would only be able to cover a small fraction over my nine months. It seems like around every corner there’s a shop with tacos and tamales and at every bus stop there’s another heartbreakingly beautiful girl. There’s a lot that I can’t stand in this city, and I know that I wouldn’t want to live here for much longer than I’ve signed up for, but when I was sitting in a church in Coyoacan and looking up at the history of Jesus’s life painted in murals, I was happy with where I found myself.

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Tamales and Don Quixote

For the past few weeks, I have been working via email with a student who is pursuing her Masters degree in Epidemiology. I review papers, do translations, and help her coordinate international research opportunities. We met once in person for five minutes. Two weeks ago she invited me to travel with her to her home in Silao, Mexico. Her letter was two days out and the last thing that I wanted to do was to spend the weekend traveling on buses and hanging out with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I had just moved into my new apartment after a long week at work and I wanted to sleep and get to know Mexico City. I said yes because I knew I’d regret not going. Rubí and I spent all Saturday in transit and arrived in a city called Irapuato around 8:45 pm where her dad and sister were waiting to pick us up. My only images of Irapuato are dark sheets of rain and prostitutes lining the muddy streets. We got home just in time to see Floyd Mayweather begin to beat up the Mexican hometown hero Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on the TV.

 

Besides a dangerous incident that occurred while I was running one of the mornings, the weekend passed like a dream. We spent the first day walking around Guanajuato, a cobblestone city nestled in and wrapped around mountains that’s so ethereal it seems like it shouldn’t exist. The architecture is entirely colonial and the tunnels snaking below the roads in the center of town keep many central streets entirely pedestrian. Don Quixote statues appeared on almost every corner with Sancho Panza eternally squat and enduring. It seemed like all of the stores and cafés were out of some Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, buildings with huge stone entrances and airy plazas inside. Rubí told me numerous site-specific legents, and they all involved a beautiful woman, duplicity, and murder. However, the sightseeing which we continued in Leon, Queretaro, and Silao, was second only to the people I was staying with.

 

Most of our time was spent at the “ranch,” the tiny family home of Rubí’s grandparents on her mother’s side, was just outside Silao. The house was small, and the yard was full of animals and muddy animal waste. I was proudly told that the tiny adobe house which kept warm in the cold and cold in the warmth was the only such building left in the village. This was where the extended family came to cook, eat, and be together. I spent hours sitting with cousins, aunts, neighbors, friends, and second cousins stuffing myself with homemade móle and tamales. It’s easy to make friends when you’re eating. I even got a special phone call from one family member long after I had left. It was Alondra, the 6 year-old who I sat with sifting flour and making Atóle. She lived at the ranch with her mom and grandparents and took Rubí and I on tours of the village. I let her use the better sifter because she was very convincing, only to be rewarded by abuse for being slow.

 

I returned to Mexico City with my backpack stuffed with tamales and sweets. I was even clean-shaven after Rubí’s dad forced me to take one of the new razors he had bought, along with the sunglasses that I had complimented him for. I will subsequently be more judicious about little comments I make. The kindness and generosity of the people I met was humbling, and I hope to pay it forward some day. 

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