Posted by grace1 on:
Mexico City is a crazy place. Part of the reason why I decided to move here to study art was because I knew I would be inspired by the seemingly infinite contradictions, frenetic energy, diversity of style and scenes, and overall aesthetic appeal. On most days down here I am amazed that I was able to be content in Santa Barbara for so long as a young person. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be a SB local and appreciate it for it’s overwhelming beauty and laid back atmosphere, but after living down here for the past year my perspective on population and size and crowds and just about everything has changed.
One of my favorite things about this city is that on any given day you can have a series of uniquely different experiences. Take my neighborhood for example, Colonia Roma. Roma has the look and feel of a European city, the streets are bustling, but rarely crowded, you can sit and drink coffee at a café on nearly every corner, or go shopping at boutiques or vintage stores. The only difference may be that next to the high-end shops or restaurants you can also buy a fresh-squeezed juice for under a dollar or eat tacos or tortas from a local street vendor. From my neighborhood to the center of town is about a 30 minute commute on the subway. Once you have experienced the Metro you begin to sense the enormity of this city. Centro is a completely different world. From the moment you emerge from underground you're be struck by the massive Colonial architecture mixed with somewhat recently discovered Mexica ruins.
On a normal day, the streets are packed to the point where you are constantly stepping into the cobblestone street to avoid being trampled. In general, in Centro and on the Metro, you go with the flow of traffic and at times feel like you are being herded to wherever you are going. People make up the landscape of this city. It is common to walk by a table of people eating and say “provecho” (the Spanish equivalent of “Bon Apetite”) or ask for directions, or for whatever it is you may need. Despite the stigma and the reputation for instability and violence, I have found that people in this city are far warmer and eager to interact than any of our cities in the States. I get the feeling that because of the craziness of this place, and the general uncertainty and onslaught of social issues, locals have a “roll with the punches” kind of attitude. For example, last month during the Mexican version of Easter break (“semana santa”) the city cut off the water supply to nearly all residents for 3 days. I was lucky enough to be able to shower at my gym, but many people were without water and either used drinking water or buckets to shower for a few days. Those who could afford it for the most part got out of town, but plenty of Mexicans stayed in the city. My friends and I stayed. North Americans, from my experience, have a hard time with challenges like this…we were complaining constantly for all three days. It is a good reminder of how privileged we are in the States and how the littlest discomfort can set off days of feelings of entitlement and whining.
Other than minor discomforts like no water, or occasional power outages, I haven’t experienced anything that has really scared me to the point of wanting to go home. The Swine Flu has been my most interesting and alarming experience here yet.
I first heard about said Influenza last Friday when, I went to meet my Dad (who was visiting from SB) for breakfast on his last day in town. He jokingly handed me a blue medical facemask and said, “Have you heard, there is an outbreak of Influenza in Mexico City?” I had noticed that people were wearing facemasks on the walk over but figured that the air quality was bad that day (it’s not uncommon to see people wearing masks in the city). My initial reaction was to laugh it off, and we proceeded to go out to eat chilaquiles.
Over breakfast I talked with him and his girlfriend about the Hong Kong Flu. I remembered that my parents had both been sick with it in 68 and still talk about how they literally thought they would die and couldn’t get out of bed for weeks. I still wasn’t worried. It’s hard to describe my experience from last Friday until now, but I will give it my best shot.
I think at first, I had that kind of excited, curious, childlike reaction. Then I started to worry about my Dad being able to fly out of the Mexico City airport, and preceded to call Mexicana and Alaska Airlines. Neither of the women I talked to had heard anything about the Influenza and I could tell from the tone in both of their voices that they thought I was crazy. They probably don’t think that now.
That night, my friends and I sat around my apartment trying to decide if we should take this seriously or not. It was one of my friends’ last night in town so we decided that we would either stay home and eat quesadillas and rent Outbreak (directed by a Santa Barbarian), or we would make the most of our night and go out to dinner. We ended up opting for Cuban food and Mojitos and I went to a birthday party afterwards. Influenza was definitely the most popular topic for small talk that evening but no one seemed to be too alarmed. One friend was notably sick and jokes were made about him bringing the flu to the party.
The next couple of days were more of the same, everyone wearing masks but still seeming to go about their daily activities. By Monday, I heard that all schools were being ordered shut until the 6th of May. It’s hard to decipher if things actually have gotten worse since then or if having time to sit in your room all day and read CNN online has just made it feel that way. It has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster; everyone has a different story or opinion.
There is also a plethora of conspiracy theories floating around, most prevalent that this has something to do with a smoke screen for fast-tracking new Free Trade Agreements. Others, including myself, think the spread of the flu could have been worsened by the mass shut-off of water in March. The streets are noticeably quieter, and you can only order food to-go from glove and mask-clad servers.
I think the first few days were the most disconcerting, like once you start to think about the transmission of germs in a city of 20 some million, you start to get a little bit paranoid. I think the strangest experience yet has been going out to eat at a restaurant down the street that I frequent and seeing everyone wearing a mask and gloves. You start to ask yourself “is this plate of mediocre breakfast worth getting the swine flu?”
I think the most alarming question was initially “why are people dying from the virus here and not in other parts of the world?” I am far from an expert on epidemiology, but from everyone I have talked to, it seems likely that it has to do with socioeconomic and cultural factors. The media here has yet to release demographic information on the deceased but it seems likely that it is affecting those who depend on public transportation and who can not afford to go to the doctor with the first sign of symptoms the hardest.
I just spoke to a journalist friend who interviewed a young man who had survived the flu after 3 days of hospitalization. He said at first, he didn’t take it seriously and just tried to rest as if he had a “normal” flu. He shut off his phone to not be bothered and by the time he realized how sick he was, he was delirious. His grandmother found him and after seeing him took him to the hospital. My friend said he was still spacey and looked like he had had a rough last few days. He had been quarantined in room for swine flu and had witnessed others dying.
I think there is a trend here of avoiding the doctor as long as possible to avoid costly medical bills whereas in the states, people who are privileged enough to have health care tend to go get checked out with the earliest signs of symptoms.
I think that yesterday, Wednesday, was the most stressful on a personal level. The WHO raising the level of severity from a 4 to a 5 sent my Swedish roommate into a temporary panic that we wouldn’t be able to get out of the country. I’m actually not so much worried that if I were to get trapped in Mexico that I would get the Swine Flu and die, health care here if you can afford it is actually top-notch. It was more of the sense of being trapped here indefinitely that freaked me out. We also heard rumors of a citywide quarantine that sent my roommate running to the store to stock up on water and food. Turned out to just be a rumor.
The news today indicates that the peak of the outbreak was last week, and that Mexico in general is doing a good job of containment. I would have to agree from what I have seen and experienced. I’m sure there have been examples of negligence and oversight, but given the size of this city and not-so-squeaky clean political system and the constant onslaught of problems relating to drugs, poverty, and corruption, I have been impressed with the overall sense of cooperation and calm on the streets.
The only times that I have found myself panicking have been after reading the U.S. based news and or talking to sources from the states. I think my favorite thing about the people I have met down here is that no one takes themselves too seriously and everyone maintains a sense of humor.
After the 5 point something earthquake on Monday a joke started going around that goes: “what did Mexico City say to the Swine Flu?”…”Look how I’m shaking.” I think that sums up the attitude down here. Everyone seems to be rolling with the punches.