The International Writers
Dermot's Mexican Diary
30 in Mexico
am 30 years of age, and have been since the 13th February. I am
older since I last wrote. I am having some trouble
adjusting to the altitude. Breathlessness is a part of my daily
life at the moment. To try to get fit I have started playing football
with some of the students on a Friday afternoon and but find myself
gasping for air after only a few minutes!
Taxco - Mexico
Alas my stomach isnt too fond of Mexico either, but the less said
about that the better! One is never sure if its the altitude of
maybe some nasty bug contracted from the food
lets just say
a lot of eateries do not measure up to European health and safety standards.
At least Im in better shape than some of the other gringo teachers
who are always sick and are probably counting the days until they can
I am happy to report that the weather is warm and sunny in Pachuca. The
blossom came out on the trees in the last week of February, a marked contrast
to whenever it arrives in England. I am told though that when Easter comes
the weather here deteriorates and follows more of a tropical pattern with
sudden downpours. In the meantime I am able to walk around in a t-shirt
(though I wear a shirt and tie to work of course). The nights can be cold
with a cold wind that descends from the mountains. Pachuca is indeed referred
to in Mexico as the windy city.
am unhappy to report that I have no tea! Its very difficult
to get a hold of here. Mexicans seem to regard it as something medicinal,
so the few teas that are available are fruit teas and the such.
I would have some sent (as I did when I was living in Chile) but
the Mexican post office is so diabolically awful I doubt whether
I would get it (more of which later). I asked at specific shop whether
they would order some tea for me, but the distribution of goods
here is not the best
I may find some in Mexico City.
And A Bit Of History:
As my birthday fell upon a Tuesday I decided to do something the weekend
before. My Canadian friend Rob suggested that we check out the town of
Taxco in the state of Guerrero. The towns architecture has been
preserved by law in a similar way to Canterbury or Quebec City. There
are new buildings but their facades must be in keeping with the rest of
the town. The places buildings have a feeling of Mexico at the time
of the Revolution. With its winding labyrinthine streets. They were
similar to the south of Spain, so in turn quite like the Kasbah in Algeria
In fact, the streets were so labyrinthine that we spent a lot of our time
lost! The town is on a hill and one wanders up and down and around, as
if one were in an Escher painting, never finding ones intended destination!
Little VW Beetle taxi cabs drive around the town and no doubt make their
money from rescuing tourists lost in the maze.
Some weeks beforehand the school took me to the pyramids of Teotihuacán.
As a way of keeping us sweet they take all the new teachers there when
they arrive to Mexico. As the school has such a high turnover of teachers
this means the management ends up taking people all the time.
is exactly sure who built the pyramids, it is supposed that it was
the Mayans due the geometric preciseness of the constructions, and
also how they mirror the stars above them (the Mayans were great
astronomers, and rather worrying their calendar ran out in 21.12.
2012!). It could have also been the Toltecs, but when the Aztecs
conquered the area they certainly left their mark. One can see some
of their paintings there.
Teotihuacán is actually a very cool place. We had a guide who explained
many things to us, such as how the Aztecs made their art and what it meant
to them, plus the significance of the pyramids themselves. There is a
lot of hippy junk talked about them but he provided a decent explanation
about the mathematics involved and why they were built
he had some
strange views though, such as saying the pyramids were about 4000 years
older than they actually are. He also seemed to an apologist for Aztecan
human sacrifice, claiming that they hadnt killed as many people
as historians say they had.
The truth of it though is that the Aztecs were phenomenally cruel, and
when the Spanish arrived 80% of the smaller tribes welcomed Cortés
as they thought the Spanish would save them from Aztecan cruelty. It is
believed that the Aztecs kept themselves separate from the other indigenous
tribes and used them as slaves. There was little or no inter-breeding.
Human sacrifice was essential due to over-population on one occasion it
is believed they killed 20,000 in four days. Its hard to feel sorry
for the destruction of the civilization, though those other
indigenous tribes who sided with Cortés suffered terribly under
the Spanish Conquistadors along with the former Aztecan masters.
My birthday was actually a quiet day. I spoke to my family on the telephone
at various intervals during the day. Fortunately many of my students had
exams scheduled for the 13th of the month so I was able to watch them
and enjoy the silence!
Before I left for Mexico my brother and sister gave me a very brightly
coloured tie and a multi-coloured pair of socks which I saved for that
it was quite interesting seeing the effect that they had on
the students, mainly of whom seemed mesmerised by the ties magnificence.
Despite Mexican art being rather colourful (as with the work of Diego
Rivera and Frida Kahlo), most Mexicans dress rather drably. The clothes
on offer in the shops are nothing special. I noticed the girls in my class
transfixed by my orange flowery tie, their heads swaying as I moved around.
One girl even jumped for joy when she saw my socks! The boys on the otherhand
didnt quite no what to make of it. The few with a sense of humour
laughed, whereas some were worried that I might be batting for the other
team as being scared of homosexuality is a Mexican pastime amongst Mexican
men (despite them all growing moustaches).
Later that evening I had a few drinks and that was it
me, fancied getting really drunk or doing anything big on a Tuesday night
and so, I was 30 in Mexico.
I have been insanely busy since then. I had to set exams before my birthday
and then mark them within a very short period of time. There is so much
marking to be done in this job! There are also weird rules that are peculiar
to my school, such as only one specific person has access to the photocopying
machine. The school employs a woman to do all the photocopying and everything
has to be submitted at least twenty-four hours beforehand if you want
to have your stuff back in time for your lesson
in reality thats
more like forty-eight hours as the Mexicans have a very laissez-faire
attitude toward time-keeping. This woman is probably the least motivated
woman in the country as she has to stay in a room and photocopy from 08:00
hrs to 15:00 hrs (the working day at the school) - and she doesnt
even do a very good job at that! However to fire her from her job and
let people have access to the machine seems to be a step too far for the
inefficient Soviet-style planners of Mexico.
Things dont work properly in Mexico. That may seem to some like
an obvious thing to say, but until you experience the reality of a malfunctioning
state then its difficult to get your head around that fact. Practically
all of main industries are owned by the state or are monopolies, similar
to how Britain was prior to Thatcher. We had some pre-privatisation benefits
and have had some post-privatisation benefits, but Mexico does not, has
not and will never experience them in their own country! There are now
no longer any passenger railways in Mexico - and I wouldnt travel
on them even if they did exist as theyd be criminally unsafe. The
internet connection at the school is terrible, but when the phone company
comes to fix it they tell us nothing is wrong. Its not
as if we can change to another provider as there isnt one!
The worst offender is Pemex, the state-run oil company. The corruption
that this country has been involved in over the years has been stupendous
and now its broke. Theres a sea of oil buried under
the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico but they havent the money to extract
it. Its not as if they would use the oil money to invest in the
population of the country anyway (as Norway does). One wonders what purpose
the State serves in this county as it certainly does little in the way
of improving the quality of life for the people of Mexico. I imagine that
if they did actually care then they wouldnt have the wherewithal
to do anything, as most things in Mexico are just left unfixed,
similar to how they were in Greece before they joined the European Union.
Just before my birthday I was without electricity and the school handyman
came and fixed the light fittings by applying sticky-tape to them! He
told me that if I had the problem again I should go out and buy more sticky-tape!
When I have to change the light bulbs I shall be shutting of the power
at the fuse-box
which by the way is situated outside the house
and gets wet when it rains
The telephone company is called Telmex and it is owned by Carlos Slim
Helú, the richest man in Mexico and the third richest man in the
world. According to Forbes Magazine his wealth increased in 2006 from
$19 billion to $49 billion! Amongst his portfolio he owns a major department
store chain here plus seems to own some sort of concrete company
as practically everything here is made from concrete then to own such
a company is a license to print money. Concrete companies in this country
are extremely powerful.
Bizarrely the government practically handed Slim control of Telmex and
let him pay them back with the profits he made over the next three years
why didnt they just offer it to me and I could have done
the same thing? Obviously I didnt know whom and whom not to bribe.
Telmex is the only landline provider and Slim also owns Telcel, the major
mobile phone network. There are others but Telcel is the largest.
My pet hate is the Mexican postal service, which simply defies belief.
I am still waiting for my birthday cards! It seems that the stuff is delivered
on time here from whatever country from which it was sent, and then it
sits in a room
after that I dont know! Some of the people
have received post from home and opened no doubt the Mexican postman
was looking for cash. Maybe I will get my birthday cards in the end
its only been just over a month since theyve been sent. My
Canadian neighbour and colleague, Ryan, had a parcel arrive over two months
after it was sent from Montreal.
It is shocking to me that a country that is on the doorstep of the U.S.
is content to be third-rate and just shrug their shoulders. I often wonder
what it is that is the glue that keeps this country together, and its
the same Mexicans who shrug their shoulders at the problems. Mexicans
are actually very hard working, just extraordinarily inefficient. Its
the poorest here who work the most and keep the country afloat.
There are no siestas in this country, as there are in Spain. People work
long hours and are expected to accept their lot. I get it easy: even though
my working day finishes at 15:00 hrs (in reality Im doing stuff
at the school until about 17:00 hrs) I could be stuck in an office working
until dark or worse still in some field with the sun beating down on me
working for a handful of pesos. The poorest here have little chance of
escaping their poverty.
Cheesy And Weird:
I was taken to a nightclub here in Pachuca about a fortnight after I arrived.
The nightclub was called Circo (The Spanish word for circus)
and was in a tent. Outside it was raining so water was seeping in
many of the waiters were dressed as clowns and they would dance a weird
dance which made them seem like they were out of the Red Triangle
Gang from Batman Returns
above a man dressed
as Spiderman would climb around on pylons and stare at people
American girl said to me:
"So, how do you find Circo"?
"Cheesy and weird!" I replied, clearly not enjoying myself.
"Welcome to Mexico!" She grinned back to me.
Mexico is indeed cheesy and weird. A popular phenomenon here is the luchador,
or wrestler. These spandex wearing clowns wear ridiculous masks and mince
around the ring just like WWF American wrestlers. My friend went to see
a football match last year where the half-time entertainment was a fight
between luchadores. Just as with American wrestlers they take on stage
names and phoney personas, this match had someone dressed in pink pretending
to be gay! He was supposed to the villain of the piece and was roundly
booed by the audience as he shook his arse at them. One can only presume
that the audience cheered when the heterosexual hero kicked the fag villains
As you can imagine, the wrestling thing is
not my cup of tea.
Another phenomenally popular thing here, even more so than the wrestlers,
is the clown! There are clowns everywhere: the street, on television,
in political office (though without make-up)
As everyone knows,
clowns are not funny (by everyone I mean everyone who speaks
English as their first language). In fact, clowns are just plain creepy.
I dont find them scary like lots of Americans do, but I do think
that they suck. I hate slapstick and all of that shtick. Mexicans, on
the otherhand, think that clowns are the bees knees when it comes
to humour. Someone walking into a room and then a bucket of water falling
on their head is really the funniest thing in existence for Mexicans.
Anything more sophisticated than that will be misunderstood or taken literally
by 90% of Mexicans. English humour cant even begin to translate
There are few things more depressing than switching on the telly (I dont
have one here in my house) and seeing a clown presenting the news. Its
like being on some very bad drugs. The worst thing is that people watch
it! A very popular character is El Chavo. I had actually come across him
whilst I was living in Chile. The show has been on for around thirty years
and features an old man (so he must have been thirty when it started)
dressed up as a little boy. A colleague of mine at work believes that
the show is in fact a metaphor for the immaturity of Mexicans in general.
Theres also a character called Chabelo which is an eighty year old
man dressed up like a small boy hes been doing the show for
something like forty years! Its bizarre
in fact, both shows
are irredeemably awful, just like all Mexican television.
If there are things cheesier and weirder than Mexican television then
I dont ever want to come across them. They seemingly consist of
endless gossip shows or ghastly soap-operas. Ive passed many a Mexican
front window and seen families transfixed by their television sets, reduced
to the level of zombies. The shows feature plastic-looking beautiful
people (or Argentineans!), which is kind of weird as most Mexicans look
nothing like them. A different work colleague described Mexican television
as a lot of ugly people watching beautiful people. Well, I
wouldnt call the people on the telly here attractive, but then I
wouldnt describe the Mexican audience as a bunch of lookers either.
The day after my birthday was St. Valentines Day. Here its
known as the Day of Love and Friendship and it was so cheesy it could
produce calcium-enriched vomit. The Mexicans never miss an opportunity
to skive off for some sort of ultra-kitsch fiesta. My classes were interrupted
incessantly by girls bringing flowers to give to other students, all of
them with a little a tag saying who gave them. Nothing was too girly in
the way of decoration even Liza Manellis most ardent fan
would have found it too much.
The strangest thing for me though was receiving flowers, balloons and
chocolates from 14 and 15 year old girls. This made me feel extremely
uncomfortable, but the Mexican teachers seemed to think this was normal
they also didnt seem to mind that zero teaching was being
done either, but then I suppose that would have just have been to organised
and professional for everyone
I did get some chocolates and a teddy
from an eight year old girl though (I think they doubled as birthday presents
for me). That was sweet.
© Dermot Sullivan March 18th 2007
New 2007 Mexico Diary
Dermot Sullivan in Mexico
I am in Mexico. I often ask myself how on earth I ended up here, especially
as I was set on going to Japan.
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