Monday, April 16, 2012

Reflections on the Light and Dark Sides of San Miguel

One day while walking to the Centro, I was thinking of all the things I love about San Miguel and the things I don't like---I call it the Light and Dark Sides of SMA. Let me elucidate. I love the beautiful and colorful old colonial buildings with their inner courtyards filled with tropical flora, the local small tiendas (shops for groceries, sundries and anything one would need)on nearly every street corner. I love the sounds of the church bells on the hour, passing the beautiful La Perroquia, at dusk as the lights come on. I call it the "wedding cake church" because of its fanciful baroque architecture, Most of all I love the gente, the people who are so kind and respectful, full of zest for life, and real. I love the music and all the fiestas in spite of the frequent and startling sounds of the firecrackers going off at all hours of the night.

And, I love my barrio, my neighborhood in the colonia of San Antonio. As I walk along the cobbled streets I now feel "at home" and can't express how much I love the sunshine and warmth. Gary and I often stroll home in the evenings as late as ten or ten-thirty in short sleeves. It's good to not feel the chill of Portland's winters. Si, there is much to love about San Miguel de Allende. (Read about"Mi Barrio" and see photos in the post titled "Mi Barrio")Oh, and let me not forget the favorite site I have seen everyday in March, the amazingly beautiful blooming jacaranda trees, flourishing purple against clear blue skies.

Now,for the "dark side" of San Miguel, just in case you should think that I am surely looking through rose colored glasses. I don't like the dog poop on the sidewalks, the rebar on the tops of many of the rooftops (even though I understand the reason for this is the lowering of the taxes for the people when the building appears not finished). I don't like the many holes in the streets where one can twist an ankle or break a leg. Again it's understandable. This is a four hundred year old city. The Mexicans are constantly working on the streets and trying to fill holes, improve the old sewer system and replace cobbles. Our Mexican friend, Maria Elena, who's an engineer for the city, said the "hole problem " is getting worse due to the people, who at night steal the metal plates off the utility meters in the streets and sidewalks, in order to sell the metal. It's a never ending problem, an economic one. Many people are poor and they will do whatever it takes for "dinero."

I don't like the small bits of garbage that's sometimes thrown carelessly in the streets, despite the every other day free garbage pick-up in San Miguel and the small trash bins attached to electric light poles along many of the main streets. Last Wednesday, the annual childrens Spring Parade, showed us there is a growing environmental consciousness, though, as children, all decked out in bumblebee, flower and bunny costumes, carried signs that said in Spanish, "Protect the Environment", "Recycle and Reuse" and other "green" messages. It may take a couple of generations to change the habits of the people.

I don't like that there are teens and kids languishing on the streets with no work and often joining gangs that spray grafiti on the lovely old buildings in certain neighborhoods; I don't like that they sometimes feel the only answer is that they flee to El Norte, the US, for "a better life" and then some die crossing over. It is up to the governments of both the US and Mexico to change our migration policies. We in the states need to put more pressure to find a better and more humane immigration policy and the Mexican government must do more to help its poorest of the poor.

Another thing I don't like is the number of poor old women, and young ones with children, sitting on the sidewalks with hands outstretched begging for just a little "moneda"(a few coins)for survival. I feel sad every time I pass them and, until recently, I always dug down in my pockets, to drop a few pesos into their hands. Recently I learned this is not a good idea. Many of these women from the "campo", the countryside, are being prostituted by men who bring them into town early in the morning in the back of pickups, along with "rented" children who have been drugged. We've always wondered why the children seem so passive and inert,willing to sit all day long in the laps or beside the women. Of course, what tears at our "gringo" hearts the most? ---poor women and children. Our Mexican friends and others who have lived here longer than us tell us to avoid giving and instead put pressure on the municiple governement to have the same policies they used to have, to fine and imprison the "pimps" who are preying on these ignorant women of the campo. Nobody seems to understand why that policy has not continued. Many of the poor people in the campo have farmland, but with the last few years drought and the competition from big agri-businesses, they find it hard still to grow enough and/or sell enough to make ends meet. They are enticed to try and earn more by street begging. Well, it's a complicated issue, but definitely a "dark side" of San Miguel.

But then there's always another bright side. One of those is the excellent medical and dental treatment here. Many of the ex-pats have purposely moved here because of the excellent care they can get at affordable prices. Well trained doctors (many educated in top rate institutions in the US) still make house calls. A friend of ours who had a bad case of food poisoning was given excellent care; his doctor came to the house and called each day until he was well. Gary and I have both had to have some dental work done here recently, and our new crowns cost us a third of what they would be in the states. In addition, my dentist, a woman, sent me daily emails from her iphone, to check on how I was doing and to make sure I didn't have any pain. When the final crown was put on and I walked out of her office, we hugged and I commented "In the US we usually don't hug our dentists!"

All and all, there are more bright sides to life in San Miguel than there are dark. We look forward to continuing our odyssey here in the following years that we are alive and well.
There is a cultural pre-disposition among Mexicans to like and,in fact,cherish older people. It is not unusual to see older Mexican or gringo women, being gently supported on the arm of a young Mexican girl or boy, helping their "abualita," or employer down the street, carrying her groceries or helping walk her dog. It's a culture with a proclivity for kindness and respect. Everything reported about violence in Mexico is not always true in all parts.

So, to wrap it up, the adventures go on and they are Muy Bueno!

We will spend our last four days in Mexico, in Guanoguato, a lovely neighboring colonial town. Then, on March 31st, we wing home from the airport in Leon, just a half hour from there. We will be back to our Portland casa by late Saturday night, March 31st, ready for Spring!

Hope you are all well and healthy and we look forward to making contact with friends and family once we are settled back into our Portland routine. Felize Primavera---Happy Spring!

Hasta luego,

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