My week normally includes people from all economic classes in life…from the Uber-educated and maybe even foreign born to the uneducated and maybe even ignorant to how much the world has changed & progressed technically. That includes the old man who sells us pumpkin seeds out of an aluminum bucket to earn money to support his family as well as his retirement years…no matter how hungry I am, I always buy something from him. (Remembering that Mexico does not provide for any type of retirement fund like the United States does.)
When I was a little girl, my mother chose not to teach my brother and I how to speak Italian because she never wanted us to know what her cousins were talking about…considering them to be small-minded & ignorant. (Though that is not the kind of ignorant I’m talking about.) Of course, at that time, I did not understand that.
Another thing my mother used to tell me was, “Catherine, I don’t care where you end up, just so long as you are able to find your way out of this neighborhood.” Something else I also didn’t understand at the time, with my smart ass response being, “Mom, what do you mean? I leave this neighborhood everyday just to go to school.” Though I did know full well that wasn’t what she was talking about.
So long as my mother was alive, I would have never left NYC, and I now know that she actually died at the right time in my life for it to have been possible for me to completely uproot my life for someplace else. Though when I say some place else, I don’t just mean another neighborhood or city…but rather a completely different existence…something I did not realize when I moved to Cozumel to become a dive instructor.
Now…a million years alter…I live in an area that hardly ever sees any Americans. And when I visit places found on random streets you really have to know how to find using a GPS unit first, I never see anyone except people who were born and raised here.
Now that you have some context, let me share a story with you. As you know, I drive to the mercado each week where I buy my chicken and fruits and vegetables and cheeses and tortillas and anything else I might need to prepare my meals each week. (And that includes fresh honey and almonds and dried cranberries!) And while I greatly appreciate the low prices I receive there, I also appreciate the exposure I get to what I believe to be “true Mexico.”
Anyway, each week, I go to this specific stand to buy my cheeses and tortillas. I have been going to this specific mercado for over a year now & everyone there now knows me by name (you know…the only way I roll). When I first started going to the mercado and found this stand where I believe I can find the best quality cheeses, I can tell you that the woman selling them was SO unfriendly and rude to me. That whole “the customer is always right” mentality never entered this woman’s mind. She took one look at me and said to herself, “look at this American women, here to buy my cheeses.”
And I read it on her face every week I went there, respectfully, to buy my cheeses and tortillas…and didn’t really care, knowing that she was just acting out against someone who was different from her! Then, about a month ago, when I arrived, lugging my fruits and vegetables from the other stands where I shop, I found this woman sitting in the corner, crying. When she first saw me, she wiped her tears and tried to make believe she was fine as she asked me, as politely as ever, what I needed. I pulled up a stool, sat down, and asked her what was going on. She began to cry again as she explained to me how her son had this skin condition that required these treatments that would preclude him from being able to leave the house for a month.
OMG! I apologized to her for what he must have been going through but reassured her that she still had so much to be grateful of…how fortunate she was that he was able to receive these treatments that would cure him with time. She thanked me for reminding her of that, wiped her tears, felt better and began serving me my cheeses. Since then, every week I go there, she comes out from behind her stand to give me a hug and kiss as she tells me how well her son is improving.
This past week, she started by complimenting my Spanish but asked me where I was actually from. I told her I was from NYC and she asked me why I didn’t want to go back there. I told her that in NYC I couldn’t find cheese as good as hers. We laughed together for ten minutes.
How many of you saw that?
How many of you saw how I had completely changed her perspective of a foreigner…of an American…of someone obviously different from her?
Had life been fair to her? Well, what’s fair?
Yes, I grew up in NYC…received a private school education, went to college & graduate school before having the guts to pick up & move to a foreign country where I had to learn to speak another language before I could even communicate with anyone around me. Is that fair? Or am I just getting what I deserve based on the decisions I’ve made?
This woman was suffering over the pain of her child. No education or language was going to help him…or alleviate her suffering. But that night, after I saw that change that had happened to her attitude towards me, I felt as though I had accomplished something so amazing…something I could never have done had I never left my neighborhood…city…or country. As I’ve said before, watch out world because I believe that I really will witness a revolution…a revolution of the minds and people of where I am now. And if that is why I’ve found my way here, I would be perfectly satisfied with that being the definition of my success.
I was taught as a child that we all put our pants on one leg at a time…no matter how much money or education we have. The secret to success is to have the empathy to understand what everyone is going through around you…and if you can lend a hand…shoulder…hug to someone to help them make it through the day with a smile on their face, then that is what makes you a better person!
And trust me…my Uncle Charlie always taught me…Life is never fair…get used to it! Another important lesson everyone still needs to learn.