Rincon del Acueducto, Calle Alavez
I have a 30 minute walk into town each day, starting and ending with this view.
Every morning you hear the guys on their bullhorn “Gas Oaxaca, kilos exactos!” “Gas Oaxaca, kilos exactos!” Up and down the streets they go. It’s annoying, effective and necessary. Small business owners, homeowners and renters can step outside and get their empty gas tank swapped out for a new one, never going to a store or scheduling an appointment, just wait for the next truck to go by. They go by every day, all day, too often, but eventually – bam, you’re out of gas, burners don’t turn on, and woohoo, Gas Oaxaca is driving by! They sell 10, 15 and 20 kilo tanks and part of their selling point, apparently, is that these tanks are exactly the kilos they state. Is this because you might only get 8 kilos when you paid for 10 and there’s no way to measure it? Quien sabe / Who knows. What I do know is one day my Canadian friend, George, went up to the driver and simply asked, “Is it exactly 10 kilos?” To which the guy shrugged and said tiredly, “Eh, mas o menos.” Eh, more or less.
That describes Mexico so very well and also cracks me up. Passionate and not completely playing by the rules. They play by good suggestions that can be tweaked along the way. I recently went into a convenience store to buy an 11 peso bottle of water with a 200 peso note ($10 USD) and the cashier got irritated. In these situations the cashier might suggest adding an item to your purchase like a Snickers bar, quite handily there are always stacks of candy sitting by the register. Some cashiers simply say, sorry can’t do it. In my case, she mildly scolded me by saying the only way I could buy it is if I was okay getting my change in rolls of coins. Fine by me, then I can buy tacos on the street. It’s like a standoff. They would rather lose a sale than deal with large bills – convenience store stuff is so ridiculously cheap they never have more than small change. I’m still blonde and relatively pale and I don’t seem to be able to hide out so I figure sure, why not send me to the “special” waiting area while you help others in line and ask the manager to get rolls of coins since he has the key, just let me have my water while I self-consciously wait.
The buses go by blowing diesel exhaust in my face. The motorcycles run red lights and I’ve almost gotten severely clipped; now I wait and go extra blocks to get to the safest intersections. I feel many people are low grade resentful at Americans, and in return I am low grade uncomfortable on a regular basis when walking around, which I do a lot of. Still, these things in no way change mine or many others opinions on what a uniquely wonderful place Mexico is. The pomegranate tree on my street says it all – a beautiful blooming fruit tree stands out and grabs your attention bigger than the graffiti on the wall behind it.
I’ve been going to a conversation class and my Spanish teacher, Jose, born and raised in Oaxaca said in a very lighthearted way to me, “Gracias to mi amigo Trump, doesn’t look like I’ll be getting that tourist visa to visit the U.S.” He doesn’t need to go to the U.S. for a job, but now he he’ll likely never go as a tourist either. I asked him where he’d like to go if he could see any city or country in the world, both of us knowing the likelihood is slim, but anything is possible.
“Greece,” he says. I cringe hoping he doesn’t ask if I’ve been. He does. “Yes, I have.”
We watch the sunset and by now I will tell you my fair readers, I am on a date with my former Spanish teacher, Jose. The overlook is called the Cerro del Fortin and it’s the highest point in the city. We’ve climbed the 200+ steps to the top, stopping to catch our breath along the way, we’re now over 5,000 feet above sea level. We sit on the sloping edge so that the amphitheater is behind us, we’re on slightly uneven stone pavers and it’s probably uncomfortable but I don’t notice. A woman and child walk by and stop below and wave two tickets at us. Neither of us can hear but finally Jose makes out she is offering them to us, they’re extras. So kind. No gracias, he tells her. The symphony starts behind us and we laugh, we have perfect outdoor view seats. The musicians are amazing and Jose tells me this is just one of five symphonies in the city. We try and talk above the music and then just sit quietly. When the music ends we list off all the good about the situation: the panoramic view of the city, the mountains, the music, the breeze, the warmth of the sun as it slowly sets, the policia. Yes, the policia have stopped their truck with the militia of weapons just below us, and seem to spend a lot of time glancing up at us. Sadly, Jose confirms, it’s me. He says they are on alert to anything strange or standing out. There are other foreigners here, obviously, but when given a chance the policia will veer toward the uncommon arrangement and somehow I’m part of that, doesn’t help that we’re sitting on this damn slope. So they are on our list, ah the policia, they are the cherry on the cake! We’re speaking in Spanish and so he asks if that’s how we say it too. “I think we say it’s the cherry on top,” I reply hesitantly because nothing sounds right. I’m actually feeling a bit weak at times with my Spanish and at least five times in the evening I said I’m sorry, I just have to say this in English. I’m tired of reflexive verbs.
No, I’m not dating my former Spanish conversation teacher but I’ve made a nice friend. I’m looking for jobs in Oaxaca and Seattle. I’m eating too many tortillas but enjoying each one. Thank God for the Sierra Madre Mountain range that stops me in my tracks every day when I start to think of all the uncertainties. There are horrible tragedies going on in our world, and I look for ways to offer myself even if it’s simply to help an elderly lady across the street, or be the patient customer, or maybe to think ahead and have change. For a laugh I can count on my Gas Oaxaca guys, mas o menos.