When I was 22 years old I went backpacking by myself to the southern part of Mexico for two months. I spent time in many indigenous communities that had a completely different perspective on life than I did, growing up in the United States. Everything was different; their sense of time, their sense of priorities and their spirituality. I spent time with them and listened. I soon learned that they had more to teach me, than I them in many cases.
|San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
One of the people I met worked at the Mayan Museum of Medicine in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. His name was Miguel. I went to go visit him after walking two miles from my hostel to the museum in the rain. I wasn’t in the best of moods when he looked me over and said: Sabias que los pajaros siempre cantan despues de la lluvia? Did you know that the birds ALWAYS sing after the rain? It was a simple response to the melody of chirps and songs that were serenading us at the moment but really it was a metaphor I still use in my daily life.
Miguel didn’t have a sense of space or time the way I did; he also didn’t see it as an issue. When in Rome do as the Romans, and I found myself caring much less about the details and much more about the moment. In his native Mayan language there did not exist the conditional tense, that is: should have, would have, could have, etc. In his language they speak in the present. That was probably one of the most rewarding things about being around him. He was always present and in the moment. When he listened, he really listened and when he spoke, he used his words wisely.
It wasn’t all easy lessons like with Miguel. I spent time in Veracruz shortly thereafter and really wanted to drink a beer after having abstained from alcohol for more than one month. I walked into a bar by myself to drink a beer and write in my journal. I was not left alone and saw the harsh reality of being a woman in a country that has a very different sense of what women should and shouldn’t do.
The men looked at me as though I was half crazy and spoke to me as though I was for sale. I felt angry, not so much at them, but at this culture that seemed so unfair to women and allowed men to do as they pleased on the basis of their sex. I felt the frustration of an outsider who wanted to turn their culture upside down and show them mine because of a sense of superiority and enlightenment. I grounded myself and reminded myself that I chose to be there to listen and learn and not to conquer their beliefs. I reminded myself that it wasn’t my job to do so and furthermore, I knew I wasn’t going to win that battle so I finished my beer and went for a walk instead.