7 jun 2000


I was walking home just now de la cena en el zocalo [from dinner in the central square.] Los gentes comen tarde en Oaxaca [Folks eat late in Oaxaca], alrededor de los ochos o los nueves el la noche [at about 8 or 9 in the evening.] Los calles en Oaxaca [The streets in Oaxaca] are paved with a greenish stone, the indigenous stone of the region. Many of the major buildings, the foundains, and the sidewalks are made of this stone, and Oaxaca is sometimes called ‘la ciudad del jade’ [‘the city of jade’.]

Enough of the Spanish lesson for now. This is probably getting as tiresome for you as it is for me. (But it’s good practice.)

The Zocalo, even at 11pm on a weekday, is a happening place. Folks eat late dinners. Mariachi bands roam from restaurant to restaurant, playing at a level that is nice from across the zocalo, but painful when beside your table. Young boys go from table to table offering beads, bookmarks of leather and wood, shoe shines, and candy. Teenage boys play guitarra and sing, often fairly well. Tonight one gentleman was singing solo at the top of his voice, which was stunning. He could hold a note for a very long time, and did. He had attracted a large crowd of oaxaceños. In every restaurant, a crowd of men watched the soccer game on the restaurant television. And in one corner of the zocalo, I worked on my homework.

Away from the zocalo, the streets are quiet. The school told women to not walk around after 10pm, and that seems to be the time when folks tend to return home. The cobbles are wet from the afternoon rains we’ve been getting, and occasional couples neck on benches or in doorways.

Oaxaca is growing on me day by day. I have been trying to figure out why, and I think it’s because the city has dignity. Very few people beg per se. A few old women, but most people *do* something for money. Kids sell candy, or shine shoes. There is one entire family where the dad plays the accordion while the kids fan out with cups for money. He plays well, too. I treated myself to a hoeshine, and the kid did a good job… better than I expected. He asked for 7 pesos, and I gave him 10. It’s amazing how good that extra 30 cents made me feel. Benevolence is cheap here.

I’m a big believer in a social safety net, but I think that many people in the United States mistake a safety net for a lifestyle, or they are too mentally ill to know the difference. In the city I call home, you’ll see many people who simply sit around all day, waiting for the next check from the city or the state. A city study found that approximately 2/3 of those on public assistance spend their money on illegal drugs. For some cultural reason I don’t understand, the abject poor here in Oaxaca have much more dignity than most of the folks on the dole in San Francisco.

Strangely enough, I’ve seen ‘Liberdad por Mumia!’ scrawled on walls in three different places around Oaxaca. I can’t quite figure that one out. (Though there are many students from the states here, I can’t imagine them tagging buildings with foot-high red letters.) The culture of the United States is a strange and frightening thing.


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