First, before I begin this next entry, I want to thank everyone for your kind words about the blog. I’m having a nice time sharing our experiences with you, and if you are willing to keep reading, I am willing to keep writing 🙂
In all my time in Mexico, I’ve never experienced any real culture shock because I’ve always been here as a tourist. This time is different. Zihuatanejo is a very fancy resort town surrounded by a lot of poverty, and we see this poverty daily.
It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe the poverty here through non-tourist eyes. It doesn’t scream. It silently whispers. In the tourist areas (mainly La Ropa beach), it’s hidden away among fancy resorts and killer beachfront views. And though we are housesitting in a very nice neighborhood, mostly middle class, it’s still there. Between the nicer houses, we see shacks. Between the gated houses, with their tall metal gates, we hear the third world singing its daily tune.
You might wonder how we deal with seeing so much poverty. I guess we’re somewhat used to it, having served in the Peace Corps in Jamaica. It’s been a long time since we were in Peace Corps, but the memory of living in a complete slum has been revived. It’s also different here because in Jamaica it was harder to get away from so much poverty. Here, close your eyes, look at the lovely beach and mountain views, and you are transported to a paradise. Paradise is just a seven-minute walk from our house — soon to be four minutes when we move into our longterm rental in October. If you were just here as a regular tourist, and didn’t stray from the beaten path, you’d think the standard of living is quite high in Zihuatanejo. And compared to the slums of Mexico City, perhaps it is.
But the poverty is there. It’s the smells of burning garbage, frying food and laundry soap water spilled out onto the street. It’s the barking dogs. It’s the loud noises. It’s the piles of trash of various rubble. It takes us back to our Peace Corps days. We remember living in a right in the middle of a squater-community-turned-slum, alongside people who deficated in plastic bags because they didn’t even have outhouses. Things are lovely here in our middle-class neighborhood. But in the barrio four or five blocks away (an area that no main route would take us into, but through which we have walked the dogs a couple of times and driven through), I’m not sure people even have outhouses. They live in wooden shacks, laundry and hammocks hanging, with no access to running water (or maybe they have some water, I’m not sure). It’s heartbreaking.
Andy and I took a bunch of photos today on a morning walk so you can see how some people live.
Sometimes I’m not sure how people survive here when wages are so low. We pay our housekeeper 2oo pesos for 3-4 hours of work. This is the standard rate for most housekeeping services. That’s about $11.40 U.S. for three hours of work. How can people live on such low wages? How do they feed and clothe their families?
To illustrate my point further let me share another concrete example. Yesterday Andy worked seven and a half hours remotely editing stories for his former newspaper. From what he earned doing that, he could purchase 223 chicken & mushroom quesadillas at a great little quesadilla place we have found right near the Central Market (even more if they were just one-ingredient quesadillas)!
Even more eye-opening stats: In urban zones (where we live), the minimum salary for Mexicans is 70 pesos ($4.35) per day. The government sets a monthly minimum income for well-being, including essential purchases like food, transportation and hygiene, that stands at 2,628 pesos ($163.13) in urban areas. Can you imagine spending $163.13 per month to get your basic needs met in the U.S. or in Canada? That’s just astonishing! At the end of this blog, there is a link to more economic data.
When we were here in March looking for a six-month rental for the fall and winter, Andy and I had the opportunity to check out a place in a neighborhood where many fishermen live. It’s a short, six-minute drive from where we are now housesitting. One of my mom’s friends owns a duplex there. The price was great. Only $500 U.S. a month for a two-bedroom place, and it was swanky new. New kitchen (better than our Oakland kitchen), great tiles throughout, washer/dryer. It was really great … except for the neighborhood. There was just too much poverty all around. The neighborhood was filled with roving dogs (very common in all Mexican neighborhoods), chickens, garbage piles, rubble, discarded autos and partially naked kids. Although we were promised the neighborhood was very safe — and, undaunted as we are, we did walk around a bit, and that seemed to be the case — we just could not imagine friends and family feeling comfortable visiting (who would want to take a trip to “paradise” and have to stay in the barrio?). But more importantly, as Andy pointed out, our day-to-day living would have been very much like our Peace Corps days, and we didn’t want that. For our retirement, we wanted something different, and we are lucky enough to be able to afford it. I’ve enclosed a few pictures of the “duplex that wasn’t” and its surrounding neighborhood.
I think the hardest part about seeing all of this poverty is that it is very easy to ignore. The beauty and tranquility of this place can make you turn a blind eye. Hopefully our eyes will be more open more times than closed.
You can read more about the socioeconomics of Mexico here.