I’ve been interviewing people who write about depressing things. Journalists, currently in Mexico City, who’ve spent a good part of the past decade (or more) covering horrifying murders, over and over again. The death toll since President Felipe Calderon launched his war on the drug cartels in 2006 is in the tens of thousands. Thirty five thousand? Eighty thousand? Many here dispute the number of murders and disappearances and that’s because only a tiny percentage of them are ever investigated, much less solved.
It makes Mexico seem like an awful place.
And then I say goodbye to my interviewee, go outside and jump on a ‘pesero,’ one of the green micro-buses that are always there when you need them. Mine is packed, because for three minutes it poured rain, so I have to squeeze into the last possible space via the back door. Then at the next stop, another woman squeezes into the for-real last space behind me. And she gets out her wallet, pulls out a 50 peso bill (less than $5, nevertheless a lot of money for plenty of people here), and hands it to me. It takes me a second to remember this tradition – I’m supposed to pass it forward, from person to person all along the aisle until it reaches the bus driver. It doesn’t cost 50 pesos to ride this bus, though – it’s just four and a half (30 cents). So the driver hands the person in front 45 and a half pesos in change and she passes it back down the line until, after touching more than a dozen hands, it reaches the woman it belongs to.
This happens hundreds of times a day. At least. (I don’t think there’s any data to dispute, but given the size of Mexico City and the number of peseros, I think hundreds a day is an extremely conservative estimate). People pay when they could just hide in the back. And they trust a dozen strangers to handle their money. It’s a side of Mexico that never makes news.
There are plenty of Mexicans devoting their time and money to Mexico’s “brand,” in hopes they can export an image that doesn’t include bloody bodies in a ditch. In Ciudad Juarez, now known as “the murder capital of the world,” a group called Cronicas de Heroes (Hero Reports) is trying to record all the ways people take care of each other by mapping acts of kindness. I’ll give you more details after talking to their representatives this week – or you can go check out their website.
I know. You’re wondering how I got my 4 and a half pesos to the bus driver. I paid after the aisles cleared, just before I got off at the last stop. I felt too embarassed to pass my money forward after I’d already been riding for blocks.