Friday, March 30, 2007

The Little Things

Friends and family who come to visit us often ask us what it's like to do daily little things in Mexico City-- like pay the bills or throw the trash. Some things have been quite a change from what we were used to, and many times we had to be schooled about how things work around here once it sunk in that no, we are not on vacation, we live here now.

The random people who knock on our door are classic. Every once in awhile the cops swing by and ask for a "donation" for watching our neighborhood. Umm...isn't that their job? So we now have to budget them in to our expenses because we don't want them on our bad side. Other random people have also come to our door like the ant guy. A guy who carries a spray tank occassionally knocks on the door and asks to get paid for spraying the outside of our house for ants. We never asked him to spray, but that's not the point. If you refuse, then he'll say, but I already sprayed, now you have to pay me. Who knows if that spray tank even has ant poison.

Because the Mexico City post office and mail system is so unreliable, people here do not mail checks anywhere. We are still waiting on a gift that was sent to us months ago. We will probably never see it. So whatever can't be paid online has to be done the good ol' fashion way--waiting forever in lines. However, unlike in the States, bills here can be paid at a bank.

Every week, a little old man with a cart comes and rings the doorbell to collect the trash. We are not allowed to put a trash bin out on the curb. So we hand the man our trash bags, give him some pesos and he stuffs our trash into the cart. We are lucky, though. The trash guy comes pretty often in our neighborhood since we live amongst some big wigs. But every once in awhile the little old man forgets to swing by and we have to wait till he remembers.

There are a lot more other daily little things, but these are the ones off the top of my head. I'll include some of the more quirky ones in future posts.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

First Lady

A few months ago, I got to stand close enough to take this shot of Mexico's First Lady, Margarita Zavala. We were covering President Felipe Calderon's closing campaign rally.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mujer before her time

XOCHIMILCO, D.F.-It's hard not to talk about Mexican artist Diego Rivera's life and not bring up Dolores "Lola" Olmedo. After Frida Kahlo's death, Diego spent two inseparable years with Olmedo, with whom he had a close friendship for many years. It is rumored that Olmedo was obsessed with Diego, and that she was one of Diego's many mistresses. Olmedo was the subject of many of Rivera's most famous works.
Olmedo was a huge promoter of Mexican culture and art. She collected more than 100 Rivera pieces and about 25 Kahlo paintings as well. She was a revolutionary, in that she was a successful businesswoman in a time when women were not running companies. Olmedo lived until she was 93, leaving her renowned art collection to the Mexican people.
We visited the Olmedo museum, south of the city, this weekend and were in awe of the beautiful hacienda that was her home duing her last 20 or so years of life. Peacocks and pre-hispanic dogs rans all around the 8-acre lush property. It's amazing to imagine all the great Mexican people who must have been guests at her home.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Special Guests

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera made a surprise appearance this weekend at a downtown cultural event. You never know when there will be a sighting of the legendary Mexican artists.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Power Trip

TAPACHULA, Chiapas-I got a taste of the power struggle between Mexican soldiers and Grupo Beta officials when we went down to the river to check out the Chiapas/Guatemalan border river. We were about to leave when a soldier- who couldn't have been more than 19 years old-stopped me. He demanded to see the last picture I had taken, claiming that I was not allowed to take any photos of soldiers. Keep in mind these are probably the same soldiers that terrorize Central American migrants when they cross into Mexico.

Before I could even react, the head of Grupo Beta who we were riding with, came to my rescue. He jumped in front of me and told the soldier that I was with the press, and I didn't have to show him anything. Grupo Beta is the only organization that can report soldiers for wrongdoings against migrants. The teenage soldier told us that we had to see the photos because of anti-terrorism efforts. Apparently, the soldier-in-charge saw the confrontation, walked over to us and sent the other soldier away. He apologized profusely, knowing that Grupo Beta has more authority than them in that case. Who knows what other underlying power issues were going on between the two groups, but all I know is that I kept my camera.

Later as I was reviewing my pictures I realized that during the course of our visit I had taken a photo of that soldier. Lesson: Download photos as quickly as possible, in case camera gets confiscated.

Here the soldier is checking everyone's bags as they cross into Mexico.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Crossing the Mexican Southern Border

TAPACHULA, Chiapas- In order to get a feel for the path that Central American immigrants take during their journey to Mexico, we rode along with Grupo Beta- a sort of humanitarian Border Patrol. Grupo Beta does not have the authority to deport or detain migrants. Instead, they offer food, water and let them know they can report Mexican officials who steal or try to bribe them. There is only one group of officials who can legally detain migrants on the southern border, but with the low wages they receive, it is no wonder they fall into the hands of corruption.

Migrants who get across the river (below) separating Guatemala and the state of Chiapas, then follow a trail guided by railroad tracks. They must somehow reach Arriaga, a town about four hours away, to hop on a freight train heading north. Walking along the tracks is the head of Grupo Beta, who is approaching a group of immigrants. The group saw his bright orange shirt and quickly scattered, thinking he was just another corrupt official.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Journey North

TAPACHULA, Chiapas– We arrived here last week to report and photograph a story on Mexico's immigration laws on its southern border. While the Mexican government is fighting for immigration reform for migrants crossing to the U.S., the Central Americans trying to cross through Mexico are also facing horrible conditions that have not improved much over the years. Crossing the actual river is the easy part, but waiting for them on the other side are Mexican authorities who have been known to rape and steal from the migrants as soon as they cross. Many Central Americans hop on freight trains heading north, but along the way they face the dangers of encountering gangs, such as the Maras, as well as possibly falling off the train. The train has left too many migrants injured or limbless.

We met Jose at an immigrant shelter last week and his story has really impacted me. He's a 24-year-old El Salvadorian, and all he was carrying with him on his journey- that will hopefully end in Houston- was one small bag with a change of clothes and deodorant. As soon as he reached Mexico, officials stole all his money. He had made the trip several times before and has been successful in reaching the U.S. But he has always gotten detained or deported, never giving him a chance to work and send money to his family.

But as Jose told us his story, his demeanor changed when I began asking him about his family and children. He has a little girl and a baby boy. He began telling me this story about how his son, who is chubbier than his daughter, likes to bully her with his belly and knock her down. My mind trailed off toward the end of his story because I was so fascinated by how his face and eyes changed when he talked about them. After all, it was for them that he was making the journey north.

May the Virgen guide you and give you strength. To check out Jeremy's story and my photos (which made the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution! yeah!), click on the blog title "Journey North."

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Celebrity Sighting--Allison & Paquita la del Barrio

We arrived at the Tapachula airport in Chiapas yesterday to a group of screaming school girls. Little did we know that we flew on the same flight as the punk/rock Mexico City band Allison. I can't really tell you what songs they sing, but it was fun to watch the madness unfold at the small airport.

The guys were in town playing for the Tapachula Expo & Feria. They'll also play at South by Southwest in Austin later this month. Here's a pic Jeremy managed to snap just as the teens began to attack. That's the bassist Manolin, with the curly hair on the left.

And during lunch at a local seafood place today, we spotted Paquita la del Barrio. No crazy scene like at the airport, but there was definitely a buzz in the air. Tomorrow Vicente Fernandez will be in town. I'll make sure to keep my eyes peeled.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Kosher Tacos

When most people come to Mexico City, they are surprised to find a strong Mexican-Jewish presence. There are rumors that the Jewish community here even has its own secret-society type circle where they take care of any members who get kidnapped or something. Whether or not that's true, one thing is certain--they've definitely inspired some interesting culinary fusions like Kosher Tacos.

We have yet to try the tacos, but my husband Jeremy and I know from experience that Jewish-Mexican combos do work.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Back by Popular Demand

The Bosque Chapultepec in Mexico City continues to amaze me. This was our second time there, and we still haven't seen it all. This time we took my mother-in-law and a friend to tour the castle that is hidden inside the park. Apparently, it belonged to Austrian emperor Maximillian who was asked to come to Mexico by Mexican conservatives. His time there was up when Benito Juarez ran him out of his throne.

Check out some of the rooms that have been preserved in their original state. Looking down from the castle top, an incredible view of Mexico City can be seen. If there was just a little less smog, then maybe we would be able to see the volcanoes.