Thursday, September 04, 2008

Nebraskano: Ilegal

Oh, yes. Here in Mexico we have something that we simply did not have in Korea or Poland: danger. Peligro. Korea is a sexually frustrated antfarm. Poland is colder than a welldigger's ass. But Mexico.

Yesterday, one of my teenagers gave me a plastic spoonful of congealed caramel wrapped in a plastic baggie. I brought it home and left it on the kitchen counter, where it will remain for the duration of my contract. Today, the same kid reached into his backpack to hand me another caramel spoon and instead produced a big ol' orange-green bag of pot. I did what any English teacher would do: I whipped my head the other way and started scribbling phrasal verbs on the whiteboard. When I turned back around, the baggie was gone and nobody seemed to have noticed it. I'm not sure how the boss would have reacted if my First Certificate class had successfully hotboxed Room 4, but a career in beachside burrito vending would probably have been in my near future.

I joined the gym this afternoon and was walking downtown after work to give the place a whirl. I made it a couple of blocks before I noticed an unusual number of machine gun wielding soldiers. A few blocks later, I saw the canopied truck they were spilling out of, seeming to spontaneously generate like Pac-Man ghosts. Within minutes, the streets were flooded with troops. It was all I could do to avoid catching a Kalashnikov in the crotch. I slowed to a stop, stood very still for a moment, then turned and walked the other way. Whatever sense it is that warns us about impending gunshot wounds recommended in no uncertain terms that I go home, so that's just what I did.

The nickname for my neighborhood wasn't hard to come up with: I live in the Green Zone. In addition to the public hospital where at midnight throngs of exhausted people wait with blank expressions in a queue that winds halfway around the block, my street hosts six heavily fortified compounds where Zamora's rich and foreign hide from the indigenous poor. Stationed at forty-foot intervals on the sidewalk are several contracted security guards. They all cut the same Hitchcockian figure. I doubt any of them could chase down a Frisbee. The one across the street works a 14-hour shift and sneaks frequent pulls from the grenade-shaped bottles he keeps stashed in the front basket of his bicycle.

Tonight I went out with the roommates and we ate six tacos each for $1.20 a person. The taco stand was situated on the curb, so we sat on plastic stools in the right lane of oncoming traffic, making crunchy noises as screaming Chinese motorcycles whipped the wrinkles out of our shirtbacks. Jaded isn't really the right word, because I’m hypersensitive to my surroundings and I am often frightened by them. Denial is closer to the target: the danger is so palpable that I deny the danger altogether. But that isn't quite it, either. What is the word I’m looking for? Ah. Estúpido. Soy estúpido. Si, es correcto.

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