Monday, July 12, 2010

CONTRASTS




Hello everyone!
I’m excited to introduce you to my guest blogger, Normandie Fischer. In her blog she offers insight rarely heard and for those of you thinking about visiting Mexico this will be especially interesting to you.
A little bit about Normandie. She has been a sailor all of her life. She and her husband, Michael, sail through their days wherever the Wind of God blows their sailboat, Sea Venture.  Normandie writes, sculpts (she studied in Italy for several years), and adores her adult children, Ariana and Joshua Milton. (Find out more about her writing at www.normandiefischer.com and www.writingonboard.blogspot.com) She is also available to chat with you about the wonderful things God has done in her life: the miracles she’s seen, the blessings she’s known, and the lessons she’s learned. Contact her at normandie at seaventure.us

Sipping an espresso on New York’s Upper East Side at an elegant sidewalk restaurant, I felt worlds away from the trash-strewn streets of the garment district through which I’d passed that morning. I had the same experience when I visited cities in Jordan years ago, and then later in Lebanon. I remember rolling rice into a ball as I ate from a plate of mansuf at the home of middle-class Jordanians. We were mere kilometers from the king’s palace, where riches slipped through jeweled fingers instead of outward to alleviate that nation’s poverty and the squalor of the refugee camps. 
The rich of New York or Amman inhabit the same city as the poor, and the poor like it not. “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said. Which I suppose means that we’ll always have the rich with us as well.  
The assumption seems to be that the rich fare better than their poorer brethren. But I’m not all that convinced that the rich neighbors in New York or Amman bask in the sublime either. There’s never quite enough, is there? Never quite enough money or things or good times or love. For either group. So, who lives in the greatest poverty? 
Contrast this with the attitude of a number of the folk I’ve met here in Mexico. Yes, there are rich and poor, but more of the latter. Certainly more of those with modest means in the areas we visit on board Sea Venture.  
I can’t write about the places that I know only from sensational stories of murder, mayhem, and drugs. There’s misery wherever man submits to the demonic. And I’m sure there are subsets within each group here who hate other subsets, and large numbers here who also envy and covet. 
We were warned that Mexico abounds in crime. It probably does. So did the CA Delta, where another boater stole things from our boat…after all, we had and he didn’t. We’ve heard of thievery in San Carlos, but in the incident we heard about, the thief who had his hands in the cookie jar was a gringo. The fellow stuttered excuses after trying to loose  another boater’s outboard so he could "try it out for fit" on his boat. Obviously, he believed in the they-had-and-he-didn’t school of thought. He wanted, so he tried to take. 
When we first sailed into Ensenada, we heard rumors of unrest and violence, and, yet, during our six months in the marina there, smiles greeted us daily as we wandered past the gringo enclave of yatistas. Children grinned from behind parents’ legs. Mothers smiled at our “Hola!” Tour guides offered us free carriage rides once they’d dropped off their paying clients. Hawkers for one store showed us where we might find the best tacos and then escorted us so we wouldn’t get lost. Taxi drivers stopped to usher us through a stop sign when we drove anywhere and smiled as they did so. Cars halted if we stepped into the road. Their drivers grinned and waved us on. 
And then we drove north for supplies. En route, Mexicans in toll booths laughed at Michael’s jokes. Soldiers smiled and told us to pass, please. But once we got to the border, no one smiled and no one laughed and horns blared and people cursed. 
Why? What is the difference? North of the border lies the land of opportunity, doesn’t it? There are riches to be had if you work hard enough, aren’t there? Perhaps. 
Only, joy seems sadly missing on the highways, in the toll booths, in the supermarkets or restaurants and in the doctors’ offices. 
The doctors in the States fear malpractice suits. They hurry us through and then bill exorbitantly. They charge for Kleenex and gloves and Q-tips. They recommend test after test after test. Just in case. And then warn us about Mexican doctors. 
In La Paz, an English-speaking cardiologist examined Michael’s records, administered an EKG, and then discussed the results for $47. The oncology specialist did the same, going so far as to call the boat after hours (way after hours) to give me my mammogram  results. I was so shocked when a man identified himself as Roberto that I almost hung up. Roberto? Oh, right, the doctor. The GP in La Paz charged 500 pesos per visit, which can’t be more than $40, and will even make boat calls. 
Malpractice is a non-issue. One assumes the doctor cares and does his best. So, he cares and does his best. He puts the patient first, not the insurance company. He treats what needs treating and then does a little more if you’re worried – or if you must satisfy that doctor back home.  
Who is happier? The doctor with his Mercedes or the one who lives like the rest of us? The patient who pays hundreds for insurance, who lives at a disconnect from the doctor via a receptionist and then a nurse? Or the patient who pays a pittance in cash to a doctor, with instructions to call his cell phone if any problems or questions arise? And, you know what? EVERY single time the doctor has answered his cell phone and talked to us. Each one: the cardiologist, the oncologist, and the GP. 
Here in lower Baja California, the desert heat scorches, but a shy smile radiates from the old man passing on the sidewalk. He doesn’t look as if he owns much, but, oh, he is rich. What’s the difference?  
Ah! I smile. Could it be that here is a culture that values the family and hard work tempered with patience and a siesta? Could it have to do with villagers, some with few ties to the outside world, who act communally to help each other? Yes, there’s poverty. Yes, there’s dirt. Yes, Mexico is inhabited by imperfect people living in an imperfect society. And, yes, some of them have been seduced by the idea of more. But for every one of those, there are hundreds who have learned how to say gracias for the life they have.  
There will always be those who have and those who have not, those who smile and those who grumble, those who give and those who take. We align ourselves by choice. Where do you stand? Wanting more or grinning happily because you have so much – whatever so much means to you? 
By Normandie Fischer

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