Thursday, November 23, 2006

Rush Hour

I’m late. I can tell because the queue on the platform is already backing up onto the stairs. I weave my way through those not yet brave enough to take the plunge and find a narrow gap between the wall and the mass of people waiting for the next train. I hang around at the back until it arrives. It takes its time.

Suddenly, the air whooshes and the train is here. People getting off have to force their way out of the doors and past those pushing to get in. It isn’t pretty. They are out and the first wave are in. There is a guy hanging out of the doorway with an enormous backpack. Slowly, he lifts it above his head and eases his way into the throng. I’m glad I'm not on his train.

The doors close, then open, then close, and a recorded woman tells the packed passengers to let the doors close freely. Eventually, after another dozen repetitions of her imprecations, the train shunts off. I’m in the next wave.

When the train arrives, I’m in the middle of the throng and propelled into one of the upright supports to the side of the door. My bag is somewhere behind me and it’s hard to breathe. I manoeuvre myself around the pole and feel the click of my mobile phone unclipping itself from my belt. Luckily, it’s trapped inside my jumper by the crush of fellow passengers. I breathe in and wiggle my hand round to push it back in place. The doors do their open/close thing a dozen times and then we’re off.

Taking advantage of the bumps and turns of the train, I slowly manage to turn further round the pole in my chest and pull my bag through the passengers behind me until it’s back at my side. It’s a bit more battered than before, but nothing’s fallen off yet. Every time the train comes into a station, there’s a build up of human pressure on my side, as the people by the doors have nothing to hang on to and are kept upright by their companions. We are the pillars of this establishment.

By the time we arrive at the end of the line, the train is emptier and I have found a seat, but because of all the times the train has had to open and close its doors, I’m really late. I sneak a glance at my watch: five past seven. The class started at seven and I still have a fifteen-minute walk ahead of me. What a way to start the week.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hobbits on the Metro

A strange thing happened to me a few weeks ago. As I was crossing Metro Hidalgo to catch my train, a tiny man running for his train crashed into me. He was wearing a dark red jumper, the kind of thing a hobbit might wear.

The strange thing, however, was his reaction to crashing into a complete stranger. Instead of attempting to avoid collision, he merely threw his arms around his face. He hadn’t been running terribly fast, so once he’d got over the business of crashing into me, he dodged around and was off into the crowd. He hadn’t said a single word.

I stood there for a moment, slightly shocked, and then carried on with my journey. I wondered where he was going and why he was in such a hurry. A lot of companies here close their doors to workers arriving late, so perhaps he was desperate not to lose a day’s pay. Under these circumstances, waiting for the next train or bus is not an option.

However, it did strike me as though this had happened to him before. His casual reaction to my pedestrian blip on his work rush radar seemed to show that he almost accepted it. There’s a lot to accept here: crowded trains, long waits for the driver to pull out of the station and heavy braking which regularly spills passengers all over each other. Maybe he thought I was just another of these everyday obstacles on his way to work.

You have to put up with a lot in order to get from A to B and it seems natural after a while. Whether running the red light or dodging traffic, you get used to it. Perhaps we’re all just hobbits on the Metro, flinging our arms in front of our faces at the first sign of danger. There we are, racing across the concourse in our little hobbit jumpers, arms out front, pulling the wool over our own eyes.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The State of Oaxaca

This is an e-mail I received a couple of weeks ago from a friend whose family lives in Oaxaca. What follows is my humble attempt at translation:

Dear Friends,

Surely by now you have all heard about the incursion/repression of the PFP [Federal Preventive Police] in Oaxaca. The reason I’m writing this e-mail is to tell you that it is not true that the PFP has returned peace to the state, as [President] Fox and some media are saying. My people are going through the worst moments of their lives. The conflict is not the fault of a few ‘louts, thugs or idlers’ (among other commonly used descriptions); the movement arose from perfectly valid motives such as better wages, living conditions, etcetera. This has now gone beyond any leader. Today, nobody wants to go outdoors and people are afraid of being killed. Meanwhile, Ulises [the governor of Oaxaca] maintains his refusal to stand down.

I want you to take a look at Oaxaca and judge what's happening objectively. Don’t be satisfied with what’s being said on television. Yesterday, for example, Denise Maerker interviewed the leaders of the APPO [Popular Assembly for the People of Oaxaca], the teachers and Abascal [the Home Secretary]. She questioned the former and asked nothing of the Home Secretary. Her duty, in my opinion, is to give information about how things happen, not point fingers or make accusations (it was obvious whose side she was on).

Please give this some thought. Why hasn’t Fox sent the PFP to places such as Chihuahua, Guerrero or Michoacán, where drug traffickers have free reign to instil fear in the citizens? Those are places where I believe a firm hand is necessary, not this intimidation of the people of Oaxaca.

Finally, my friends, I leave you to reflect. I feel that it is my civic duty to inform you (my family is living through this, I’m not making it up) and I ask for your moral support.


Translated by El Pinche Británico

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Electricity Company

I am here as victim of my own stupidity. Believing that the electricity company maybe wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be, I decided to pay my bill via Internet. Nobody shot me, so I did it again. Big mistake. This time, the bill is ten times greater than it ought to be, so I had to cancel my day and sit here in Purgatory.

Purgatory is full of people sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs. They are all clutching little tickets and glance at the turn counter now and again to check that it hasn’t changed. There is a forlorn little sign dangling over an unattended desk which marks the end of Purgatory. Apparently, it’s called Public Relations.

I occasionally see people who actually work here coming out to remonstrate with the customers. They are stern and hold out little hope of an early salvation. I could save myself by walking over to the fast-moving queue of customers to my left and paying my grossly inflated bill, but I have this perverse need to know why it’s so high.

I am not, of course, left alone with my thoughts; that could be dangerous. There is a large TV in one corner of the room, blaring out housewife television to a small group of unseated devotees. It is mind-numbing.

There is some excitement at one point, as a woman who has BEEN OUTSIDE returns to reclaim her place, despite having missed her turn. There is uproar. Even the old lady next to me, who not ten minutes ago was telling her son by mobile phone that she was thinking of leaving, is outraged. ‘What would happen if we all did that?’ she cries, ‘We'd be here all day!’ She seems to forget that we’ve already been here a hell of a long time. Eventually, howled down by a bum-weary crowd, the interloper retreats.

After nearly five hours of this, I get up, donate my ticket to the patient old lady with a son on the other end of her mobile, and pay through the nose. I just can’t bear the thought of sitting for another minute in Purgatory. I give up.