The People's Guide To Mexico

WAITING FOR OK from Newspaper

The Language on Life's Road

by Sue Taylor

This article by Sue Taylor was run as a column in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times newspaper on December 2.

People often ask me, or my husband, why we drive deep into Mexico. It seems an appropriate question to address, the day after Vicente Fox's inauguration as President there. The obvious answer is that we enjoy the journey, but that's not what inquirers want to know. They wonder about danger on the road-Zapatistas, bandits, unscrupulous cops.

I have easy answers for those questions too. The Zapatista rebellion is over; don't drive after dark; get the cop's name and badge number. The recommendations are sound, but they still evade the point: What do you do if, despite your best intentions, you get in a jam? How do you manage without the support system you have at home?

Certainly the legal system in Mexico is unlike ours, but I believe that most people who get crosswise of it have been involved in something they should have stayed out of. We don't fool with politics, or controversial subjects, when we're away from home. We were even careful to remove a "Vote for Me" sticker that someone plastered on our bumper.

A personal support system costs what one costs here-an expenditure of time and effort, a willingness to reach out. We acquired ours by attending immersion language schools and living with host families. During our studies in Chiapas last summer, we and friends headed one weekend for Parador/Museo Santa Maria, a bed-and-breakfast in a restored hacienda near the Lakes of Montebello. That's a beautiful region-green mountains, ancient pyramids, a series of deep clear lakes right at the Guatemala border.

We were almost there when our car stopped dead. My husband changed the fuel filter, and the car carried us all of thirty yards before it stopped again. We found a safe place to get off the road. At 5 p.m., our friends hailed a passing bus and went back to San Cristobal for help. The town was less than an hour away, so they'd certainly be back before dark.

A young man stopped, appearing helpful and concerned. He said that if we stayed where we were, we would be killed. He mentioned our need for a crane, and for the police. He said he would go for help in Comitan, a town only minutes away.

My husband and I watched the sun go down. We watched the sky darken and stars appear. We watched cars pass without stopping. My husband spoke the thought I'd tried to ignore: "Maybe the help that young man went for was for him, not for us."

We had no food and very little water, so we just tilted back the car's seats and pretended to rest; we might need our energy later on. At ten o'clock our friends and the wrecker arrived; by midnight we were in our own bed. But by midnight, on the road, we might have been dead. Everyone said so--he grandma who watched babies so that her daughter and son-in-law could come for us; the director of our school, who eased arrangements for the tow truck; a man from Rhode Island, who took time from his guide work to help.

On Monday morning, we boarded the wrecker that would take our car across a mountain pass to the only mechanic who might be able to fix it. The director of the school was there, assisting, and I told him I felt I was going to my final exam: I don't speak Mechanic in any language. Then I whispered to him, in Spanish, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." He completed the prayer for me as a blessing, and in his language it sounded like a poem:

Dios, concedeme la serenidad para aceptar
Las cosas que no puedo cambiar,
Valor para cambiar aquellas que puedo,
y Sabiduria Para reconocer la diferencia.

Serenity, courage, wisdom--gifts from God and from new friends helping strangers in a strange land.

Sue Taylor, co-author of "Aransas, The Life of a Texas Coastal County," is currently at work on a book-length travel essay about the Maya Caribbean.

CENTRO BILINGUE DE CHIAPAS Study Spanish in the Land of the Maya Calle Real de Guadalupe #55, "El Puente" San Cristóbal de las Casas, 29230, Chiapas, Mexico.

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