Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two worlds in Mexico

Here in Mexico, we live in a country of two worlds. The haves, and the have nots. Depending on which report you read and on which scale they measure, something like 70% of the Mexican population lives in poverty. For example, the between our house and the school the girls are at there is a large 'informal' settlement made of bits of tin and wood where a large number of people live.

But then on the other hand, there is a significant middle, upper middle, and upper class here. Big houses, flashy and frequently washed cars (you can guess who does the washing), pampered children, designer clothes - the whole bit.

Last week I was travelling through Mexico City airport and had a really clear demonstration of the two different levels of living in Mexico.

Like many airports in the world, in Mexico City its hard to tell sometimes whether you are in an airport, or just in a shopping centre with arrival and departure gates. The terminal is wall to wall shops, selling all those travel essentials like large bottles of alcohol, 1.5kg toblerones, designer clothes, sunglasses and watches.

While I waited for my flight I was reading my book (ironically on the topic of money and wealth) and noticed one of the airport cleaning staff emptying the bins. Pretty standard stuff - expect for the fact that she wasn't just emptying the bin, she was sorting it and keeping any scraps that were useful. A half eaten muffin here, a couple of ketchup sachets there. The remnant chips from the bottom of a McDonalds bag and an untouched tortilla. Into her personal bag all these things would go.

Into another bag would be the PET bottles, the cans and any reasonable piece of cardboard - presumably for selling later on.

But what really caught my eye was that as I watched this process, the backdrop was the precisely arranged and brightly lit display window of a top end clothes outlet - full of customers trying on items which if push came to shove, I doubt they actually needed.

It was as if the cleaning lady was a performer who had somehow wandered onto the wrong stage.

Living in Mexico is forcing me to think a lot about questions of wealth, poverty, greed and economics - and scenes like this are certainly adding material to the thinking process.

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