Instead of buying souvenirs when we go overseas, I buy newspapers in the countries we visit. I learn little bits and pieces of languages recreationally (except for Spanish, which I’ve studied in greater depth) and the newspapers are fun to decipher, they earmark the current goings on and the photo journalism often speaks volumes in itself. Best of all newspapers are easy to carry. They don’t take up much space on the trip home which is important if the journey home involves a lot of overland travel.
On our first trips abroad, I often brought home the crushed fragments of mass produced knock-offs of things I didn’t care about once we got home. (“This statue is carved out of bone by the hardworking indigenous Mayan people…” the salesman tells us, but when it’s in pieces in our suitcase at home, we can see that it’s actually made of cheap plastic.)
Since we live in an old public school building (15,000 square feet total), we have plenty of room for souvenirs, but I don’t want to turn into a collector. I mean, I’m definitely not a “collector”. No one will care about the little trinkets that I collect on my trips once I’m dead. Sometimes I think about the arbitrariness of a salt and pepper shaker collection, the brainchild of my mother, to remind myself why trinkets don’t matter. One year, she decided to create a collection of salt and pepper shakers because when Christmas and her birthday rolled around, she never knew what she wanted for gifts. This way, there would always be something people could buy her. One day my brother will probably inherit those worthless containers and feel compelled to find a place for them or suffer the guilt of throwing them away.
I don’t want to do this to Lydian. So we buy newspapers on in all the countries we visit.
Unfortunately, the Mexican newspapers have so far proven to be pretty grisly. Last year, I remember the photos of the Veracruz bus massacre. There were probably several bus massacres in Veracruz, but I remember one specifically because the photos were all over the front page of a paper that I saw at the bus station. In fact, I earmarked Veracruz as a very dangerous place on the basis of the photos that I saw. I have never seen in person or in photos, such a blatant portrayal of tragic, bloody death scenes as those that littered the front pages of all the Mexican newspapers. A boy’s skull crushed, draining blood and brains onto the pavement, eyes still open (a close-up view). A van full of police officers killed in a shoot-out, an “assassination” to be exact. An elderly man lying dead in the street among trash and debris. At first I thought the poor bloody souls in the paper were dead criminals, but when I looked closer, I saw the badge of one of the officers. Mayans sometimes won’t even let you take their photos in their Sunday best. But wait…it gets worse.
If you don’t want to see, don’t scroll down and don’t continue to the bottom of the page.
A decapitated body with a lurid “R” on the lapel, bare feet, laid out like a prop for a horror movie set graced the third page of the Christmas Eve paper (headlines = Eve of Hell). A list of murders and tragedies listed by state surrounded the image. I’m currently using the list as a reference to determine whether we could actually drive somehow from here to Mexico City and back. (Oh look…there’s Tabasco’s write up…and Chiapas. Heck, we’ve already been there and except for the silent, still bodies lying along the road leading to San Cristobal de las Casas, nothing seemed out of place—I’m totally serious, by the way. John said, “If we see one more of those, we’re turning back.” On body #3 we went back toward Palenque).
Violence happens everywhere. There is danger in all corners of every part of the world. Risk of death and injury exists everywhere. I can accept this, but there are subtle differences between stupidity and ignorance, educated risk-taking, and the inability to sum up the nerve to do even the safest journey. The question of whether to go on any particular journey is similar to the question we had about the motionless bodies along the road leading to San Cristobal de las Casas…Are those people stupid, dead, or just unconscious? It takes time and some silent meditation to determine which category a travel-decision belongs to. Am I being stupid by going there? Am I being stupid by not going there? Am I so scared to live that I don’t take any risks? Etc. Some people say a particular trip is safe. Some say it is dangerous. The decision about whether to go or to stay usually pivots around probability and necessity, costs and benefits.
In Guatemala, according to some reports, you’ll be driving down the road in broad daylight and people will throw logs into the highway. If you stop, they’ll rob you and then kill you. John read about this the day before our overland journey there.
“So what do we do if we’re on the way home and there’s a log in the road?”
“We turn around…” He said. “And hope they haven’t thrown logs out on the road going the other direction.” Then he laughed and said that you just “keep driving back and forth” until you wear them out. It was during this conversation that his vote became decidedly to stay in Mexico rather than going overland to Guatemala City.
I emailed a missionary living in Guatemala about Spanish classes for Lydian. He told us, that Guatemala “isn’t safe enough for things like that.” What he meant was that we couldn’t drop 12 year old Lydian off at a Spanish class and expect that she would survive, untouched, untraumatized. (This family living down the road from where our vacation rental was located also has a 12 year old.)
So, in Guatemala, if a strong wind blows a big branch into the road, people have to turn around and go the other way thinking there are banditos waiting for them in the woods. How do people make it to work on time? How do they get home? What if there’s a log in your driveway?
People will rob areas with Wi-Fi Internet in Guatemala knowing that residents probably have computers in their houses. The violence in some Latin American countries isn’t nearly as sensational to United States media resources as bombs and terrorist attacks in the Middle East, but I believe it’s far more insidious and more dangerous if one were to look statistically at the odds of being violated, assaulted, or murdered as a tourist. People threw change on the ground in Costa Rica to rob us. We’ve been stalked even in “safe” countries in Latin America.
But I digress.
It’s possible to be in violent places and not be affected by the violence. Indeed, a lot of people go to really violent areas of the world and have a very Disney-like experience of it, never suspecting that there’s anything to fear. Call it luck, but I think there might be more to it. I’ve never personally liked watered-down experiences much (when we visited Disneyworld with 3 year old Lydian, she asked to leave early…and we gladly did), but I also don’t like to wander dumbly into danger. In Mexico, the newspapers definitely keep things “real”. Images I saw last year in Por Esto! are still with me a year later.
The news is always pretty sensational in Mexico. Especially the photography. Normally, I put newspapers from our travels on a little table by the couch for Lydian’s friends to peruse when they come over, but Mexican diarios are hardly of the “coffee table literature” variety.
I read yesterday that Veracruz state is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Today I read that in 2012, 3012 vehicles in Mexico were fitted with armor. Newspapers are even subsidized by the government. One would think they’d present a rosier view of things. It doesn’t make sense. But I suppose when you have lots of grim photo opportunities, it’s possible to state the facts pretty simply and still the get the seriousness of the matter across.