Weather Metaphors Matter — By Jennifer Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America

Weather Metaphors Matter — By Jennifer Shipp

Today I woke up in a bad mood. I’m not sure why exactly although I have a few guesses. For one, it’s been really rainy here in Guanajuato…more rainy than usual in fact. Rainy might be an understatement. There have been landslides and torrents, overflowing flood gates. That kind of thing.

I thought last week that we would be moving into our second floor this week, but the rain has prevented it. Instead of moving into second floor (which was inundated with water that dripped in on our bottom level apartment from above), we had to move all the work up to 3rd floor. The workers moved up to put up the roof in the hopes that second floor would dry out. Meanwhile, on first floor, we had water coming in from different directions:

  • The shower is not sealed along the floor so every morning, as the shower drains (slowly) the kitchen floods.
  • Yesterday evening, our patio drain clogged from the cement work on upper floors. Water started flowing in under the door into our living room.
  • The walls of our bedroom are wet with water seeping down from the floor above it. This mild wetness makes the sheets damp, the pillows are cold with a dew-like covering each night when we lay down to sleep. It’s like sleeping in a rainforest with my head on a big fluffy pile of moss.

And on top of all that it’s been cold…

A part of me has been quietly wondering if this weather is typical. I don’t remember it being like this last year, but I’ve only been here just over a year. So maybe last year’s weather was atypical. It seems strange to not know the answer to a question like that coming from the United States. In Nebraska, for example, nothing is “typical”. It’s normal to have snowstorms in June and tornados in January, for example. People talk almost exclusively about the weather and nothing else in the states because of the irregularity, I suppose. So, back in Nebraska, I would have had ample opportunity to ask someone, “Hey…is this weather normal or can I expect for things to get better (or worse)?”

Here, people talk about other things because normally, the weather is mild and predictable. People talk about the weather rarely if ever and instead stick to topics regarding government corruption or the crappy educational system. But as an American with lots of experience with weather, I have to say that weather and climate is an excellent metaphor for most things except maybe sex. Rain = sadness. Tornados = chaos. Floods = overwhelming things, etc.

Today, Roman showed up with his thumb all bandaged up to finish his work on the kitchen. John and I talked with him for a while as he was putting together his supplies. Roman talks super-fast. He tries to slow down for us. We understand most of what he says, but I think he likes to really be understood on another level perhaps. Every now and then, he’d pull out his phone to type a phrase into a translation program that gave “English” results that were completely garbled and incorrect (so I just read the Spanish). He talked about how he’s a contract worker and how that’s different from Felipe and his weekly salary. Of course we understood that being contractors ourselves in web development and writing. As we were leaving, I apologized to him for our dark mood.

“We’ve been wet a lot.” I said.

He commiserated. He said the current weather is abnormal. He lives just a few doors down from us and has been slowly working on building his house too over the course of several years. He has several little kids and he pulled out his phone again, this time to show me the water seeping into his walls. He said, “I thought I could build a big house, but I have expenses, you know? Last year, my 4 month old daughter had appendicitis and I took her to a private hospital. I have insurance, but I wanted her to have the best care possible so we paid to go to a better hospital.”

The total cost of emergency surgery on an infant + her hospital stay was $80,000 pesos (about $4000 USD).

When he said this, a look must’ve crossed my face because Roman then said, “I mean, it’s $80,000MXN for me, which is a lot of money.”

I know that Americans reading this article may silenced by the idea of any emergency surgical procedure + a corresponding hospital stay that costs $4000 USD. The average cost of an appendectomy on an adult in the U.S. runs at about $33,000 not including the hospital stay. You might think that the hospital where Roman’s daughter was treated was sub-par, but no. It’s modern and sterile. It looks a lot like U.S. hospitals.  The appendicitis procedure was likely the same in all ways to what doctors would do with a 4 month old in the states who had appendicitis. So why did it cost so much less?

Obviously, I’m still meditating on the whole business of healthcare costs everywhere in the world and how carefully calibrated they are. Who calibrates the costs? No one I know, but there is someone who works hard to make sure the costs are just so (not too much, not too little…just enough to make sure the little people of the world never “get ahead”) The people in Mexico can’t afford healthcare any more easily than the people in the states even though healthcare is much cheaper here. Roman knows that healthcare costs more in the U.S., but it would seriously blow his mind if he knew how much. What I think people everywhere don’t realize or think about is how healthcare is basic to our existence. And how when you can’t afford it, even if you don’t need it right at that moment, it eats away at your sense of rightness with the world and other people.

I’m consistently awed by how people accept the status quo in terms of things like healthcare and yet, I can relate. We’re all busy dealing with the little things like how the shower floods the kitchen every morning or how the pillow is cold and wet like moss. Most people just want to live their lives quietly and deal with their own private whirlwinds and floods. We want to be warm, dry, well-fed, healthy, and thoroughly entertained at all times. But alas, our lives intersect with others out of necessity and thank god for that. But at the same time, with every new intersection, each party has an opportunity to be greedy. To take more of the warmth, more of the dryness, the food, the healthcare, or the entertainment from the other person.

A long time ago, before I was born, when my mom was just a little girl, my Grandpa spoke out against health insurance. He didn’t believe in it. Grandpa was a patriarch. He’d spent 4 years at sea during World War II traveling to places like New Guinea, Okinawa, and the Phillipines to build bridges for planes to land on. His views were complex and solid as a result. He’d seen some shit. And he seemed to have a good sense of certain things that mattered (like healthcare) while everyone else just glibly followed what they were told to follow.

While I agree with my Grandpa’s sentiments about health insurance, I also understand that the people he argued with about it just wanted to be optimistic about the future. I don’t blame them. They didn’t want to spend all their time thinking about “what might happen” in the future. Insurance, in that regard, was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately though, now, people spend many hours of their lives not only thinking about healthcare, but also working to pay for health insurance that no longer covers the cost of their doctor and hospital visits. Insurance is the problem now, and not the solution. People are literally paying to have this problem in their lives for fear that the lack of the problem will lead to a bigger problem. It’s kind of lose-lose.

Maybe this article is about healthcare and working to change a flawed system, but I’m not sure. I think that maybe it’s about greed and generosity and how hard it is to figure out human equations regarding these two things sometimes. It makes me angry to think that there are greedy people at the top of the food chain who concoct things like insurance and feed off poorer people. A part of me imagines that if people didn’t have to pay for insurance that their lives would be better, they’d be happier, and then I’d be happier. In reality, if insurance didn’t exist, someone would come up with some other idea that they’d develop and then sell to the masses to take all their money. Coming up with ideas to sell to the masses isn’t hard. The whole idea of business is create an expectation and sell people on something they think they need (whether they do or not).

Several weeks ago, John and I bought chicken dinners for everyone on our work crew after a week of super hard labor, but the dinner didn’t seem to motivate them. On the contrary, it seemed to inspire more greed (Can we have another chicken dinner this week? The workers keep asking). That’s not surprising really. John and I thought that might happen, but we felt like it was right and fair to do the chicken dinner. But we did expect something in return: more work or harder work I suppose. This was where we went wrong.

We knew it was technically “generous” to give away chicken dinners. Some might say generosity is the opposite of greed. Sometimes though I think that generosity is the opposite of smart (which equals stupidity). The thing is though, I’m not willing to be smart because I know that I have more money/stuff than the people around me. It doesn’t seem right to be too “smart”. But if I broadcast the fact that I have more of something (money, things, etc.) too plainly or if I offer too much, I end up on the other side of things where I’m the one working out in the rain all day, begging for a chicken dinner (after everyone has ripped me off and stolen everything that I have). Maybe the problem has nothing to do with generosity or greed. Maybe it’s a problem of expectation.

This tiny little apartment we’re living in right now is cozy and luxurious for the most part. We have double-pane windows for crying out loud. I know this. I see the difference between our house and the some of the other people’s houses on the hill facing ours. Our walls don’t have holes in them, for example. We have ceiling fans and outlets with little plastic covers on them. I expect to have plastic covers on my outlets though. I expect to have comfy seating and dry bedding. And I suppose, if I were to expect less, I’d feel less wronged when my bedding is slightly damp each night. Similarly, if I expected for the workers to only work as hard as they always work after I feed them a chicken dinner, I wouldn’t be disappointed or feel wronged.

(If they didn’t expect a chicken dinner each week, they also wouldn’t feel wronged.)

Expectation makes me buy stuff I don’t need. I end up with a houseful of stuff I don’t want. And then I have to guard it with my life to keep people from stealing it. The Buddhist view that it’s best to not be attached to anything is worth considering, but only really works in practice if you’re a single male. Minimalists have tried to solve the problem, but all that movement turned into is a bunch of people with is a snobbish attitude and a particular interior decoration style that’s really boring.

What’s challenging for me is figuring out where the line in the sand is between being fair and being generous (and between being fair and being greedy). I want to see myself as a generous person (not as a stupid person). I do NOT want to see myself as a greedy person (which would technically be viewed as a “smart” way to be by many people). Daily right now, I confront this issue and the weight of it is like the bottoms of my soaked pantlegs and my shoes after walking up a steep hill during a torrential rain. The water flows in rivers at me and I just keep sloshing upward, trying not to think too much about how cold I’ll be when I finally reach my destination and sit down with wet clothes and shoes. Denial gets me through it all for a while. There are times when wading through water is a novelty and it’s fun (like at the beach) and other times when I try to deny that it’s happening (like yesterday). Denial takes a lot of effort. I don’t have much energy leftover afterwards to take up arms against the ailing healthcare system or anything that’s bigger than my own life even though the ailing healthcare system is my life. It intimately affects my life and the lives of everyone around me, even here in Mexico. When a person pays for insurance all they’re paying for is the expectation that they won’t have to pay for whatever healthcare issues happen in the future. Insurance sells expectation.

The expectation that things should be better or different is damning and debilitating. I think that the whole “Be Here Now” way of thinking isn’t as much about blissful ignorance of past and future as it is about not trying to always make things better. Maybe “better” is what I already have or had in the past. Maybe it’s what my ancestors had in the past. Can someone change the healthcare system and make it better? Not unless the word “system” no longer applies to healthcare (in my opinion). The whole idea of betterment springs from a lack of acknowledgement of what I have right now and that it’s not that bad. Okay, okay…sometimes it is that bad…but I think most of us don’t do a very good job of discerning between “not that bad”, “needs to be changed right now”.

Does it matter what color I use to paint my kitchen?

Does it matter whether or not I have air conditioning?

Heating?

A front door that closes and locks?

Does it matter that the monthly cost of my insurance would pay for 5 families to live comfortably in a foreign land (none of them would paint their kitchens, have air conditioning, heating, or a front door that closes, but they’d still be comfortable)?

Which of these things matters more?

How many of us take the time to think about what matters?

Does it matter that we don’t think about what matters?

LOL.

Nevermind.

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