I don’t wear my ipod in the street cos i’m trying to make friends

Leaving your home in Mexico City automatically puts you in serious danger of getting hit by a rapidly moving vehicle, or simply a ‘soccer mum’ style, city dwelling 4WD reversing out of the car park of a 7/11. Which is precisely what I witnessed yesterday, when a slight framed, elderly woman got violently knocked to the ground. The man driving emerged with his mobile phone earpiece in place and hair slicked to perfection. Despite having reversed with a lead foot, I was surprised at the impact the large car had on the tiny lady. She fell like a histrionic soccer player angling to get the ref to award his opponent a yellow card, but this was no act. The shaken woman rubbed fiercely at the spot on her head where she’d passionately kissed the very well trodden slice of Mexico City pavement. The man was twice her size, nearly half her age and was mumbling like a defamed adolescent; “lo siento mucho señora, la cosa es que no le vi, I’m so sorry maam, the thing is I didn’t see you”. BULLSHIT! The thing is, he just wasn’t looking! The value of your life, as a pedestrian in Mexico City, is worth little to nothing, you’re invisible or you’re simply a moving target.

Just down the road from my apartment is a huge intersection. Eight lanes of traffic travelling one direction on one side, and eight lanes which intercept this section perpendicularly, plus an additional two lanes dedicated exclusively to the Metro Bus, an elongated bendy bus which traverses the city via two separate routes, north to south and east to west. It has an exclusive lane and runs just as efficiently as the incredible Mexico City underground metro system. At my intersection there are three separate sets of lights and three corresponding signals which alert those on foot when they have been allocated time to cross the street, officially, legally. It gives the pedestrian a time indication, counting down from a number, in this case forty-nine seconds. These signals inform the walker that they have precisely that amount of time until their right to cross the street “safely” has ceased and the right of way is returned to those with motorised vehicles.

This intersection is reliably busy. In a city of 28 million you’re hard pressed to find an intersection that isn’t crawling with people; on foot, in cars, on buses of varying sizes, motorcycles and even the odd pushbike. Every single time I am presented with the scene that unfolds at the changing of the lights I involuntarily mutter a colourful tirade of abuse, which ranges from utter disbelief to the most pure anger. The scene goes a little something like this…

After an extremely generous period of time, the lights change from green to flashing green where they pulse for around five seconds, sending a clear warning to the driver that an orange light will soon follow. The traffic continues to stream through at high speed. The lights eventually switch from flashing green to orange and yet the tide carries on without showing any signs of slowing down. Orange becomes red, yet somehow no one seems to notice. The green man has sprung to life! The pedestrian countdown has commenced! The river of metal flows forth and does not cease for around 10 seconds; you can time it on the pedestrian countdown clock.

49, 48, 47…

Horns from the opposing team of traffic begin to sound, they edge forward, slowly, persistently, with stifled urgency, no one wanting to be out there in front, in the firing line, alone, for there is strength in numbers.

46, 45, 44…

They’re centimetres from colliding now but the red light runners just keep cruising through. I observe this scene with a mixture of astonishment and glee, frustration and nervous excitement. My eyeballs bulge, my chin drops. It’s as if I want them to crash, it would teach them a lesson, but in reality witnessing the scene both aurally and visually completely horrifies me.

43, 42, 41…

The thing that baffles me throughout this scene of absolute un-choreographed chaos is the ability of these humans to act so selfishly. It’s as if 50 different people, in 50 different vehicles, think to themselves, “just me, just little old insignificant me, I’ll sneak through this intersection, even though the light has been red for seconds now. No one will notice if I just quickly duck through.” But each “little insignificant one” of them is having the same thought, at the same moment, and they cruise through, eating into the opposing traffics time of green light, forward motion and taking a hearty chunk out of the pedestrians allocated 49 second cross slot. How can they be so selfish? So inconsiderate? So willing to risk their own lives, the lives of those in their vehicles AND the lives of those they don’t even know who solely desire to reach the other side of the street or their destination, which happens to lie in a different direction? It’s unbelievable, and yet, you can be sure that time and time again, each side continues to inflict it upon the other…

As I stand there anxiously on the rim of the footpath, eager to burst forth and express my right as a pedestrian I contemplate another question; is it possible that the people of Mexico City just value their lives, and the lives of others that they may or may not know, differently? After all, the Mexican perception of death is definitely “different”. I say this for many reasons, one being that among the biggest selling “newspapers” in Mexico City is “El Grafico” and to purchase it will cost you only 3 pesos, which is around 25 cents. Each day this paper, and many others just like it, boldly exhibits on its front cover, and throughout the pages that follow, graphic (albeit occasionally incredibly artistic) photographs of mutilated, bloodied, lifeless human bodies. People who prior to the photograph being captured had mothers and fathers, sons or daughters, pets, a job, whatever! They were living, breathing, walking, talking human beings and then…

CRASH! POP! SLASH! BANG!

They’re dead.

CLICK!

And just like that, their red stained, limp bodies, faces and full names are splattered all over this 25 cent “newspaper”, displayed at every street stand, just below the porno mags, at a height which is visible to tall people and short people alike…and just so as we’re all on the same page here, by ‘short people’ I am referring to children!

What effect must this daily sighting of death have on the mentalities of a population? I know that although I find their presence extremely confronting I am consistently drawn to sneaking a glimpse at them. How do the families of these freshly deceased humans cope with seeing their loved one captured in high definition colour print, beneath the words of some tacky headline? What might the desire to purchase these “newspapers” say about the beliefs, the culture, the religion, the brutal past and the future of the inhabitants of this extraordinary city? Is it an indication of the value they place on living and dying? And what, for that matter, might it suggest about their attitude toward driving and their utter lack of consideration for other drivers and commuters alike?!!

For some time, I have found that traditional westernized death ceremonies and the ways in which death is approached, treated and mourned to be impersonal, highly sanitised and largely unsatisfying. For those left behind it does not provide a solid platform to come to terms with their loss or to grieve properly.  Some funerals may be better than others, yet a massive, physical separation remains between the living and the dead. A person is not given a great deal of time nor space in order to process the severity of the situation. Or is the “severity of the situation” one of the defining factors here? Is the concept of death and dying less “severe” among some cultures? If dying doesn’t signify ‘the end’ then it’s not like that person has been removed from your life altogether…

In my experience it is unusual, once the funeral and the wake have ended, that events are held, over the days, months or years that follow, as a means of remembering the dead or celebrating the life they led. Although this may sound like a huge generalisation it is a reflection of my personal, and thankfully quite limited, experiences with death. However events of this flavour occur in Mexico every year during the Day of the Dead celebrations, when families and friends of deceased loved ones gather to remember and commemorate the lives they lived. Obviously other forms of religious ceremony and death rituals exist within Australia also. Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu cultures, Indigenous Australians etc, have intricate rituals and ceremonies that they practice when the necessity to deal with a death arises. Is it possible that ceremonies such as these help the family and friends of the dead to make a more realistic evaluation of the situation? To mourn and to properly come to terms with their loss? Perhaps the idea of having lost the person becomes less surreal…

Through our channels of communication in Australia we are rarely, if ever, presented with graphic images of death. What a person looks like or feels like once they have ceased to live remains a mystery. Our ideas are constructed from a distance via the scenes we observe in film, read in books, or hear via retold stories, as well as our vivid imaginations. None of which, in my opinion, would prepare one for the reality of losing someone. But what could possibly prepare you for that?

Reading the daily newspaper in Australia, you might come across a story about the death of a human but generally that’s only if the circumstances under which they lost their life are shocking, unusual, mysterious or a combination of all three. Certainly the actual numbers of people that die in a day are not reported, therefore we’re not really aware of the amount of people who are affected by death daily. And even if we were, would it feel more real? Would it touch us personally in some way? Would it cause us to reflect on how we value our own lives and the lives of those around us? Would it change the way we lived each day or our behaviour toward one another?

During the holiday season there are news reports about ‘road toll’ statistics, numerical comparisons between states, on how many people have been killed on the roads. These figures just don’t seem to have the same impact on me that the brutal, raw, photographic evidence exhibited in the Mexican ‘death papers’ have. I don’t pretend to believe that by being inundated with images of countless dead strangers on a daily basis helps people to come to terms with losing loved ones but I do find the fascination for consuming and reviewing these papers intriguing and I do believe it could be a reflection of some aspect of Mexican life and culture.

The traffic finally begins to slow.

40, 39…

My eyeballs are fixed on our clock counting down the seconds and as the first brave walker steps off the curb, the human behind the wheel in the first lane of traffic appears to be surprised by their presence. I silently give a victorious cheer and massive respect to the courageous pedestrian front line. “YES!! Go you legends, take the power back! Whose streets?! OUR STREETS! Yeh that’s right, you car driving pendejos, it’s OUR turn to cross! See that little green flashing man up there?!? He’s ours! He says! IT’S OUR TURN!!”  I imagine myself running across the street, to and fro, taunting the traffic. My very own victory lap. Us pedestrians huddle together as we cross the wide stretch of road. We are a rapidly moving mound of clothed flesh and bones. We take refuge on the other side and I suppress a burning desire to hi five my fellow pedestrian warrior. We survived! You won’t be seeing any of our faces on any front pages, not today pal.

That’s one section tackled, now to battle the next…and then the next.

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About Nicky Jackson

I am a Communications + International Studies student majoring in México. View all posts by Nicky Jackson

2 responses to “I don’t wear my ipod in the street cos i’m trying to make friends

  • nikki m

    What a way with words Miss Jackson!
    You are a delight to read and absorb.

    This story brings back the shock and awe I felt on my first trip out of Australia to Bangkok about 20 years ago and the experience of attempting to cross some multi laned nightmare road of constant screaming traffic. It was a matter of clutching your innards together in faith and fear and making an almighty dash…
    And similarly to the Mexicans, they love their trashy lurid mags filled with plane, train, car crash & murder victims, hideous collages of photos of decomposed, bloody corpses & bloated cadavers.
    I often bemoan the overabundance of rules, regulations, laws and other pesky legal restrictions in Australia that cramp our style, from locks outs at pubs & parks to all matter of traffic violations, but being able to cross the road at a flashing green man with a minimal risk of appearing in ‘Mangled Carcass of the Day’ does have its advantages. But hey you guys over there are really LIVING!

    keep it all coming lady, & don’t sweat the high fives, the respect is evident & I can feel love! Can’t wait to hang with you in your new home

    xxx

  • Ben Jah Min

    Terrific story! You got the gift to tell one. And interesting points raised on the issue discussed. On death displayed, I have found it is not that life has less value or that death is less severe in poorer nations, but rather that people who live in these places are not so insulated from death as we are in ‘the West’. It is a reality faced head-on (excuse the un-intended reference to Mexican pedestrian accidents!) I do agree with you, that Mexicans or those from similar nations I have visited where body pictures are freely printed, are no more curious than we would be if such a newspaper was on sale in a Surry Hills newsagency!

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