AaronCarter's Travel Journals


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  • 29 years old
  • From Minnesota, United States
  • Currently in Oaxaca, Mexico

Cross-cultural Experience: 2012: Economy and its Impact on Life.

This journal entry is about some of the things that I have seen in the last four weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Economy and its Impact on Life

Mexico Oaxaca, Mexico  |  Jun 10, 2012
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This would be an opportune time for me to talk about many of the things that I have learned, how I have grown, and changed through my first month here in Oaxaca, Mexico. However, to make such generalized cliché statements, in regards to the stark contrast between the living conditions of the United States and Mexico, I feel would only reinforce the stereotypical image that is portrayed about Mexico or other parts of the world which would be considered “third world.” Instead, I would like to attempt to draw a picture that would most accurately reflect some of the things that I have seen and experienced in the last few weeks. It is also important to note that my description, of course, is not all inclusive. There is no denying that a firsthand experience trumps any attempt of recreating an image through descriptive writing.

                From the outside looking in I believe that it is very easy to make grand, and very generalized, assumptions about a population. I myself had many expectations and stereotypes before I came and many of them still with me. Now, I would like to disclose that I do not claim to have any firsthand experience about the lives that these people live and my thoughts are purely based on observation, I myself, still am, and will be for the next twomonths, an outsider looking in (although I may have a better view than on television). There is no denying that life in almost every aspect is different for many of the families in Oaxaca, this comes as to no surprise. One could argue that poverty among families in the United States is very common and many similarities could be made, however this would be an assumption based purely on financial prowess. There is a difference between being able to afford a cell phone and being unable to pay for one pair of properly fitting shoes. Many of the people here in Oaxaca earn about $6 to $10 a day if a person were to work as a store clerk or sell things on the street. Although, of course, this number varies, it is used to give a reference point to paint a picture of the type of lives that many of these people live. On the other hand Audis, BMWs, and Porches are a fairly common sight to see parked along the sides of the streets.

This economic inequality is one of the things that has been the most interesting to me thus far during my trip. Economics affects almost every single aspect of life and its prevalence is one of the leading factors that contrast the differences between Mexico and what would be considered wealthier nations. It could be described as a bittersweet problem depending on perspective. Due to the relative low income of many people that live in Oaxaca, it forces a greater sense of civic responsibility among the population, especially among the rural pueblos that surround the city of Oaxaca. During one of our monthly excursions to a rural town we had the opportunity to work with some of the locals on painting what was to become a new museum for the town. They told us that it was expected of the people that lived in the town to volunteer a certain number of hours to the community, this included cleaning the local church, construction projects, and any other responsibilities that may have been performed by city employees back in the United States.

                In many aspects the culture of Oaxaca is one that requires reliance on other individuals in the community and especially family. It is not uncommon for single people to live with their families well into their 30s until they are married. A barter system is very common and rather than exchange of money it is rather an exchange of trades based on a person’s word (if I give you a hand now you will give me a hand later). This is a necessary and important part of the culture in Oaxaca. I believe that because the financial opportunity in the United States allows us to have opportunities to be more independent our reliance on one another is not as necessary and we have the ability to “hire out” work that would need to be done. It would be very unfortunate to lose the close intimacy and friendliness that seems so prevalent among the citizens of Oaxaca. To say that financial reasons are the sole catalyst for this disparity between the Mexican culture and that of the United States would be far too all encompassing and quite vague, however I do believe that it is an important factor to be considered.

                We have also had the opportunity to visit some of the local villages during one of our excursions with Proworld. My favorite excursion thus far being the visit to the nearby village of Teotitlan which has a population of around 5,000 inhabitants. This town is renowned for the rugs that they make which are more of a work of art worthy of being hung on a wall than walked on, on the floor. Most of the people who reside in this village speak Zapotec as well as Spanish. I have also had the opportunity to make friends with one of the locals of the town who brings the rugs to the center of Oaxaca to sell. He taught me about the amount of time that is put into each item that they make and that many of the families bring their items into the town and form a type of co-op and split the profits among the families. Watching them make these large rugs it was very evident to see how exhausted one would become while making these handmade rugs on this wooden loom. He went on to tell me that the average person will spend about five hours a day making rugs and although this would not translate into a full 40 hour work week in the United States, the effort, precision, and manual labor, I believe, could not be equaled by the majority of occupations in the United States.

                Anyone who knows me, knows that whenever I have a question answered, there are usually twenty more that follow. I am not an economics major and know very little about macro economics in general. However, the past couple weeks I have dug a little deeper to find out why there is such a large gap between the economic opportunities of Mexico and the United States. Although I am sure that there are many books written on the subject I would like to come at this scenario as it relates to what the people who live here day in and day out have told me. Some of the things that I have learned in nursing school has shaped the way I view problems. Nursing is always focused on the patient at hand and the numerous variables that have a cause and effect relationship with them. A single patient has numerous factors that go beyond simple (or complex) physiologic processes, which include such things as economic factors, family life, support systems, faith, etc. So when I pose the question of why the economy in Oaxaca seems so different I would like to view the problem with this set of logical tools.

                I see many people on the streets of Oaxaca every day many of them seemingly begging you to buy something from them. The wrinkles and sunspots on the faces of many of these workers is a visual reminder of the long hours spent working in the streets under the beating sun, selling small knick knacks to anyone who shows even the slightest interest… These items can range from wooden cooking utensils to things very similar to happy meal toys. Their endurance is one of their most impressive attributes. I do not know how many items that these people sell per day but I have yet to see someone actually buy a product from one of these individuals. They are different from the street vendors as they appear to have less alluring product, and most likely do not have the resources needed for a street stand.

                  I sat at a central location of Oaxaca that is normally bustling with tourists and watched a man attempting to sell a toy frog. When the frog was pressed its tongue would fly out of its mouth. Although entertaining at first, the squeaker that accompanied it quickly became more than bearable… I can only imagine the amount of stress that, this squeaker would cause to the parent of a four year old child with his new frog in hand, squeaking it continuously. I watched this man for approximately 15-20 minutes trying to sell these toys that one would find at the local dollar store back in the United States. Watching this man being rejected one after the other, and often times being completely ignored, began to really make an impression on me. I know very little about this man, he was lean and lanky gentleman probably in his late 40s but looked older due to seemingly too many hours in the sun. He wore a long sleeve button up shirt that was probably two or three sizes too large. Black dress pants and very worn out black leather shoes that seemed to be well past the time of retirement. He walked with a slow but steady gait and a slightly hunched back which emulated an appearance of exhaustion. I don’t know this man’s story, however, I wish I did. I wish that I could learn about all of the factors that affected this man’s life that led him to be where he was on that particular day. Where did he grow up? What did his parents do for a living? What type of education did he receive? Is he supporting a family? How can this man get up every morning knowing full well that he will be rejected throughout most of the day…? It is difficult to imagine the amount of humility that, this particular occupation would take. It is also difficult to imagine that this man likely has no other choice…

If we were to take this man and make him an N number just as most statisticians would. We would be guilty of ignoring the life story that this man has to offer. And although only one of millions of other attempting to make ends meet, I believe that it is important not to ignore the life stories of these people based on the idea that because it is impossible to gain the perspective and the factors of all people who are in a similar situation, it is therefore less important. Quantitative statistics are one of the best tools that we have in making evidence based decisions, however, I believe that it is easy to lose the personhood of what these numbers represent and it is difficult to take into account many important factors.

                As the weeks have gone by I have become more and more comfortable here in Oaxaca and it has been a great experience thus far. As some of you are probably wondering about the clinic that I am currently working at, I hope to have a detailed update within the next week and a half. 

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  • Economy and its Impact on Life

    June 10, 2012
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