Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Walking the Camino in Mexico City

Every morning we wake early to walk. We always hope to beat traffic, but that has proved a vain hope. A government that promotes car ownership has not built the highways they need to go on, and traffic is Mexico City is among the world´s worst.

Nonetheless, the wide boulevards of Avenida Insurgentes have become our urban Camino. We walk and talk, vigilant for turning cars, but happy simply to be moving around.

We notice things on these early morning walks. Street vendors, members of the informal economy, are setting up curbside braziers to heat coffee, tea, and atole, a sweet cornmilk drink, which I smuggled into Office Max this morning. Shopkeepers take advantage of a lull in sidewalk traffic to sweep, and they are busy dispensing with a night´s worth of leaves, trash, and cigarette butts. Clubs are just closing, and tired partygoers spill onto the streets in search of coffee and cabs.

We have gotten to know some of the people we regularly pass, the vendor of atole outside the monument to Obregon in one of the city's parks, the shopkeeper where I always buy gum, and cops regulating traffic at one of the more horrific intersections.

Part of the intentional learning in this trip has been to give us ample opportunity to look, nothing more and nothing less. Then, armed with new information, we go out and look again. Because we walk every morning, I am aware of how much more I am noticing.

After an introductory lecture on the Mexican labor force, I become adept at converting the minimum wage for a day´s work (55 pesos) into the prices I see in shopwindows. After information on the "informal economy," I pay particular attention to the street vendors, who they are, how they work, what they sell, and how they get here. After hearing about social situation among mestizas and indigenous peoples, I notice the color of the faces passing by me. I have spent a lot of time looking -- and then looking again.

Looking has been a huge part of this Camino. Along with listening, we have done little else -- and we really can do little else. We haven´t built schools; we can´t revoke NAFTA, the agreement that displaced so many people from farms into the city; we can´t end racism in Mexico any more than we can end it in our own country. But we look -- and look again.

My fervent prayer is that all this looking will lead to something, for in great ways and small, this Camino, like the one we made in September, is transformative. My deep conviction is that authentic action begins with looking and listening, then asking -- as Chris Street reminded us -- "What do you want me to do for you?" It is the question Jesus asked people before he healed them. He didn´t assume anything. He didn't presume that the blind man wanted to see or that the lame man wanted to walk again. He asked first: "What do you want me to do for you?" But he asked only because he first noticed. He looked first, then listened.

This has been the shape of our Camino in Mexico City, and it's a road every bit as sacred as the road to Santiago de Compostela we hiked in September. Consider this:
we finally learned the name of the barista at the neighborhood Starbuck´s every morning, as we load up on caffeine for the morning hike. His name is Santiago.

Not a coincidence!

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