Fiona St ClairIn my current neighborhood in Merida, Yucatan, you have to walk slowly and stay alert -- not because of any dangerous people around, but because Mexico has never quite gotten the hang of, or even the concept of, sidewalks. In this part of the city, they are about four or five feet wide. Kinda. They may originally have been installed by the government, but that was decades ago. Now they are the responsibility of the property owners.
In the seven blocks between my house and the closest convenience store where I can buy milk, toilet paper, and sundries, I encounter only one relatively short, relatively level stretch. The rest is broken up by ramps for car ports or doorways, by places where the concrete has crumbled away and weeds and even trees are pushing through, by electric poles, by guy wires for electric poles, by street signs, and by items that have overflowed the houses or businesses. Sacks of rubble in front of a house under reconstruction, assorted metal grills in front of an ironworker’s establishment, two jacked-up old vehicles in front of a mechanic’s shop.
I have to watch my feet or I will do a face plant every few meters. But I also have to watch my head to avoid the low iron brackets supporting an air conditioner and the electric meters. And I have to bend double at the waist to go under the branches of a mango tree spilling into the street. The mangos on the lower branches are still green, but the ones higher up, where they get more sun, have turned a beautiful red.
At the ancient hacienda I restored, south of the city in a tiny pueblo and where I lived for several years, I had to watch my feet for other reasons. There were no sidewalks, only white gravel paths between one building and another. There, I didn’t have to worry about the unevenness of the path – it was all uneven and yielding and only partially lit. There were no cement or metal posts or unforgiving curbs in my way.
But I was sharing the path with snakes, not all of which were benign or harmless, with scorpions, with frogs and toads in the rainy season, and with processions of ants going about their busy business.
Watching my feet has taught me to slow down, has taught me to notice things that I would otherwise have passed by. I have learned patience. I see more. I have the time to appreciate and curse a column of leaf-cutting ants carrying off the leaves of my favorite jasmine vine. I step aside for snakes and scorpions, but alarmed, they also scuttle for the undergrowth. They pay attention better.
In the city, I watch the slow restoration of an old house and come to recognize the workers there. I have the time to meet a gaze and greet a fellow-walker on a city street. A smile exchanged.
Where was I going in such a rush anyway?
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