In which the author rejects the advances of a gay man half his age, hangs out with Zapatistas, and speaks to a secondary school English class.
Having fled the coast, and heading for some cooler mountain climes, my first overnight is in Tehuantepec. It felt good to be somewhere where the joints werenít crawling with elites + hipsters, be they Mexicans or Americans.
So I find myself in the company of the pool hall/cervezeria manager, Gil and weíre teaching each other drips and drabs of each otherís language.
The pool hall
He asks me if Iím hungry and invites me down the street to another place, which serves real food. It turns out itís his Grandmotherís place, and he introduces me to Constanza as we pass her in the street. We join his aunt Jovina and his friend Jorge at their table and proceed to drink a lot of beer. Gil orders food, and although Iím not hungry, itís very good. We enjoy a lively conversation, during which it becomes apparent that Gil is gay. Heís fondling of my knee at the table now, confirming his sexual orientation. Iím almost twice this kidís age, Iím not gay, and I donít know whether to be confused or flattered by his attention. I know one thing, and that is that no matter what his age, heís just not doing it for me sexually. Iím thinking young Gilberto is gonna be disappointed tonight.
Jorge, Jovina, and the lovelorn Gil.
But weíve had quite a lot of beer tonight, and as I turn from the urinal to return to our table, thereís Gil just inside the doorway of the bano. I smile and make to move past him, and he moves in front of me and plants a kiss. What do you say? I ended up deflecting the kiss, and giving him a hug, to hopefully let him know heís OK, and not take the impending letdown too hard. Iím gonna try and let him down softly. Later when he returns to the table, I tell him privately, that I enjoy his company, but am not interested in anything more than a simple platonic friendship. He says that he understands. He calls for the bill from Vicky, an attractive Oaxaquena, who Iíve all ready had a flirtation with, much to Gilís consternation. At the time of the flirtation, he felt compelled to ask me whether I liked her better than him. I told him then that having only just met both of them, it was hard to say. When she returns with the bill he is abusive to her, and I can see how it is for those in economic servitude to the elites even here in this decidedly un-touristy town as she stands silently by and takes his abuse.
I can also see that Gil might be kinda crushed by being rejected by an overweight man twice his age, but thatís his lot in life for this evening at least.
He suggests that we go back to the pool hall, and I agree to join them.
Iím put off when Iím informed that Iím expected to buy dinner and drinks for all four of us. You see a lot of this kind of scamming here in Mexico, but I canít help but feel that Gilbertoís rejection by me has fueled this blatant manipulation. Itís not that bad, though, because the total bill amounts to about $29 US dollars, so I pull what cash I have from my pocket, (slight diversion into a travel tip here: I never bring all my money or wallet with me when I go out on the town in a place Iím unfamiliar with), which amounts to about $25, and toss it on the table, and hold my hands up saying that itís all I have. Tia Jovina, launches right into an explanation as to how I can get more from the cash machine in town, which I assure her I can, even If I have no intention of doing so. I tell them Iíll return to my hotel for some money and then return to the pool hall.
Having retrieved about $40 dollars from my wallet back at the hotel, I take a circuitous route back to Gilís Grammaís place and go inside where I give Vicky a tip of 200 pesos, or about $16, and probably equivalent to as much as she might make in a day serving tables. Sheís confused at first, as to whether I think I owe more than the 300 pesos Iíve all ready paid for all four of our meals and beers, but when I tell her it is just for her, she embraces me, (very cool,
), and I bid her goodnight as I head up the street to the pool hall.
When I enter, Iím grilled by Jovina and Gil as to why I returned to his grammaís restaurant, but I only smiled and ordered a liter of beer for the table. Iím sure Gil will hear later how I returned and left a ridiculously generous tip for Vicky, and it kinda pleases me to think that it will piss him off as much as it pleased Vicky. Eventually Jovina says sheís leaving, but she needs some money to get something to eat first. I just stare at her. This chick has been chowing down, and drinking beer for the last two hours at my expense and I tell her, ďNo esta mi problemaĒ. Disappointed, she eventually leaves and Gil asks if I want to shoot pool. I accede, and his barkeep racks the balls for us. He not good at game, but I end up setting him up on the last ball, and as heís nowhere to be seen, I exit the pool hall and walk up to the plaza.
Eventually, I stop into a little cervezeria, and join a group of locals at the bar. They start out skeptical of me and what Iím doing here in their little town, but after a half hour Iíve gained four new friends. The talk turns to politics, and Iím told in a roundabout way that they are Zapatistas, the political and revolutionary group that essentially declared war on the state of Mexico in 1994, capturing 4 towns in Chiapas and the federal offices located in them before the Mexican government responded and re-established dominance. The group is primarily concerned with establishing rights and eliminating abuses done to indigenous Mexicans. They were particularly opposed to the establishment of NAFTA in the early 1990s which they saw as a policy which would further enslave los indios above and beyond their all ready impoverished conditions.
When I wax eloquent, regardless of my broken Spanish, about the pedejo we recently replaced as our presidente, , my standing in this small band grows by leaps and bounds. Some of the local street art:
Eventually Rudolfo, the owner of the bar wants to close up, so someone suggests that we adjourn to the pool hall around the corner. I just laugh and nod my assent, shaking my head as I consider the twists and turns this alcohol-fueled evening has taken.
When we enter the pool hall, weíre served a liter of Corona Familiar, (a family sized bottle), and we pour drinks and toasts are made. At one point the waitress from Grammaís place is outside and smiles and waves to the gringo. I feel good about making a point of tipping her after the abuse she took from Gil.
Eventually Gil appears and informs me that I owe him another 190 pesos for the beers he bought and the pool game he suggested. I laughed and suggested that perhaps we needed the policia to sort out such a complicated matter. At that point I had three Zapatistas toasting me and endorsing my unwillingness to submit to another fleecing. So it goes. Gil retired to his corner, defeated in his amor and his mercenary tactics all in one evening. One of my new friends, suggested that I come to the secondary school where he teaches English the next day so his students might meet an Americano and answer some questions they might have about America and myself.
It was not easy, but I managed to drag myself out of bed and take a taxi to the escuela the following morning. I started by speaking to them in their native tongue, beginning as I often do by explaining that I spoke enough Spanish to appear to be kind of stupid. I continued by telling them that the world is beset with many difficulties right now, and that we need all the ideas we can muster in order to assure we arrive at the appropriate solutions. I talked about the economic power that the US wields in the world, and how English has become the de facto common language for our world. I said that as such it is important that they and other residents of non-English speaking countries learn to speak and read as much English as they can, not so that they can serve beers to American tourists such as myself, but so that their ideas might be heard by a larger audience, and so have more impact in a world hungry for new ideas.
Some of the students seemed to hear what it was I was saying and consider the possibilities, while others were more interested in my motorcycle, how fast it goes, and how much it cost. So it goes in our world this year of 2010, when America seems poised on the brink of turning a corner or falling further into the abyss of world opinion, which can be quite harsh once we leave the comfortable circles of our friends and peers back in the US. I think I did my best as an Ambassador of good will here on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Some more street art I found in Southern Mexico with a less political twist: