By Kirby Vickery from the August 2012 Edition
You had told me on more than one occasion that you feel that you have missed out on a lot of things that you could have collected in other countries because of your youthful and wild ways. You told me that your Navy experiences in foreign ports were more involved with a few bars and taverns and that if you could do it over again you would book tours of local cultural history and give yourself a chance to pick up on the way things are done and viewed in the various exotic places your ship pulled into.
As I was in the Air Force I didn’t visit any foreign ports as an adult. I went over and lived in some of these places. As a result my emphasis was on living and supporting a family rather than on gathering historical or geological data for a treatise on local charm and flavor.
Now that I’m here in Mexico, I think we both have missed out. However, in the light that I have moved into a domicile completely set up and in full operation, and the fact that I have retired, I don’t have to concentrate on the things that used to worry me. I thought I would write a series of letters to you so you could enjoy the richness of these local cultures down here with me
What I feared a little has proven not to be a worry. I thought that Manzanillo would be like so many other places along the coast of Mexico where the rich gringo had saturated desirable areas and subjugated the local population into being servants and ‘yes sir Massa’ sir’ types. It was quickly pointed out by my host that tourism ranks third down here for marketable industry. Manzanillo is the major shipping port for Mexico on her west coast. By the way, that has a story behind it which I’ll hopefully get to some other day. This area is simply loaded with rich farm land and there are; limes, bananas, mangoes, and other tropical fruit grown in profusion along with coffee, corn, and the like.
In the paragraph before, I stated plural ‘cultures’ as there is definitely more than one working down here. How I see it is that there really isn’t anything on top of anything else as far as ‘culture’ goes. There just different ones. Some are original and some are, shall we say borrowed, as if someone here couldn’t just create their own uniqueness. Let’s see if I can clear that up a little. I understand, for example, that one of the world’s richest persons lives in Mexico anyway. I haven’t seen where or how he lives but I know that he owns everything in retail so I would imagine he lives exactly the way he wants.
One can picture a rambling, hacienda type ranch with swimming pools and acres of air conditioning in the surrounding countryside with absolute insect control while the local caimans (a central American crocodile of which there is a constant watch for) all carry plastic ID badges and report for lurking duty by swiping their little cards in a hidden time clock somewhere. Money power, even here where there isn’t any (well that much anyway) still rules supreme.
At the other end of this spectrum I can place the farmers. Yes, Dan, they appear to have their own culture and it is as rich and full as that rich guy’s. Theirs is just a different world and if you judge by external emotion and overall happiness, it’s every bit as good as the rich guy’s world. It’s one that most of them grew up in and will die in surrounded by their families. I haven’t really seen too much of that world yet but from the two trips I’ve had in the countryside I’ve seen adobe houses with thatched roofs and enough electricity for a light bulb or two or no electricity at all. During the day these people are out minding their fields and going to school. In the evenings they’re outside somewhere visiting friends or down at the little shack along the road enjoying a cold cerveza or Coca-Light with others from the extended neighborhood. Then the sun goes down and the air stirs with its forever little breeze to cool things down enough to sleep or to talk quietly for a while, before dropping off.
Some have television and a few more have radios and they get the news around. Now you can take an American farmer in the middle of Kansas or that Canadian just south of Winnipeg. They require more protection from the elements because they’re not as lucky as these guys down here in the tropics. But other than that, these people are the same. You can go up to anyone of them with your hand out and get the same warm and generous greeting. Here, it’s: “Mucho Gusto!! Senior.” When was the last time in Coupeville, Washington, that someone was happy to meet you with so ‘much gusto?’ “Glad to meet you (in English),” somehow falls a little short in the sincerity arena as you look into their eyes and feel their grip.
Thus, do we, as ‘El Gringo,’ look down on them as if we’re better than them? Or do we as North American’s look down on them because we are richer, or have more comforts, or what other snobbish ill considerations we can dream up? At this point I think I could introduce you to what I have come to term as “The Ugly American.” I don’t believe that we, as guests in this country, should form such opinions about people who certainly are happier than us. Do you?
I look at it this way. We were up in the mountains and had stopped at a little roadside snack and coffee shack. It was made of thatch and had a central kitchen area which would hold two people. The covered customer seating area held five plastic tables and an assortment of chairs. I wondered aloud if the cold coffee drinks were trustworthy where the water was concerned when my host’s son pointed to the large 20 gallon water bottles and assured me that it was safe.
As we were being served over the counter style, I noticed some anemic looking coffee plants growing around the area. I was caught in my investigation by the owner, who explained that these particular plants had just been transplanted to provide a little ambiance to his business as a way to explain why they looked so unhealthy. Then something else kicked into my awareness because he just didn’t go away. He asked me to accompany him around his building where I was shown additional coffee plants ostensibly healthier. He wanted me to come with him to the other side of a small rise in back of this little shack. This is where his field of coffee was. So, in my Birkenstocks, I wondered if I were being led into a ‘bandido’ area to be raped and robbed before they killed me. However, once over that little rise, I was introduced to this man’s pride. He showed me a field, though slightly smaller than I figured it should be, of some of the healthiest, full and lush plants I have ever seen. A continuing crop (well almost) of wonderful coffee plants that any farmer anywhere would have been proud to call his. What I had in front of me was a very proud farmer and businessman and rightfully so. He is being successful doing something he likes doing.
You know I’ve done a great many things in my life and I’ve met a lot of different people all over the world. I suppose if you or I were to take a look at the world’s people to pick a friend or someone to associate with, wouldn’t it be someone like these farmers. Or these people in general. They are, as I’m learning, the salt of the earth.
Kirby was born in a little burg just south of El Paso, Texas called Fabens. As he understand it, they we were passing through. His history reads like a road atlas. By the time he started school, he had lived in five places in two states. By the time he started high school, that list went to five states, four countries on three continents. Then he joined the Air Force after high school and one year of college and spent 23 years stationed in eleven or twelve places and traveled all over the place doing administrative, security, and electronic things. His final stay was being in charge of Air Force Recruiting in San Diego, Imperial, and Yuma counties. Upon retirement he went back to New England as a Quality Assurance Manager in electronics manufacturing before he was moved to Production Manager for the company’s Mexico operations. He moved to the Phoenix area and finally got his education and ended up teaching. He parted with the university and moved to Whidbey Island, Washington where he was introduced to Manzanillo, Mexico. It was there that he started to publish his monthly article for the Manzanillo Sun. He currently reside in Coupeville, WA, Edmonton, AB, and Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, depending on whose having what medical problems and the time of year. His time is spent dieting, writing his second book, various articles and short stories, and sightseeing Canada, although that seems to be limited in the winter up there.