I can’t know for sure what the first thing any American notices about Mexico is, but inefficiency has to be in the top ten.

I’ve commented on Mexican life’s slowish pace, and the possible tradeoffs there might be between happiness and the tightest bottom line. I’m going to try to tie a few of those ideas together in this post.

When it comes to the bathroom, I’m a morning person. None of this showering at night business or running off to class or work with a head dunked in a sink. For better or worse, a trip to the facilities has been part of my start-up routine at every office job I’ve ever worked. There are the necessities to take care of, but it’s also a brief window to read, do the LA Times crossword, center myself after the commute and get ready for the day. A spiritual time.

And Snapchats to my high school buddies

This means home to me

So it’s jarring that every day when I arrive, the young woman who cleans our office is camped out in the men’s john. It serves as a janitorial closet, a dishwashing station, and general female hangout during the course of the morning. The women’s is too small to accommodate any of the things we store in there and we can’t switch sides because the men’s has a urinal. It’s doubly troubling, because as I’ve mentioned, my diet right now is 90% black beans and coffee.

Lola (her name is Lola, short for Lolita short for Dolores) opens the building in the morning, and depending on the day does maybe ¼ of her cleaning before the staff arrives. Sometime last February, Janessa and I were working on a project that seemed urgent at the time, and we got up four or five times in the course of a half-hour so Lola could wipe down our desks, sweep behind them, and then mop after sweeping.[1] Newly adapted to life here, we started to grumble around the fourth interruption—in the States, maintenance is before or after work, in the States, employees are left to be productive; you wouldn’t find a janitor strolling into a corner office at 10am and breaking up a conference call—on and on like that.

It’s true, Lola disrupts office work. Unavoidable fact. We’d all get more done if she cleaned while we aren’t here. If Janessa and I had left service way back when, I imagine that would have been our takeaway. But now it’s not, not even close.

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To Kill a Mindset

I wrote awhile ago that Peace Corps volunteers make good bigots. Generally, statistically, we’re privileged white people traveling to all the poorer, browner, and yellower parts of the world. We arrive in classes of universal inexperience that serve as crucibles for culture shock and adjustment frustration. All of our angst and anxiety bouncing off each other in conversation after conversation. I want to get into that bigotry. My bigotry.

Hey there

Hey there

I’ve brought up volunteer chats as a mechanic twice now, and I’d like to explain. Imagine that you’re at a big weekend party with all of your friends, and after two solid days of debauch, one of your hosts sits down to tally what everyone has contributed so you can split costs and share the burden. It’s going okay, but then one of your friends starts complaining about how little she drank compared with everyone else and makes a scene over her bare-minimum contribution while the rest are happy to round up and pay it forward. You think about it for a couple of minutes after it happens and then you let it go.

Now imagine you’re one of the last to leave. It’s you, your hosts, and a couple of other stragglers. One of them says, “Can you believe how cheap whatshername was just now?”

“Yea, what an asshole,” another friend chimes in, and suddenly you’re thinking yea, she was an asshole, and you spend the next ten minutes consumed by breaking down how and why and what a total culera that chick was. Prejudice grows between us like this, through nasty little circlejerks when we aren’t paying enough attention to what we’re doing to each other.

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