Yesterday I went to Tijuana.
Yes, I consciously decided to go to TJ.
My friend and his girlfriend were going to visit her family in TJ. If you’ve read any news lately, you know that TJ is not an ideal travel destination. As there is safety in numbers and because I had no plans for Saturday, I joined my friends as the all-important third wheel.
We slowly spun through the steel turnstile entrance, and then we were in Mexico. One small step and here we were. We no longer blended in with the crowds. We stood out; different and with the tangible air of American tourists.
The short drive to the family we were visiting took us out of downtown TJ and into the sprawling suburbs in the hills. Here the potholed pavement ended, and an uneven staircase, 93 steps to be exact, took you the top of the dirt hill where houses clung precariously to the hillsides.
The house was a legitimate shack.
Constructed out of discarded garage doors and scraps of lumber, it stood there, a silent witness to the poverty of the area. This wasn’t the poverty of “I only make minimum wage”. No, this was the poverty of no cars, dirt floors, and an outhouse. The shack was by no means weather tight, and had no insulation or heating. The only bed was smoothed out and offered to us as seating. But the people, even those that lived in the shack, were wonderful smiling people. Unlike the rich Americans a mere 20-minutes north, these were people who did not estimate their self-worth or identity by their belongings.
We sat outside as the festivities began. The drowsy old man singing alongside the portable jukebox represented the state of relaxation and sleepiness compared to bustling SoCal. The blasting salsa music made me wish I understood the intricacies of dancing. Instead I sat and sipped my Tecate. For me, the offered Tecate was like the proverbial peace pipe which was handed to make the stranger feel welcome and to indicate inclusion into a different culture. I appreciated the offer and of course the fact that it was a beer. It was my first Mexican beer – ever. But it was refreshing and good, reminding me of my preferred Heineken.
As the night rolled in, the jukebox continued it’s blasting tunes while groups of dancers began gathering and swaying to the rhythms. Since I was the amazing third wheel and spoke no Spanish, I had a gut feeling that I would soon be asked to accompany some unfortunate lady to the dance floor. I say “unfortunate” because in all honesty, I’m a horrible dance partner.
I was right. Three ladies were dancing and our of the corner of my eye, I saw them waving at me. I looked over in worry as the three ladies beckoned me to join them. It took several smiling and polite declines to get them to leave me alone. Now that I was forewarned, I began sipping my beers in earnest, knowing that I would need my liquid courage to attempt the salsa dance. And attempt I did. There’s no doubt that the “white” Mexican’s attempt to dance was amusing, but it was fun and they appreciated the effort.
The night continued on strong. When the Tequila was gone and the last beer drank, instead of winding the party down, a beer run was made. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, someone pitied the tipsy and sleepy gringo, so we were piled into a car and driven to an uncle’s home in downtown TJ. After a good night’s rest, we awakened and headed back to the outskirts for breakfast and goodbyes. The multiple family households all wanted the honor of feeding us so we ate a small portion at one home, then walked to the next home for another breakfast.
The simplicity and contentment of these people was so refreshing. There was only genuine hospitality offered – even to me, a non-family member. The children laughed and played with their worn soccer balls and rusty bikes, without worrying about the next video-game release or latest iPhone. Here people appreciated what life is all about – family, friends, and time spent together.
To be more specific, these people were better than the introverted yet materialistic 23 year-old writing this post. After seeing poor but happy people, what complaints do I have? Why have I made it my life’s mission to climb to the top and be wealthy? How can I rationalize devoting my one life to accumulate wealth that people better than me are happy without?
It gave me a lot to think about.
Will I cease my pursuit of wealth? No.
But I am reminded that I should never forget the people and simple things that make me happy now.