Near the entrance to the anthropology museum in Mexico City an elderly woman sat on the pavement, her head bent diligently over her embroidery. Garments folded neatly on a mat beside her, immediately eye-catching, shouted their bright colours. I haggle over the last remaining smock with another customer. The memory of the holiday is too vibrant to permit leaving it behind even though I suspect the lovely garment will languish back home where the light is too grey for the tropical flowers to make sense. The other customer graciously concedes.
Then I ask for a photo, certain this is as much a mistake as the haggling; a typical patronising outsider; a tourist and the old woman, struggling to her feet, agrees without reluctance but without a smile. I explain the smock is a present for my elderly mother who would love to see who had made it and finally she grins. The customer who had so kindly gone without her smock also agrees to a photo
Zocalo the large square in Downtown Mexico City that featured in Spectre the James Bond film of 2015, slowly dismantled giant Christmas decorations. Riot police with shields lined every street corner. The President was visiting the Palacio and we assumed the high police presence was for his benefit. The Palacio containing Diego Rivera’s murals and a botanic garden, both of which we particularly wanted to see was closed to the public.
As we wove through traffic back along La Reforma, a famous boulevard in the city, in our open-top tourist bus it became obvious the police we there for another reason. The road was filled ten, fifteen deep with men and women with flags and slogans. Organised, but loud and angry. There seemed to be more than one grievance but the massive gripe was the 20% rise in the price of petrol. GOBIERNO TRAIDOR, treacherous government, a huge banner slung around the Angel, symbolic for its depiction of heroes and martyrs for Mexico’s freedom, ASESINO and RATERO would challenge any president. There have been riots already over this increase that the president had promised not to.
Other prices will rise, no doubt.
We are staying in a particularly comfortable area where dining out for breakfast lunch and dinner seems the norm for some just as begging or selling their wares, or shining shoes is the norm for others. Contrasts are huge. Financial and personal.
No huger than Britain where in the current climate they are set to widen cavernously. That yawning gap between the haves and the have nots that renders the poor invisible and hardens rich hearts to stone.
It was, up to a point, heartening to see the strength and determination of the demo although we did not witness what happened when they arrived in Zocalo to be met by the barrier of riot police shields. At home there is apathy. In spite of films such as I Daniel Blake, that should cause the gorge to rise up against the injustice inhumanity and facelessness of ‘the system’ forever stacked against those most in need of its help. Perhaps the marchers are the swathes of middlemen. Those who manage with difficulty and sacrifice but still have fire in the belly and see the proximity and the fate of those who have slipped down the ladder a few rungs.
There were young Mexicans on the tour bus quite obviously not in the same financial predicament. They laughed at the demo, they happen often . I could be mistaken and I sincerely hope so, at their total lack of concern. We need more compassion, empathy, understanding. We need something as yet unfound – more equality. Could it be as as Pope Francis says not more that we need, but less? Less disparity. The trouble is those with the most are the least likely to share.