Inspirational thoughts and random writings from the alumni and friends of Quad-Cities Christian Writers Conference.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Culture Shocks

By Charis Seeley

My husband, Matt, and I have been planning a vacation to Acapulco, Mexico for a couple months now and we returned from the trip just a few weeks ago. For the most part, we had a fantastic time.

While we were planning our trip, several sources warned us of things to expect south of the border.“Don’t drink the water!”. We heard this from anyone and everyone before we left. On the home page of our hotel’s website, they advertised “We filter our own water!”. Sure enough, whenever we ate dinner out, the waiter would bring us bottled water. Fortunately, we avoided drinking any contaminated water, which would have put us out of commission for at least a day.

The second thing we heard was “Is that really safe?”. I honestly didn’t think it was such a big deal-- until I started looking into it. Turns out there had been a fair amount of violence in Acapulco recently, including several murders and a case of beheading. However, all these events happened late at night, outside of a nightclub, and somehow involved cocaine. We assigned ourselves a curfew of nightfall to return to the hotel. We felt safe most of the trip, though one day we passed by a traffic blockade of Federal Police, who were wearing bullet proof armor, black face masks and carrying AK-47’s. While this was scary, but more upsetting is that we grew accustomed to the heavily armored police’s presence in only a week.

The local police had a much bigger impact on our trip. Matt had read online that local cops will pull over tourists driving rental cars, but instead of ticketing them, they’ll accept “instant fines”. This is also known as a bribe. Before we left, we decided “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” We did get pulled over, twice. Matt didn’t run a red light either time. In fact, there was no traffic light on either occasion. Both times the cops threatened us with a huge fine that we would have to come to the precinct to pay. They then turned on their good ‘ol boy faces, smiled and offered us an “instant fine”. When Matt asked how much that was, they both replied “How much do you have in your wallet?” Bribery? More like robbery.

The last shock of the trip came on our fourth day. We were walking downtown along the main road/highway, looking for an Internet cafe. I saw a young woman sitting on the pavement ahead of us. Next to her was a small white sheet covered with “jewelry” she was selling to tourists. (I use the term jewelry very loosely. It was all plastic and likely not worth the elastic that held it together.) She had two children with her. The eldest, about six years old, was taking a nap on the pavement, using his mother’s outstretched ankles as a pillow. The younger boy was about 8 months old and struggled to escape his mother. He could sit up and was learning how to crawl, but there was no sheet or blanket for him to play on. He was crawling on the rough pavement. I have a 17 month old toddler at home, and when she’s not into everything, she’s running everywhere. Highway traffic sped by this family, not five feet away. The little boy’s knees, soft, smooth, baby skin knees, would soon be scratched, scabbed and eventually calloused from the ground. My heart broke.

It broke for the baby and for his older brother who would have to take care of him when he learned to walk, but mostly my heart broke for the mother. Her only form of income was selling plastic junk on the sidewalk. I’ve never seen anyone look so beaten down by life. Helplessness is the worst enemy of every mother. The inability to provide food and shelter for our children is our deepest and most primal fear.

While these stories make our trip sound awful, it was actually seraphic. The sun was warm and inviting. We were free of stress and responsibility for a week. Perhaps a little culture shock is helpful every now and then, it can remind us of the gifts that God has given us and encourage us to not take them for granted.

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