It’s hard to believe that it has been six weeks since my partner and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende (SMA). But, indeed, it has, and today we are making our way back to wintry Canada. Some kind of weather goddess has smiled on us – after a long, cold, snowy and icy winter, we are arriving in Toronto to above freezing temperatures, which may make re-entry a little bit easier.
Each year, my time here gets longer (next year, I am planning a two-month stay). Technology makes this possible, because I neither want nor can afford to retire. With a good phone plan, email, google docs, zoom, skype and all the other wonderful electronic developments of the past decade or so, I can do much of my work as easily as when I am in Canada; all while sipping a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and avoiding the ice and snow.
Each year, it gets harder for me to tear myself away.
After six winter trips to SMA, I feel very connected to this place. In fact, as our bus pulled into town earlier this week bringing us back from a trip to the Sierra Gorda mountains, I felt like I was coming home.
But, of course, much as I love SMA, it is not my home. I will, despite its allure, be happy to be back where I live; spending time with children, grandchildren and friends; getting back to the parts of my work I cannot do while I am in SMA; cooking in my own kitchen; celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday with her and my siblings; watching the arrival of spring.
Lest you think I wander around here wearing rose-tinted glasses, let me assure you that I do not think SMA is perfect.
The beauty, the range of activities, the friendliness of the people, the culture, all combine to make SMA a wonderful place to visit. It would be easy to come here and ignore what is not so pretty.
We try not to do that. We understand the privilege we have by virtue of our visitor status, and we do our best to also understand the responsibilities that accompany that privilege.
Responsibilities of privilege
The first responsibility, I think, is to learn about the issues Mexico is grappling with.
The water situation is in a state of crisis throughout the country, but especially here in SMA. There is not enough of it, largely because of large-scale corporate agriculture that produces food for export to Canada and the United States. Water quality is also a serious problem – not for us visitors, who rent houses with reverse osmosis systems or bottled water at the ready — but for Mexicans, whose drinking water is contaminated with arsenic and fluoride.
Violence against women is as endemic here as elsewhere around the globe. In this part of Mexico, abortion is illegal, and women are imprisoned – sometimes for many years – when their miscarriages are deemed to be self-induced.
Of course there are other problems: poverty, the environment, drug cartels, political and police corruption. Just like every country in the world, Mexico has a lot on its plate.
The second responsibility we visitors have is to find a way to make a contribution that does not imply we think we know the solutions to these problems.
There are social justice organizations throughout the country, many of them in SMA, working to address challenges such as those I have just mentioned. These organizations – Caminos de Agua and Ser Mujer, to name just two – need our money and, in some cases, our time. Those of us who come here regularly have plenty of both and we need to contribute them. It’s a kind of cultural rent, paid against our time in this beautiful and generous place.
We also need to think about the impact of the things we do when we are in Canada. Those Mexican strawberries and broccoli in the produce department in January, for instance: do we really need to buy them when we understand the water crisis created by their production?
The third responsibility we have is to remember that, while we have a small role to play in addressing social issues while we visit SMA, we are visitors here.
Our real job lies at home, in addressing these same issues where we live: the lack of potable water on First Nations or the level of violence against women in Canada, for example.
Looking back while looking forward
As I stepped onto the airport shuttle, I found myself looking in two directions at once: over my shoulder for one final intoxicating look at the riotous bougainvillea and other colours of SMA but also ahead as I anticipated what lies ahead: seeing my kids and grandkids, getting back into the swing of work in real time and planning for my 2020 time in SMA.
Hasta luego San Miguel!