I would say we keep our distance. I prefer that my hands are clean. I want to want to look more closely at life, to face certain facts about the world, but when I do it’s with shock and sad horror. Perhaps I’m too empathetic. Or is it selfish? Or just squeamish. Maybe I would rather just ignore so as to forget. You know in The Beach (the novel and the movie) when that shark bites a Swede and the group consensus is to move him away from their camp, to abandon a dying man in the forest, because it is quite easy to go on blithely when he is out of sight? When confronted by how people are living, the reality of poverty, I feel very unnerved. I start having all kinds of thoughts. Political thoughts, wild ideas about economics and society. It’s too like youthful passion. I’m indignant! These conditions are inhumane! The disparity and unfairness of it all! I shirk from those reactions and flee to the brightly-lit safety of the mall. This is not a metaphor for the cold comfort of consumerism. This is literally what we did after a friendly visit to the government housing development in Flamboyanes, midway between Progreso and Merida. Let the forgetting begin! Except I can’t.
They didn’t seem unhappy. Each 10×10 house of new concrete construction is inches from its neighbors and out front are various Saturday scenes: three generations cooking fish on some bit of steel over flame, a gaggle of men staring down at an engine, furniture being unloaded and strewn around outside because it is move -in day and space is limited within. There is something in the air besides the smell of smoke and fish. Is it excitement? For many this is their first home. They are owners. Previously they had rented or squatted in plywood and tin shacks sinking into the Chixulub swamp. Is it pride or trepidation? The town is swelling but it is not organic. This is no pueblo. It has a small amount of charm but mostly there is no character yet. There haven’t been holidays, no one has been born or died in this makeshift village. It’s a blank slate that they will make it in their image. I have no idea what it will become. But it isn’t for me. Who am I to judge? I live a million miles away nearby and am merely a tourist in this experiment. But it is not an experiment, it is life. Men, women, and children whom I can know a little but will never really understand. It makes me feel something like despair when I would rather feel pleasant or nothing at all.