Saturday, April 16, 2011

Safety and Security in Mexico

Shortly after I got here I called my insurance agent to see if my computer and expensive camera would be covered on this trip. I talked to the agent’s husband and at the end of the conversation, he said, “You be careful, it’s dangerous down there in Mexico!”

“Don’t I know it!!” I said, “I almost fell into a hole!”

Not exactly the answer he was expecting. Most people seem to think I am being shot at on a regular basis, or it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be kidnapped for ransom, or perhaps raped and beheaded, then dumped in some remote spot. It’s not to say that those things don’t happen, but stuff like that happens in the US too. In fact, I think the most dangerous thing I’ve done on this entire trip was to drive my own car from Los Alamos to El Paso. My chances of dying in a car wreck are far greater than my chances of being kidnapped or beheaded in Mexico.

Falling in a hole is much more likely, though also more likely to NOT be fatal.

Unless the hole is in the parking lot at Sam’s Club.

Sam’s Club? They have a Sam’s Club in San Cristobal?

Yep. And it’s a biggy. It has a beautiful new warehouse building, a smooth pristine parking lot with corrals for the shopping baskets, nice new carts with wheels that revolve, and the prices for almost everything is the same as in the US.  John and I were walking across that elegant parking lot, gazing with longing at the sparkling building, when I just happened to glance down.  I quickly grabbed his arm and pulled him sideways. He was about to make his next step into a three foot square hole that was at least three feet deep. I was astonished. Apparently, it was once covered by a grate, probably now stolen, or maybe someone forgot to install it in the first place. A car would have been severely damaged if a wheel dropped into that hole. I hate to think which part of John might have been broken had he plummeted into it.

When we got to the entrance I talked to the “greeter” who told me she would tell the manager. I could tell by her vapid expression that she was not capable of remembering it, much less doing it. So I located a woman who seemed to be a little bit more in charge, of the store and her own mental faculties, and physically took her out to the hole to show her. Yes, she agreed it was dangerous and on the way back, she made a call on her radio to someone.

We had a great time at Sam’s club. They had a visiting chef, a chubby young man in a chef’s hat who had taken the ordinary Oreo Cheesecake, and presented it on a plate with pecans and raspberry syrup drizzled artfully over it. He’d done similar things with other Sam’s Club standards. We snacked around, shopped for booze which actually was much cheaper than the Mexican liquor stores, and picked up a few little items for the house, including an enormous bag of dried Jamaica flowers for tea. We were so weighted down by the wine and liquor that we hailed a cab. As we rode out of the parking lot, I glanced over in the direction of the hole and saw that absolutely nothing had been done to warn people of its existence. So much for informing the management!!

In Mexico, nobody gets sued unless you damage someone’s personal reputation. If you fall into a hole, people simply ask, “Well, why did you do that?” You can’t blame someone who wasn’t even there for your decision to not look where you’re going. If I happen over that way again, I’m going to take one of those shiny new carts and dump it into the hole. Then at least it’ll stick up enough so that cars will avoid the shopping basket rather than drop into a hole they can’t see. If the employees never noticed the hole, I doubt they’ll notice the cart either.

So today, after the trip to Palenque, the subject of another blog, I was wandering around the yard chatting on the cell phone with my friend in Los Alamos. I wandered down to the front edge of the property and saw this large red slab of concrete. This must be the cistern.

2 RotoPlas on top of the yellow house.
Brigitte had told me about how the water system works. In the US, water is delivered 24/7 with pressure to everyone. In Mexico, the water is delivered in sections. About a quarter of the city is ‘turned on’ each day, so it gets water at full pressure. Everyone has a cistern somewhere on their property, and that’s their reserve. In addition, they have a pump that pumps it up to the RotoPlas, a large black reservoir that sits on top of houses everywhere. This house I’m renting is on a steep hillside, so it has a second cistern which gravity feeds water to the house. That’s the purpose of the RotoPlas everywhere else.  So, on top of this red concrete pad, there’s a rusty old electric pump. I remembered Alexandra saying something about the pump, and turning it on properly so you don’t get shocked. I followed the cord up to the “switch”. This thing wouldn’t pass muster anywhere in the world! The switch is a metal bracket with a piece of insulated wire wrapped around it and sticking out like a handle. The metal bracket is lifted by the handle and pushed between two prongs so the electricity can then flow through it. Below it are two old time ceramic fuses which may or may not work should a human being somehow get into the circuit. And to prevent the rather constant rain during the rainy season from shorting out the whole thing, there is a piece of sheet metal bent at right angles that acts as a little hat over the switch.  I’m hoping that the upper cistern has plenty of water for the rest of the time I’m here because I do not want to mess with turning on that switch!!

After we got back from Palenque, the landlady showed up with her handyman. We had told her about the faucet handle breaking off, and how we’d rigged a pair of pliers as a temporary fix. Apparently there’s no water shutoff valve from the upper cistern. The handyman managed to get the faucet unscrewed from the pipe that sticks out of the wall, but when he tried to screw on the new faucet, he pushed it in as hard as he could and of course water came shooting out everywhere. He drenched John and the landlady. John recued my computer. (I guess we’re even now!) Somehow he managed to get the new faucet installed but there was water all over the room, every book was wet, the couch, our not-yet-unpacked luggage, the stove, the microwave, the floor…. The landlady said something in her sweet voice about maybe putting a towel over it so it doesn’t spray out anymore, and that seemed to subdue the spewing fountain.

We are planning to move to the upstairs apartment since the young couple left. Their curtain rod had fallen off the wall too. The handyman had a great fix for that. I’m not sure how long it’ll hold up. The bracket is wood with a hole in it for the rod to slide through, but the section with the hole had broken off, so there was just a slab of wood left. He tied a thin rope around that piece of wood and the rod to hold up the curtain. It’s the hokiest thing I’ve ever seen. I’d have at least put a nail or two in, to have something secure to wrap the cord around, but not this guy. I doubt he had nails or a hammer in that little pouch of tools he carried.

Seems like everything is jury-rigged around here. If it’s broke, fix it whichever way you can, if it’s not broke, then don’t mess with it. And if it’s not short circuited, then it’s not broke.