Thanksgiving comes and goes each year without us really thinking about its meaning, beyond being an occasion for a day off from work, getting together with family, (some we only see once a year on this day) eat a lot of things we shouldn't eat and watch several football games. I just recently returned from Mexico. I travel there twice, sometimes three times a year for business and pleasure; this time for vacation. This year, in Mexico, I had time to reflect upon the true meaning of being thankful.
I rented a car in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and traveled south, down the eastern coast, beginning just south of Cancun (a super-sized Buckhead), continuing along the Caribbean coast, past the village of Pamuul (a trailer park full of expatriates), past Boca Paila (a fishing village) to Punta Allen, the most southern outpost of my journey.
The road, (there is only one that runs north and south) was virtually impassable, except by four-wheel drive vehicles (I was in a compact Subaru). I bounced from pot-holes to gaping holes in the road for miles and miles. After about two hours of this grueling trek, I came upon a gate, guarded by two locals. They asked for 20 pesos (about two dollars U.S.) to pass through the gates. The money, they said, was for road improvement and ecological safeguards. I speak passable Spanish, so I asked one of the two guards when road improvements might begin. He gave me a look, sort of like Santa Ana must have given Sam Houston at the Alamo, mumbled some Spanish expletive to his Amigo and waived me on.
And so I rattled on. About an hour or so later, dying of thirst, I came upon what I thought was surely a mirage. Right there, in the thick of a Mexican jungle, rainforest combination, on a road not much better than one Tarzan and Jane might have traversed in their youth, was a little kiosk, well a yellow boxy thing actually, with a sign attached which was bigger than the Kiosk, that read "Corona, cerveza mas fina"(Corona, the finest beer).
There was a little old wizened lady in the kiosk, darkened to a charcoal black by the unrelenting Mexican sun, waving at me to stop and, of course, buy a beer, or two. I explained to the lady that I only wanted water. She gave me a look, sort of like the look I got from the disgruntled collector at the 'road improvement' gate and shuffled off into the little enclosure. After a short time she returned with an ice cold bottle of water. I paid her the asking price of 11 pesos, (about one dollar U.S.) and gulped down the water.
My thirst being quenched; I paused to look around at my surroundings. I was smack dab in the middle of a Mexican jungle; no electrical wires, no underground cable, nothing to indicate a source of power to cool water, much less beer for public consumption. I had to ask how she kept the water and beer cold. The wizened, charcoal colored, wrinkled old Mexican woman replied reluctantly and tersely, "Kerosene Generator." As I drove away I noticed a house of sort in back of the kiosk. It was essentially a grass hut, (Palapa), with bamboo outer walls, a dirt floor, a clothesline, and a boiling pot out front containing something which gave off a thick white smoke and a pungent odor. She was stirring the pot as the road I was on turned left and I lost sight of her.
Back in Cancun the next day I sat down with a Mexican friend of mine (in a fabulous 5 star, marble floored, glass skylined, lush with flora, hotel) and told him of my trip; about the old lady; the eco-gate, and the roads. He explained that the majority of Mexican laborers live in one room, sometimes two, block houses or grass huts. Running water is a luxury, and if you are fortunate enough to have an actual toilet, you never, ever put any paper in it (There is a waste basket for that sort of thing in every bathroom). The water pressure is not sufficient to dispose of it. Electricity almost non-existent in some areas and transportation consists of bicycles, three wheel carts and sometimes (a lot of times) donkeys.
He further explained that the average wage in Mexico was from 55 pesos to 125 pesos a day (five dollars to twelve dollars U.S.) The waiters, clerks, bell boys, maids and other support staff in the major hotels earn the minimum wage. The hotels who employ these Mexicans are sprawling, mega-complexes, often with over 500 rooms, several pools, many bars, (some that actually float in the water). The rental for these ultra-plush hotel rooms range from $100 to $2,500 a night. Construction workers rarely earn more than five dollars a day. Cab drivers make no salary. Waiters in the most luxurious night clubs make no salary and receive tips on average (on a very, very good day) of about $30 a day. However, there are no night clubs outside any major Mexican city, so the working wage applies to the majority of Mexicans.
And so on this Thanksgiving day as you flip on the bathroom mirror lights, brush with your electric toothbrush, take a 20 minute hot water shower, blow dry your hair, go downstairs from the third floor of your house, grab a cold glass of juice from the fridge, and greet your Uncle Joe who drives up your driveway in his 735i BMW and immediately begins to brag (as he does every Thanksgiving) about his $100,000 a year job; be nice. Remember those who are not so fortunate. Be charitable. Be thankful.
James Studdard is a Jonesboro attorney and a weekly columnist for the News Daily.