Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Web of Lies

Life, my friends, is good. Let me open by saying this before descending into complaining.

Here in Oaxaca, we live in a corrupt municipality, a mere block from the less-corrupt official city boundaries. We belong to Santa Lucia del Camino, notorious for dirty political dealings, even in a city, state, and country known for them. Then little bits of the dishonesty creep into our infrastructure, such as when the district's garbage trucks all stop working, for months at a time, and suddenly the private trucks swoop in. I'm happy for the substitute service, but you have to pay about 10 pesos per can of trash they haul away, whereas the district trucks (including their repairs) are supposedly covered by our property taxes.

The latest development in the Santa Lucia saga, then, is the internet, or lack thereof. Last weekend, it just went out, which is not uncommon, but we could not summon it back. As is the case for my semi-bilingual family, this demanded a call to our provider's labyrinthine voice mail system and, no matter what I attempted to press or say or command, my Spanglish did not suffice. So we did what people in the olden days did to get their internet back on--we walked into the service center. I won't bother to describe the bowels of Cablemas to you, as I assume they resemble those of Comcast or whatever. There the service lady informed us that, indeed, our whole municipality of Santa Lucia had been propelled back into the dark ages, due to some switch being turned off and not turned on, or another issue that I suspect might have been the local government not paying their bills.

I asked, "How long until this switch is turned on?"

She gave me the zombie-pleasant look that customer service reps bearing bad news must always be trained to give. "Nobody knows."

This is the classic Oaxaca answer. And, unlike the United States, there is no yelling or getting angry when you hear it. I mean you could, and you could be the sort who demands a manager or starts shoving papers across the counter to prove your longevity as a customer, but the answer does not, will not change. Nobody knows.

I tried a halfhearted, "Our work depends on the internet?"

She nodded. In a way, so did hers.

The irony was, there we were on Calle Amapolas, quite possibly Oaxaca's loveliest expanse of blocks, lined with trees and--you guessed it--one cafe after another, all with Wifi.

This, then, has been my morning commute for the past week. Rather than merely walking from bedroom to hallway, I now pack up the computer and venture to what our family has always called "the cafe street" to try a new place every morning. In fact, I had office hours at 2 cafes yesterday. I've noticed a few things:

1. The world does not need me as much as I think it does.
Without fail, I open my computer in a state of near-panic, thinking of all the messages and deadlines I might have missed. Yet the space of a few hours passing means I have typically received about 25 emails in spam and 25 more than belong in spam. That's it. I'm writing this blog post right now because I rushed to my morning cafe session only to find an empty work desk and no pending messages of any value.

2. I still know how to read books.
I could blame my slower reading pace over the past decade on a lot of things, including master's degrees and children, but the true culprit is the computer screen. Though I still read all day, every day, I rarely pick up books for more than a half hour at a time. In the past few days, I've gotten through a novel and a memoir and have a stack on the waiting list. What a relief that my books waited faithfully for me all these years.

3. I battle existentialism-related fears.
Living in Oaxaca puts me quite inconveniently distant from family and many friends. On top of that, I have no landline, no US cell phone, no convenient mail service, and (since the last windstorm) no signal for my Mexican cell phone unless I go on the roof. My principal methods of outreach are email, Facebook messages, and the occasional Skype call, all impossible to use at home right now. Sometimes, at night, I sense that we are in a walled fortress with no method of communication or contact with the outside world. Or is there an outside world?

4. Perhaps a quiet mind is not for me.
It is instantly clear to me that having no internet at home takes away the buzz of daily distraction. It also forces me to connect more with the world and our neighborhood, which is partly why I love living in Oaxaca. My adopted city has a much more outdoor and neighborly culture than most places in the United States offer. Yet, on days when I have a lot of deadlines, I engage in intense reading, writing, editing, and messaging for hours and never speak to or see anyone. So this newfound existence is superior, right? Breaking free of the web puts me that much closer to Buddha mind or could have me suddenly achieving great intellectual feats. Well, I have to say that, at a few days in, the results are inconclusive.

1 comment:

NatomasBuzz.com said...

Reminds me of the year we lived in Switzerland, being told by ex-Pats that if the words "it cannot be done" we're ever spoken to us, to drop it. We were told any further discussion would be an effort in futility. I took it to heart & Im sure it made life that much easier for those months there. When I tried to get our phone turned back on because it had been turned off before we moved, those words were never spoken, and I was successful!!