In 2013, with the help of sponsors GSI Outdoors, Mad Rock Climbing, and KAVU, I ditched a townhouse to live in a van on a six-month road trip around North America. The 2005 Dodge Sprinter was unconverted, so I slept for most of that time on boxes, and on cold days curled up with my border collie. In March, we came across Monterrey, Mexico…and now a year later and four months deep into a visa, I’ve found myself moving in, sharing rent and getting a work permit.
How did this happen? Why would someone from the USA move to MTY?
“Sometimes life is like a movie.” This comes to mind a lot lately, with all the serendipitous and incredible experiences I’ve had these past four months, working with unbelievably inspirational people. It’s actually a quote from Mr. P, a substitute economics teacher I had in high school who could beat-box and speak arabic, who also dropped this sentence on his teenage economics students as through the square classroom window they watched a new classmate with Turrets run around the yard hurling insults at bewildered teachers and karate chopping a small planted tree. Yes, I realized from then on… If you can take a step back and see life through a screen, or a window, life is just like like a movie: just as tragic, just as hilarious, and just as profoundly unbelievable.
What happened is that I found something unbelievable in Mexico, and it wasn’t the addicts and beggars, as one might think. Nope, all major cities – the US too, of course – have problems with poverty, and even worse, governmental neglect. What I found past the hovels without roofs and shantytowns hidden by flashy billboards, the thing that was unbelievable, was the people working to actually change these situations. A team was coming together as an organization and talking directly to sharp and restless youth in the tightly-knit, drug-laden neighborhoods. They were taking them climbing to give them a different kind of ‘high’.
In Monterrey, as other places, the doors are always open to situations we often hear about in the news, in books, and in movies…but through affluence or ignorance, we barricade ourselves inside invisible walls to stay blind to these discrepancies, feeling ourselves victims for witnessing the suffering because the sight is so painful to see.
Much as my step father refuses to admit they did anything useful, the months of traveling after high school opened my eyes to the invisible walls, the barricade; left me realizing how little I knew, and young I was; instilled in me a growing indignation at ignorance and suffering. When I was 14, and left the country for the first time, I saw how a child that grows up in urban Beijing thinks nothing of walking past beggars with feet swathed in cling wrap to display tuberculosis. They saw the beggar everyday; whereas I and my mother were shocked into mutual silence. At the time, I thought ignoring the woman was another form of maturity, an acceptance to what life brings, or God decrees, or whatever…
But each day, even to the present day, I grew more certain this was wrong to do and that unacceptably, undoubtedly, somewhere else in the world there was a solution for this woman – and also for the man without legs beside her, the old hag forcefully grabbing half-empty drinks from tourist’s hands, and the child without empathy; somewhere there was doctor willing to do a surgery, a therapy, a prosthetic to solve any problem…and education to cultivate those solutions.
I believe the biggest problem is the invidious belief that you can do nothing. That is the very worst fallacy of human nature. That last day before we left, I gave the man without legs the last of my trip money, and I hope I never grow up.