Blog: Alternative Spring Break, Day 2

After climbing a few hills and winding roads through Cuernavaca, we found the market tucked off the side of the main street, accessible through a tiny staircase that took us down to the bustling centre. Before we even reached the bottom we were bathed in colour and sound.

Fruits and vegetables line the tables of the people's market. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

By KIRSTEN FENN

The market at Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

The market at Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

First things first: I’ve fallen in love with Mexican food. No matter that I don’t understand the Spanish signs on the breakfast table in the morning – the ones which explain what we’re eating. I’ve put my complete and utter trust in CCIDD’s kitchen staff that whatever they serve us will be safe and delectable. They say love is based on trust, after all.

And everything from the salsa and tortilla shells to the pineapple and the bananas – it all tastes better when you’re eating it in a new setting.

But even with a full stomach, I’ve still been craving a taste of the city’s culture. While our service projects don’t begin until tomorrow, today we got a chance to walk through the local market and experience the vibrant street life.

We were sent on a treasure hunt to find the local people’s market and bring back the items on our assigned grocery list. With a spending limit of just 60 pesos, we quickly realized how little we would actually be buying.

60 pesos is the equivalent of $4.83 CAN. That’s the minimum daily wage in Mexico.

After climbing a few hills and winding roads through Cuernavaca, we found the market tucked off the side of the main street, accessible through a tiny staircase that took us down to the bustling centre. Before we even reached the bottom we were bathed in colour and sound. Tiny pink balls of yarn sat in boxes along the wall, with larger bags of assorted colours on the shelf above. From the stairs we could hear an orchestra of people speaking in Spanish.

Beyond the entrance was a tightly packed shopper’s paradise, full of parents and their children and a few screaming toddlers of course – just like at the malls back home! But here, the children were selling the goods, not buying them.

It’s normal to see kids out in the market during the day, or even the late evenings, selling goods with their families to make ends meet. They sold pencils, bracelets, sunglasses, hats, t-shirts, even television remotes. Whatever you could think of – it was there.

Tomatoes in the market at Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

Vegetables at the market in Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

Past the busy entrance, another staircase opened up to a sea of fruits and vegetables – bright red tomatoes, fresh strawberries, dark avocados. We were also introduced to “jicamas,” a type of fruit that looks kind of like a turnip. One of the tomato vendors was kind enough to describe it to us by explaining that it was the colour of my friend’s beige-pink shirt –or at least that’s all I gathered from his quick Spanish, and my beginner’s level comprehension.

Then there was the wafting smell of tacos and meat. On nearly every corner something mouth-watering was being roasted for a hungry customer. There was also a hallway of vendors selling spices, many of them kinds I’d never seen or heard of before, and a dairy section as well, with fresh cheese, milk, and stuff that – I think – was ice cream. (I have to admit, it looked questionable.)

But even with the variety and quantity of food, it was difficult to stretch 60 pesos to cover everything on our list. We ended up with a small bag of tomatoes, one jicama, a short carton of milk, and only half the quantity of beans we needed –enough food to feed a small family for maybe one or two meals.

Trying to cover the expenses of our grocery list was difficult enough as a tourist playing a treasure hunt game. But as a local person, having to pinch pennies every week just to afford enough food to survive would be unimaginable to me.

For many locals living in La Estación, to whom we will be providing our service tomorrow, this is the reality. Not everyone has the luxury of eating an array of different foods at every meal. We noticed that no one from Carleton’s ASB team had meat on their shopping list. That’s because buying meat costs more than half of the average person’s daily wage here. At home, being able to afford a variety of food just seems like a given.

All fun and excitement of the day aside, the realization of how privileged I am in Canada really hit me hard. Rather than prioritizing my money so I can feed my family from day to day, or sparing certain food groups from my grocery list, I throw away spare change on coffee each morning, and maybe buy myself some lunch at Rooster’s if I’m in the mood. For a coffee, I spend $1.60. For lunch, maybe $4.00.

In Mexico, that’s more than the average daily wage of 60 pesos, or 4.83 Canadian dollars.

Lesson of the day?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the necessity of my morning caffeine run, and think about whether I truly need it to survive.

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