The Waiting Game

April 23, 2020

The little expat community of which I’m a part keeps wondering how Mexico will manage overall in the months and years to come. The indicators are grim, so we’re all gazing into whatever we keep around as our equivalent to a crystal ball.

To date, the officially confirmed Covid-19 caseload in our municipality remains at one. Reportedly, the patient visited the US some weeks ago, and came back with the virus. The nearby town of Yautepec has five, while the capital of our state of Morelos, Cuernavaca, has 43. Just 20 people in the state have died. This is low, and of course we keep wonder-hoping if it might just stay like this.

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A rainy season view from near my village, looking towards Cuautla, Morelos’ second city.

But as we all realise, this situation isn’t really about the reams of statistics that news media keep putting out because there are so few events their reporters can cover any more. The human impact bites closer to home, and it’s impossible to say how that will play out.

Eggs here are sold by the kilogram, not by the dozen. A month ago, I was paying 19 pesos for a half-kilo (eight eggs) once a week.  Last week, it was 22 pesos, and yesterday, I paid 24. Some fruits and vegetables seem to have gone up a little, though there are always variations from vendor to vendor here. But UHT milk, usually 19 pesos a litre, is also at 22 pesos a litre.

As I’ve blogged previously, my Canadian dollar is flying compared to the Mexican peso, and price-hikes are no problem for me. For my neighbours, several of whom are not working or are working part-time, it has to be a problem. Ergo, it could become a problem for me as the situation deteriorates, and desperation sets in. We supposedly end quarantine in early May, but that might make little practical difference. This community is hanging together, but stress is stress, and in my own life, few things have provoked as much stress as the times that my income barely matches my cost of living.

A fall in fuel prices has helped to some extent, since it makes shipping goods less expensive. And this is a farming community, with people well used to raising crops, so there’s no immediate threat to food supplies. We think.

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This is a farming community and this rooster agrees with that.

Still, we expats keep on speculating. The plunge in oil prices has hit the mostly state-owned oil producer Pemex, which has sent the Mexican peso into an ever-deeper downward spiral. Hence the higher prices for food, as the peso is worth less by the week. Manufacturing is mostly suspended, as of course are schools; and, in our town, restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, and various food shops. Making face-masks is a new sideline for some people, but they only sell for a few pesos.

What, then, will the locals do when their meagre savings run out? How will Mexico handle a slowdown in demand from the US for its manufactured goods? When will the tourists come back? The questions always hang in the air.

Then, for us older people, there are pensions. Will our government pensions be cut as debt back home surges? How much will earnings based on dividends from investments dwindle? It’s unlikely Mexico will turf us out, since those pensions are valuable income. But will our communities tire of us, or decide we’re taking their food?

Thus goes the late-night narrative in our heads. So far, as I gladly and repeatedly note, the people around me are maintaining their usual good cheer, and a cynicism about the illusion of material progress or decline. I’m seeing more farmers who own one using their horses, to save having to buy gas or put wear on their pick-ups, but otherwise life goes on.

There are essentially no beggars in our village, and relatively few in the town. But I find myself reaching into my pocket for coins more readily when one does approach me. Visitors, their likeliest donors, are down by 95 per cent. I’m sensitive to being seen as a skinflint where a month ago I was more likely to be dismissive. I’m profligate with tips on the few occasions I buy prepared food. People have relatives, and they gossip about the tight-fisted.

So it goes. The President wants to re-open things at the end of May, while some state governors think that’s too risky. It’s okay, it seems to be okay, it might stay okay; but it might not remain okay. Nobody knows.

It’s a time when waiting is our only option. And sometimes argue. The town has a couple of Trump fans, who occasionally still stick their heads out, while there are other people who believe all this is from a karmic imbalance, not a virus, and who see no need to observe social distancing. Sharp words are exchanged where before we just smiled and shrugged it off.

Beyond that, we try to support each other as strangers in a not-so-strange land. And we wait.

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