Archive for January, 2011

A Different Perspective: by my brother, Mike DesCamp

I got up at my usual 4:00 this morning, got my cup of coffee, and sat on the palapa deck overlooking the ocean with downtown Puerto Escondido off to the right.  The sky here is almost pitch black at night, so I’m able to see constellations and star clusters I haven’t for years. On this morning I found the Pleiades in Taurus; I could almost pick out the individual sister stars.  And Orion’s sword is brighter and clearer than from our place in Portland. I found myself thinking how things look different from different perspectives, and how easy it is for objects and events to get in the way of my seeing clearly.
One of the disappointing realities of perception is that familiarity breeds blindness.  This is our third year here and Puerto hasn’t changed much, with the exception of the new road down from the highway and some new construction along Zicatela beach.  But I remember my first encounters with  things and events being much sharper and more powerful.  The bougainvillea is still as brilliant, the vultures just as majestic, the face of the waves just as pink and white in the early light at dawn.  The beauty is still there but I’m saturated with it; I have to shake my head and blink and focus to get a clear picture.
The ugly is there too, just like the beauty, but I’m not struck by it as I was before.  What I labeled as ugly before I’ve begun to take for granted.  I’ve been so jarred by, for instance, the unfinished look of buildings in which people live, because I come from a place where building codes don’t allow for half-roofs and only three completed walls on a house.  In the US we take out home loans from the bank to buy or build, and we can do it at 3 or 4%.  Here the banks will loan at 15 or 20% but no one can afford to do that, so houses get built piecemeal as money and materials are available.   And garbage is everywhere because, except for picking up house garbage for which the homeowners pay, the city has no resources for a street cleaning as we think of it.
It’s easy to make assumptions about appearances.  There is a family on the corner – mother, dad, many kids – who seem at first glance to be living crammed into a hovel on a patch of dirt.  There is no grass, there are random small buildings on the property, the children are scarcely clothed and wash in the street with a hose dragged out from the corner of the house.  Pieces of machinery and wood are scattered about; all cooking is done over an open fire outdoors.  We walk past the family each day when we go out to the beach or to catch a collectivo on our way to town.  Last year I bought a soccer ball and gave it to the kids because they had been kicking around some unidentifiable (to me) object in the street when I had walked by earlier.  They accepted the ball but looked a little bemused.
Now we’re in our third year of coming to Puerto and things look a lot different.  The family on the corner is actually living on a full quarter of a city block, which they own outright because it has been passed down from one generation to the next.  The property is covered with mango and banana and papaya trees that produce more than enough fruit for the family to live on.  The trees have always been there, I just didn’t register them because I was focusing on the dirt.  The small buildings are what they can afford, kids don’t wear much clothes because it’s hot here, they wash in the street and cook outside because indoor plumbing and indoor cooking are luxuries for most people.  And the machinery and wood are the results of gleaning – everything will be put to some use eventually.  I had looked upon these people as poor; by comparison with the rest of the world they are living very comfortable lives.  I’m held hostage by my experiences and expectations.
Last week our water heater developed a leak and had to be shut down for repairs.  Our Mexican friend called the plumber and translated our needs to him.  Then she asked me, “Why do people take hot showers?”  After I got over being surprised at the question I responded that I took hot showers to keep clean and because it felt good to do so.  “Even in the hot weather?”  I said yes.  “We like cold showers because it is always so hot,” she said, “I take one in the morning to help me wake up”.
Her words were the equivalent of a cold shower.  They helped me to wake up even further and see more clearly the beautiful place we live.
Mike DesCamp, January 2011