Benito Juarez

October 2012
Upon entering Mexico City’s main international airport I was, if I'm honest, just a little bit scared… In fact, what am I saying… I wasn't just a little bit scared… I was bordering the horribly paranoid and utterly petrified.

This though was not always the case, for in fact, from back home in England my thoughts of Mexico were far too romantic for me to be scared. Yes, Mexico for me conjured up romantic images of walking along white sandy beaches, drinking tequila and wearing overly sized sombreros. But my visions didn't just stop there for there was also the warm sunny weather, the history and the culture, the music, the language and of course there was also the food too!

It was perfect. Or at least it was going to be until I arrived in North America....

...Yes, this past seven months, Canada and the US have together somewhat forcibly extracted my once romantic vision and effectively soiled it beyond all recognition.

For you see, whether it be the drugs, the violence, the gangs, the crime, the assaults, the muggings, or the “express” kidnappings, the vision of Mexico from North America is far less romantic than what I had envisaged back home.

In fact I have been unable to go even one conversation without being urged to “be on the lookout”, “take extra care” or perhaps even “to rethink my options.”

As such, with these seven long months of fun-filled horror-stories, I stepped out in to the arrivals lounge rather more petrified than I had once envisaged doing so from back in the UK.

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Keen then not to look like a “lost tourist” waiting to be taken advantage, I marched out in to the lounge with my head held high, hopefully forcing the impression unto others that I was a man on a mission and completely in control.

Unfortunately however I could not continue this stance forever and minutes later I found a quiet bench from which I could sit down and try to begin building a little familiarity with my new surroundings.

Gaining familiarity however was not to be a lasting concern as I knew I was destined to be here some eight or so hours. You see, having developed such a stark fear of being here alone I had asked if my first host Nancy would be kind enough to come meet me right here at the airport. 

Thankfully, it was to my delight that she agreed, but as a consequence of my decisions, it meant I would have to wait the full 6 hours before she finished work and the further 2 to allow her to travel across the city and over to the airport.

So what to do? Well first up I figured I’d message my host to let her know I’d arrived safely and also to let her know where exactly in the airport she would be able to find me later in the day.

Cautiously reaching for my phone then, I discovered a problem – no available Wi-Fi. Yes, dozens of connections but not one that didn't require a password.

Figuring however that there must be a sweet spot somewhere in which I could connect, I passed the best part of an hour moving from one bench to another all in the hope that I’d stumble in to this apparently elusive open connection.

Try as I might though, it wasn't to be. Rather, the only thing I stumbled in to was the realisation that I had no choice but to speak with somebody and hope to obtain a password for one of these many connections.

This however was to prove problematic for I had never before tried to speak Spanish with anybody other than myself and the almost inevitable embarrassment was reddening my face before I had even opened my mouth.

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Almost ironically then, it was in an effort to avoid this exact situation that I some 18 months ago bought myself a Spanish textbook from which I could learn some basic expressions. However, despite this book weighing down my backpack for the past 7 months, I have yet to read anything past Chapter 3 (of 27). 

So in an attempt then to steer off my nerves I convinced myself that with this being an International Airport, the staff would be able to speak a good level of English and the concerns currently weighing on my mind were to be completely unwarranted.

Sitting then nice and close to helpdesk, I waited until nobody else was in line as the last thing I wanted to do was have an audience of people bearing witness to the horror that could be about to take place. 
I felt like I was going to have a heart attack
Approaching the kiosk I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.

          “Get. It. Together” I thought to myself.

The woman looked up and I immediately forgot what I wanted to try and say.

Seconds passed but eventually I remembered, “Tu hablas ingles?” 

Immediately I knew my pronunciation made my words sound as foreign to her as they did to me and it was clear she hadn't a clue what I had tried to say.

         “Do you speak English?” I went on to ask expectantly.

Her response was at first utterly void and gave me literally nothing to go on. Then, all she could do was shake her head and look embarrassed for me.

          “Fuck” I thought to myself. “This isn't going half as well as I had hoped.”

An hour later and after repeating this horror story with several other members of airport staff, I am pointed towards Starbucks where it was implied I could obtain a password printed on my receipt. 

Now I’ll spare you the details, but ordering coffee was just as painful, though this time with a queue of people behind me, I had an audience to ensure my face lit up brighter than the midday Sun.

So two and a half hours after arriving in to Mexico and I have successfully managed to buy myself one cup of coffee and connect to the Internet. Understandably then overwhelmed at my accomplishments, I took a much needed breather and found a table from which I could enjoy my coffee.
It took just 2½hrs for me to buy a cup of coffee and connect to the Internet... Already I can see the lines of people waiting for my first book
Soon though the coffee was gone and with it I was left to face the reality of still having another five more hours until the arrival of my soon-to-be host.

Absent minded, my thoughts regained their paranoid state, providing it seemed a quick, yet rather unhelpful means of keeping me occupied.

And so, as my sense of calm drained away, it would be just minutes before I felt overwhelmed with what I can only describe as being a sort of paranoid hypertension. Sat alone then, I awakened to the fact that the couple hundred or so people also sat in the food court were all an active threat, all wanting to take my stuff, and inevitably, not so long from now, all probably going to kill me.

It was then that I first saw them.

Perhaps neither older than maybe eleven or twelve, they walked among the tables alone carrying nothing but a small backpack.

Starting from the other side of the food court from where I was sat they snaked around the tables and chairs eyeing up their beholders, occasionally stopping to ask the occupants a couple of questions with their beckoning wide-eyes.

          “Why are they alone?” I thought to myself.

In what was meant to a rhetorical thought, my mind answered swiftly telling me that “obviously, they’re not alone.” Rather, the most logical reason was that they were up to no good, scoping out potential victims for their older drug lording, gang leading, Mexican brothers who waiting around the corner would come find, attack, and probably kill the chosen target, given the first opportunity. 

And so as my paranoia further whipped me up in to a frenzy, I continued to watch them like a hawk, hiding my glare using only my backpack which I had now moved on to the table to provide something to cling on to.

Eventually they clocked me. One whispered in to the others ear and they made their way over.

I'm ashamed to say it but I honestly hadn't been this scared since I was being driven away while hitchhiking by a stoned madman in Northern Ontario. 

          “Are you American?” they asked, scoping I guessed my potential worth.

          “No.” I said, cautiously “I'm actually from England.” 

They smiled. I had no idea why but it made me even more worried like they now knew something that I didn't. 

Armed now with a hopeful inclination to their voices, they asked whether or not they could practice their English with me. Continuing, they went on to explain how they had been given an assignment at school to track down a native English speaker and to talk them with them about their personal details like where they live, what music they like and why they were visiting Mexico. Oh and not to forget, they wanted to record the whole thing on their mobile as means of proof for their teacher.

With blood pressure at an all-time high, now more than ever I was sure they were up to no good. As much as perhaps I wanted to believe they were telling the truth, I just couldn't, rather favouring the idea they were pulling the biggest con going. Naturally, I concluded that at the direction of their gang-leading brothers, they had been instructed to use this ploy as a means of ascertaining my personal information which could at a point unknown to us both be used against me.

I felt I had no choice and sternly, I turned away replying that I was unable to help them.

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Surprised I think at my refusal to help, their tiny shoulders sunk back down even lower than before and as they went to turn away I almost instantly had my fear replaced with guilt.

And so as my muscles relaxed, my breathing slowed and my blood pressure returned to normal, I came to question what the hell had just happened - because for reasons unknown, I had somehow in my mind just painted two innocent school-age children out to be horrific drug-lording, gang-leading, gun-bearing monsters with the sole intention of causing me harm. 

Reflecting on what had just come to take place, I could only hold hope in knowing that my absurdity would one day provide me good reason to laugh

Later, as the Sun set outside, the time had almost come for Nancy to arrive at the airport and as I sat waiting during that final hour I reflected back on my day in the airport. For yes, while I had expected an uneventful and mundane experience, I had awoken to not one, but two important realisations.

First, having realised that I in fact know even less Spanish than I thought, I can’t help after today’s experiences but feel like I have in this last 8 hours lost a lot of the independence I had but just one day ago. 

And second, having allowed myself to be terrified half to death by two innocent young school-age children, I've come to realise that perhaps the lasting legacy of my time up in North America might in fact be a now overwhelming sense of fear as to what lies just on the other side of those airport doors.