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  • 1.
    When I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, some 25,000 people lived here and five taxis provided them service. Each was a huge American car from the fifties. Like cruise ships at a pier, they rested at the zocalo, the town’s central market. Their drivers sat as royalty inside the lovingly polished antiques, patiently waiting for customers. They were a tight group, the drivers, a sindicato. No one else had a chance to become a driver.

    The king of the outfit was Don Enrique. He was quite fat, very talkative and in his fifties. He drove me several times and during the trips he told me the most amazing stories. He said he was a healer and claimed to have cured locals from cancer. He had also seen space ships land between San Cristobal and the Maya village of Tenejapa. I very much wanted to ask him details of the aliens’ craft, but then suddenly, Don Enrique died of cancer.

    Our little town kept growing. During the Zapatista uprising, thousands of Maya Indians left their conflictive communities and came to live and find a new life in San Cristobal. With the move to a city they sought alternatives to tending milpa, cornfields, or to being poorly paid masons or poorly trained gardeners. Many had the same dream: to be a taxi driver!

    Nissans had become available and were cheap. The dealerships offered easy credit. An exploding population with insufficient public transportation was about to be served. Like magic mushrooms growing on cow dung in the raining season, a hugely expanded taxi system seemed to appear overnight. The government, scared by the social upheaval in the surrounding countryside, wanted to forestall any possible aggression from the emigrants and produced taxi licenses as fast as they were requested. The sindicato of five was no match for the force of hundreds of new taxis.
    Today our town is no longer little. There are 200,000 inhabitants served by 2,000 taxis. Willing drivers will take passengers wherever they wish to go. More people and more vehicles, of course, have produced slow, often jammed, traffic in the old narrow streets of downtown, but there is always a taxi on hand when needed. There is a lot of competition; taxis are cheap. Two US dollars will take me from my office the seven kilometers to my home.

    The thrill of driving continues. Ask any little boy on the street what he wants to be when he grows up and two out of three will answer with great enthusiasm, “A taxi driver!”

    The other day an older driver picked me up at my office. He asked about my work. I explained what a psychotherapist does. I continued on how it can be difficult to grow into a loving human being if we were treated harshly or cruelly in childhood.

    ”No,” he contradicted “,I don’t believe a bad childhood guarantees one will become a criminal. I am a Maya Indian from the Tzotzil community of Zinacantan. My father was absolutely terrible. He beat us every single day. We feared he would kill our mother or one of us during a rage. When I was just eight, I ran away from home. I came to San Cristobal, a long distance for a little boy. No one came after me. I met a mason asked him to take me in as an apprentice. I must have touched the his heart. He agreed and took me home with him. He taught me, feed me and gave me a bed. I was happier than ever before in my life. Then he got a job in Tuxtla and took me with him. I worked hard and grew into a teenager. In Indian communities there are no teenagers. There you begin working, hard, as a child. At 14 you are expected to marry.

    In Tuxtla I met another master mason and switched my apprenticeship to him. He also gave me a place in his family and home. I traveled and worked in nearly every Mexican state with this man. I got to know the country. I became a master mason myself. Twenty years later I finally returned to Chiapas and San Cristobal. I went to see my family in Zinacantan. They were all still alive. My father was old and was drinking less. Apparently his conscience bothered him about how I had been raised. He wanted to make things better between us ffered me a piece of land in the community. I didn’t want to return to Zinacantan, though. I did not want that land. I had met my wife in San Cristobal and wished to continue living here.

    I am still with my wife. Our two children are grown, both studying at university. I earned enough money as a mason to buy this taxi. I truly enjoy earning a living as a driver. It’s much easier than being a mason. I’m getting older and need easier work. I need to be warm. I am happy, you know. I love my wife. I am proud of my kids. I love my taxi, I’m as content as I can be.”

    We still have some way to go to my house. The driver asks me, “Do you still have your car in the workshop?” I had told him that my son had crashed my car a few weeks before.

    “No,” I answer. “My car is fixed, but I sold it. I have an eye illness and can’t see well enough anymore to drive.”

    The driver is moved. I sense he wants to tell me something consoling, but apparently nothing occurs to him. Then he asks, “Do you know Don Luz, Mr. Light?”

    I nod. Of course, I know Don Luz. Luz, light, is quite a common name for men as well as women here in Mexico. The Don Luz he refers to is memorable, though, because although named Luz, he was born blind. I don’t know if his parents named him Luz out of ignorance or out of hope for a miracle.

    Shortly after I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, one of Don Luz` many daughters invited us to her mother’s birthday party. Don Luz and his wife had twelve children; it was a huge family party. At the party Don Luz sang love songs to his wife. He had a remarkable voice. Back then he was the number one crooner in town. In those days, and even now, if a young man in San Cristobal was in love with a girl, he would serenade the girl in front of her house. But as not all men sing well, some would rent singers for their love serenatas. Don Luz was the most popular and he made his living this way. His divine voice not only brought him money, it also won him the hearts of many women.

    Don Luz was a true heartbreaker. Shortly after attending his birthday party, I learned Don Luz’ family was even larger. He had, in fact, three wives, each with a similar number of offspring!

    I had not seen him for many years. “Is Don Luz still alive?” I ask my driver.

    “Yes!” the driver says. “He doesn’t sing as much anymore, but he does still sing. He must be in his mid – seventies. Do you know, Doña Kiki, that Don Luz has three families and more than thirty children? He must have over one hundred grandchildren by now!”

    I nod and the driver continues, “I often drive Don Luz, I guess from one of his families to the other. The last time I drove him, I asked how he ended up with so many children. Do you know what he answered?”

    I shake my head no. I am very curious now.

    “He answered me, ‘I have so many children because I am blind. I cannot see what I am doing!’ “

    2.
    “You are a psychologist,” my taxi driver says,” Tell me, why we forget?”

    I try to explain about the subconscious filter we have in our brains, where important or unimportant is decided without our noticing.

    “We also forget because of old age, malnutrition, and dehydration and then often, our brains decide to forget what is too painful for us if we remembered it.”

    “ A few years ago I went as a wetback to the United States,” the man tells me,” I paid a Pollero and he was a good one, he did not just take our money and disappear, he did walk with us through the desert. We were 15 men from all over Mexico. It was okay, but the second day it got harder. It was hot; we did not have food or water. The sun burnt down on us.”

    I nod. I have been in Big Bend National Park, which is part of the landscape, where these men walk through. I have been there after a draught; it looks like a dying planet. You are afraid the sun might kill you.

    “At the end of the second day I was getting exhausted,” the driver continues,” and from 6 to 9 o`clock that night I cannot remember anything at all.”

    “Maybe you were dehydrated,” I suggest,” Or maybe something traumatic happened that you are blocking out?”

    He shakes his head. He tells me that afterwards all 15 men went different ways and he cannot ask any of them anymore. He worked for a couple of years in Florida and then returned to his family here in Chiapas.

    “Is it possible that you forget something and suddenly it reappears in your head?” he asks me

    "Yes", I assure him, "that happens."

    “This has been 6 years ago,” he laments,” and I just cannot forget that I completely forgot those three hours that night. It drives me nuts!”


    3.
    I always call the same group of taxis to transport me wherever I have to go. Many drivers have become my friends. They ask me what a psychotherapist does. They tell me their life stories. One is an older man; he works two shifts, which means 16 hours a day. He I always call the same group of taxis to transport me wherever I have to go. Many drivers have become my friends. They ask me what a psychotherapist does. They tell me their life stories. One is an older man; he works two shifts,says he has to do that because he has 2 daughters in university. He loves birds. He knows all the names of the local birds and prepares food for them in his little spare time. All based on tortillas wetted in milk. Sometimes a Tzintzontle visits his little yard, which is the Mexican Nightingale. The other day he cried while driving me through the rugged streets of town: the neighbor’s cats had eaten his Nightingale.

    Another one plays football. He calls me “doctora” and just talks soccer with me. I try to follow. There are many small local teams and his is among the 8 best. Every Sunday they play and whenever I remember I cross my fingers that his might win.

    Another taxi driver describes me how he robbed his wife from her family when she was 13 and he was just fourteen years old. We just had a bed in an empty room, he says and laughs, but that was 25 years ago and we are still happily together and have 4 gorgeous children.

    Another tells me that the night before a few young and happily drunk men asked him to drive them to the cemetery around midnight. But he did not satisfy their request. The other day, he tells me, my college wanted to pick up a young girl at night to drive her home. But as soon as the girls sat down on the seat the taxi felt heavy. The taxi felt as if 10 people had sat down in the car. My college then knew that this young girl was a ghost and he threw her out. She obeyed. He watched her body turn into a shapeless blob in his mirror and he got into such a panic that he rushe3d to the next gas station and called us that he would leave the taxi there and walk home to never ever return being a taxi driver.

    Many of these men have been drunks, some with violent behavior, unfaithful to their wives. Then they found God in different Christian congregations. I was terrible, tells me one, but now I love my wife and am a good father to my children. Still, through the half hour he needs to get me home a woman who obviously is not his wife calls him five times. He turns her down each time, a few minutes later she calls again, she complains: Why are you so short with me? He keeps being short. Maybe because he has just boasted to me about what a good man he has become? The woman makes me think how we women are not so very sweet pies either often, not giving up on trying seducing married men. I pay him and get out of his car as soon as we arrive. Before I shut the door I hear his cell phone ring again. Probably the same stubborn lover. I wonder if now he responds to her wishes.

    One young driver tells me about his journey as an illegal into the Unites States and how he saw many Mexicans get soon much better lives there than they could ever expect here in their own country. But, he explains, I could not take the constant fear of being discovered and deported by the Migration any moment. You do not enjoy walking through the streets in your free time, you are tense at work, they might come any time and grab you. That was too stressful for me. I yearned for my family here. So I returned. I earn much less money here, but I am content, without fear, close to my wife and children. But I loved the orange groves there! One morning suddenly there was a puma! It was gorgeous! But I was so scared as soon as I realized what animal sat there beside me that I could not enjoy this extraordinary experience.

    One man about sixty maybe, tells me his story. He has not found God in one of the new churches, He is a Mayan Indian from Zinacantan and has never left his traditional faith, called Catholicism, but actually a mixture of that with many ancient Mayan beliefs. He does not talk much about faith or God, though. Some people just know in their hearts what is right and what is wrong. My father was terrible, he confides, he just beat me. He was always drunk and beat my mother and when I was 12 I ran away and came to San Cristobal. I was lucky and a mason master took me in, taught me his trade, and gave me food and a bed. I travelled with him to the capital; I worked in constructions all over the country. I always found good people. Decades later I returned and married my wife. My father was old and offered me a piece of land in my community. He wanted to make up. I did not want that land. I love driving the taxi now; being a mason is very hard work. I am old. My kids have studied and are in their own lives now and I am happy with my wife and my life.

    There is a young man whose mother has a good job in the US, she even has become legal. She wants him there. But he says: I do not want to live in another country. I am married and have a baby boy. I want to be here. I work two shifts and have not had a free day in two years, but I am content. And really, he always laughs, I have never seen him tired or serious. Yesterday, he tells me, comes this elderly lady into my taxi and she is crying and sobbing. I ask her, Lady, what is it that breaks your heart? She answers me that she has just seen a program on TV where a woman who investigates ghosts in certain houses confirmed the prediction of the Mayans that our world will end in 2012. Now my grandchildren have just been born to die so soon! I told this lady; just God knows when our world will end, Señora, no human being can predict that. I kept repeating that and the woman calmed down. When we arrived at her destiny she even smiled and she thanked me from the bottom of her heart.

    Sometimes these drivers are the most efficient psychotherapists! I consider them all my angels who bring me safely to wherever I need to go.

    4.
    There does not seem to be an English word for the Spanish SUSTO, the closest is HORROR or TRAUMA, but for me both do not contain the trembling aliveness and deep desperation of the Spanish word.

    I suffer from a rare hereditary eye – illness: Retinitis Pigmentosa. My eyes are so bad that I cannot drive anymore. Fortunately I live in a town with thousands of taxis and cheap ones. The taxi drivers always ask me about my work and when I answer that I am a psychotherapist, they want to know what a psychotherapist does. When I explain, often they open their own hearts.

    So it was this afternoon. The young driver asks me, if maybe I can help his brother.

    “My brother is 22 years old, “he tells me,” When he was a very little boy he heard our older brother, who was 19 years old then, fight with my mom. My dad had left us. My mom was alone with five kids, it was a hard life. I do not know what happened, if my brother was depressed or what or why he fought with my mother, but my mother told him, she would prefer him dead. My brother went and killed himself, right there and then and my little brother watched it all. My sisters told me the story, I was not home.My little brother, who had witnessed the tragedy, stopped talking immediately after that.He also stopped socializing, he just talked to the walls at home and yelled at mom. He barely passed middle school, but could never work. He spends his time on the rooftop of mother`s tiny house house, where he screams at and sometimes hits his head on the wall. We have brought him to all kinds of doctors and psychologists, they have given him pills to calm him down, because he gets very aggressive at times. But nothing helps.”

    “When a trauma happens so early in life,” I explain,”It is often difficult to heal, especially if your brother does not want to see anybody and does not talk.”

    I tell him about an excellent young psychiatrist from Mexico City, who works with us and attends people for little money.

    “You must be afraid that your brother will kill himself eventually,” I remark.

    He nods.

    “You know,” he continues,”My mother finds consolation in her congregation, she prays to God and feels calm. But I do not sleep, because I feel responsible for my brother. I left home when I was 15. I found much older friends. Good people. They taught me how to work; I even went through three semesters of university. I wanted to become an accountant. But then I did not finish. Now I drive my taxi. I am okay. I am just so worried about my brother.”

    “You cannot save another person,” I explain,” well, maybe just if he is drowning in a river , then you can rescue him or out of a burning house. Mostly another person’s life is just to a small degree in your hands. You can just do what you can do. “

    I know that from my own experience with my schizophrenic daughter-in-law.

    “But you have to do whatever is in your hands, so that if he really kills himself one day, you can be at peace..!"

    “Siii,” he screams,” exactly!”

    “Bring your brother to us,” I advise him,” I do not know if we can help him, but it is worth the attempt.”

    Now I carry that unknown young man`s suffering in my heart.

    Mexico seems to be the country of fiestas – and maybe drug wars – and it is. Nobody imagines Mexico also to be a country of much suicide. It is. Since I arrived here 35 years ago I have heard of a vast amount of suicides. Many are never declared as such. The church still considers suicide a mortal sin and so families try to disguise suicides as accidents. In Mayan communities the suicide rate is alarmingly high. Young men walk into the forest and hang themselves on a branch, because they just cannot stop drinking or because of whatever other deep pain. Most Mexicans live so close together in few rooms and small houses, but they often never talk to each other about what burdens their hearts. The streets and towns are full of people, but many live a lonely life with too many secrets in their souls. I remember a man. who once told me that at a party they found his brother fooling around with a cousin. Both were teenagers. The family so rejected his brother afterwards as a pervert that he drank rat poison.

    On one hand I see the colors and fiestas, I hear the music and the church bells, the constant fireworks, because there always is a celebration somewhere, and on the other hand there is such a lack of love between spouses and parents and children. But maybe that is not just true for Mexico, maybe that is true for the whole world?


    5.
    I also remember this encounter with a taxi driver in CapeTown:

    We have arrived In CapeTown.

    “Zimbabwe was one of Africa’s wealthiest countries,” explains my friend’s husband. “Not only was the country food-sufficient, but some five thousand white farmers also exported grain, fruit and “Zimbabwe was one of Africa’s wealthiest countries,” explains my friend’s husband. “Not only was the country food-sufficient, but some five thousand white farmers also exported grain, fruit and vegetables to much of the continent. But then President Robert Mugabe moved to seize their land, primarily to redistribute farms to the country’s freedom fighters. He gave the pest farms to his political cronies. Many whites immigrated to neighboring countries where they have been received with open arms. Tragically, many of the new landowners do not know how to run the farms, not even to produce for their own families, much less commercially.. Zimbabwe’s economy has crashed completely. There is wide food deprivation. Hundreds of blacks seeking food and work attempt to enter South Africa illegally every day. Some, after having crossed the crocodile-infested Limpopo River which is the border between the two countries, then scale the fences along Kruger National Park. They attempt to walk the high tension electricity lines towards Johannesburg. Many never arrive. The lions of Kruger Park know about them and lay waiting when they climb down.”

    All night long I dream of feasting lions.

    This morning we take a taxi to Cape Town Waterfront, the delightful shopping mall at the harbor. Our driver is a Zimbabwean. His car is a relic. The windows won’t roll down and the meter is non-functioning as well. But the man has such a charming smile that we climb into the dinosaur anyway. He speaks very good English and knows where Mexico is. “How long have you been in South Africa?” I ask him. “One year,” he answers. “Did you walk through Kruger Park?” “No,” he laughs. “not through the Park.”

    “How is life here?”

    “The first two months were very difficult,” he admits, “but now I am doing just fine.

    “So you are lucky,” I continue.

    He corrects me. “No, not lucky. But I am a good worker. We Zimbabweans know how to work. The blacks here just know how to get dead drunk. They are lazy.”

    He smiles and tells us,”Soon I will have legal residency papers. Then I can bring my family to join me. Now, I go home every two months to see them. Every visit I see that conditions are worse than before. There is hardly any food on store shelves. There is no gasoline. There is nothing left. My country is dying.”

    We pay him double the fare he requests and go watch another movie, “Blood Diamonds”. Child soldiers and war lords in Sierra Leone. Torture. Men and women with cut-off limbs. Rich Western diamond dealers. I am wearing a ring with diamonds which my mother gave me many years ago.
    It stares up at me.

    We leave the movie theatre and I hear wonderful male voices singing. I pull my husband toward the voices. In between the harbor and the mall, ten young black men stand in the wind and rain, singing. It is cold, but many people have gathered to listen to them. They are dressed in simple pants and thin shirts, but as they dance and sing, they sweat. They are happy. Their voices carry across the shops and sea.

    Back in Swakopmund, current films are not available in the cinemas as here, so, on our last day in Cape Town, we decide to catch another movie. This time our taxi driver is from Somalia. He also complains that the local blacks are lazy, especially the Xhosa, Nelson Mandela’s tribe. “The Xhosa resent us Somalis for our economic success here. Several years ago, in just one month, twenty-eight Somalis were killed in Cape Town.” he tells us. We are shocked.

    We enter the multiplex and chose a film about the IRA in Ireland. It is very well done with excellent acting and cinematography. About half way through, there is a scene in which English soldiers torture an Irishman by tearing out his fingernails, one by one. I have recently been watching movies and reading books about all the ways black African politicians torture their brothers. Now I watch a movie about whites being abominable to other whites. I suddenly cannot stand it anymore. I run out of the theatre. My husband follows.

    “I cannot stand one more movie about war and torture and injustice!” I yell. My husband agrees. I start to cry and he takes my hand. “You have to remember,” he says, “most people in the world never torture or kill another human being.”

    He is right.
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