I've been in Mexico City for one month. Ideas about change continue to slosh to the surface of my mind; sometimes it seems that only my body recognizes and is bound by time, performing its necessaries to maintain a homeostasis of sleep and sustenance. To my mind, morning means nothing; it can fever with activity when my body demands sleep, hurl morning thoughts into the afternoon, or doze when I need its hormones to collide and produce energy the most.
Such is the state of myself when I take moments in between spreadsheets and routines that are already settling and realize that I’ve been here a month. When I look back on September 2012, I’m sure my mind will have already batched and defragmented: I’ll remember pyramids, gritos, eating weekend quesadillas with friends in Coyoacan, getting shoved into the public transit system and sitting quietly on a rock while a shepherd tended his sheep in a timeless valley outside the city limits. All of these things happened, and the wonder they have provided is more than I have ever experienced in a month’s span. I had only the vaguest idea of what experiencing Mexico would look like, and I have been surprised and sated with the hospitality and beauty of this place, its people and its ways.
I was with a new friend yesterday, swapping reading lists and talking about all the books we need to read from each other’s culture. (A convicting aside: I need to read more great American literature.) He talked about my beginning with Mexico’s pre-Hispanic roots in order to understand their cosmovisión.
“Do you know what cosmovisión means?” he interjected, always aware but not patronizing of my newness (another aside: put people in your life who are exactly like this, especially when you spend your days under a cloudbank of inferiority and linguistic insecurity).
I stuttered in broken Spanish, “Uhh…it’s the narrative of everything?”
He smiled. Transaction.
I knew that I knew the translation, but my mind was tired of switching. Pick one, it said, I’m still wet from the rain. (A final cautionary aside: from May-December, never go anywhere in Mexico City without an umbrella.) So 30 minutes later, when he was driving me back to Polanco to ride the metro home, it came. “Worldview!” I blurted, “Yes, it’s worldview. That’s what cosmovisión means.”
I had learned about worldview during my time in D.C. and had never been enthralled with the idea, perhaps because I had always attached it to an image of someone who, enveloped in the hamster exercise ball of the correct worldview, bubbled his way around to other cultures to compare and critique. I know that’s not the heart of the idea and that labels and nomenclature are necessary, but the image persisted as a way for me to maintain the stance that speaking in terms of cultural lenses and views in itself is a lens and a view that may or may not be accepted as standard across the spectrum of human social thought. Is it lenses all the way down?
Maybe I’m suspicious of worldviewing because I’m a horrible worldviewer—I made my hamster ball out of Saran wrap, and two steps into a new world, I’m permeated and saturated and end up less like a fortified foreign observer and more like a cultural bubble boy, immune to nothing. (Alright, a for-real final aside, with cause for celebrating: I eat street tacos like each kiosk is feeding me my death-row meal and my stomach has yet to wage war.)
Maybe, like the cultural awareness coach said in our orientation week, when we travel to another culture, we are blending lenses, bringing red and blue tints together in front of our faces to see the world in purple. She made this illustration by sliding transparency sheets in front of her grinning countenance, advising us that it may be difficult for us to reacclimate once we get back to the US because our purpleness no longer seems to fit with our less-traveled friends and family. While I smiled and nodded as an initial response, now I know better: Uhh, reacclimate? I just got here and I have no idea what’s my lens and what’s just human. I dropped the transparencies that you gave me; I think I left them in Balderas Plaza. I shouted through the lenses with 300,000 other souls at el grito and the sonic blast and the rain made them bleed and stick together. My new lens is not only different in its hue, it has an entirely foreign topography, and parts of my world have been convexed and inflated and shrunk when I stack my sheets, making everything feel like vertigo.
Maybe, though, this is all exactly right. After all, is the wonder that I report experiencing with such density separable from a soul’s upheaval? Why would a man wonder unless something fundamental in his world appeared or evaporated? I walk the streets and there is no number four; I think about which shirt to wear and there is no idea of blue. I miss four. I miss blue. Everyone else carries on as if they never existed, because to this place, they don’t. It’s visceral, violent even, in moments. Up to now, I have viewed wonder as an emotion of contemplation and contentment that brings me outside of myself—necessary, restoring, healthy in little doses of instrumental music and quiet. I used to look at the stars and wonder what it must be like to be so far away--quite a tender conjecture from the safety of a sleeping bag or an embrace. Now I might as well be on a star looking at earth’s perpetual peregrination around its own ball of light, wondering if home still smells like cold and peace and cinnamon rolls on Saturdays in December. No, wonder is not always kind. But I do think it is always worth the weight of its burden—after all, how many fours and blues am I missing out on? If I don’t wonder, I’ll snooze through their discovery and miss the cadence.
For the first time, I am no longer surrounded by my own worldview as a constant reference point. I know that my cosmovisión has not gone, and even more, that a grand, unchangeable cosmovisión still exists and thankfully does not depend on my inconstancy. I know that my loved ones back home still get up and do most things like I still do. But in flashes, I see purple. I’m not the same. I want different foods. I want different ideas and habits. I want to say things in a language that is each day (well, most days) less daunting and more inhabitable. The punchline is that I am in the transparencies, and I flip and contort myself when I try to wave the sheets around. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Right now, it’s fragmenting and exhausting and it makes me smile that I signed up for this. The concentric circles will still, I’m told and I believe, and in a few months I’ll likely turn the key at the day’s end and remember only faintly the unwholeness of my momentary adaptation. Then again, maybe not. I wonder.