Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Post 2! Oaxaca City Tour

Yesterday we took a city tour of Oaxaca with the program coordinator (Oliver) in a big red, and thankfully air conditioned van. Before embarking on the tour Oliver produced a map of the city and explained the places we would be seeing over the next few hours. Government housing, rich neighborhood, middle class neighborhood, the historic center of town, lower income neighborhood, a squatter settlement and to top the tour off we were to visit the river where the city dumps all their sewage! Mmmmmm....I just love the smell of raw sewage, don't you? Here is a description of each locale....

Government housing: Apparently the system of government housing in Mexico is quite a bit different from ours. Within the Mexican system you actually own the unit you are assigned. There is a list which determines priority, single women with children at the top and those without etc. lower on the list . Of course like any prioritized list there are ways to bump yourself up, wink, wink. The housing we saw was built in the 70s and resembled duplexes in the states with one big exception, the very bold colors on the facades. I love those colors and sometimes wish we were as creative with our buildings. Oliver explained that compared to the public housing structures of today these are quite large with several rooms and bathrooms, good for a family. Those built today are much smaller, typically with one bedroom and one bathroom. The Mexican constitution (Article 27?) guarantees everyone housing that is also pleasing to the eye. Not in those words of course but I'm not making this up. Anyway, to accomodate this article of the constitution they apparently started to build things much smaller due to lack of money amongst other things. This particular development was constructed between the middle class neighborhood and the upper class area creating a bit of a conflict between the haves and the have nots...water is a particularly sticky issue in Oaxaca. On to the richies!

Upper class neighborhood or area on hill with houses behind large walls: The relatively recent expansion of San Felipe up the hill north of Oaxaca occured on communal land. Apparently, and this isn't quite clear, the members of the comunidad agraria in San Felipe decided to sell some land, which is totally illegal for communidad ararias to do, and made a bit of money from those that have too much. So you essentially have two communities, one of large houses and also the residents who inhabited the space before the richies built their mansions. As explained to us this situation, rather than being a bit troublesome is actually quite synergistic (sp?), those that sold the land now work in the homes of the people that bought the land. I suppose the original inhabitants of San Felipe don't have to take a long bus ride now to care for children and clean homes. While the area was beautiful (of course we didn't see much due to the high walls) the most interesting part was the little drive by we did of an enormous and beautiful mansion. This was the home of some politician (a senator?) who owned the home but rarely lives there, he visits once a month. The driver of our tour van explained that he knew the politicians driver and all the servants were allowed to use the facilities and basically enjoy the place while they were gone. The employees are also paid very well. The driver receives $1000 a month which is quite a bit more than the minimum wage of $4.50 a day other Oaxacans receive. Good work if you can get it but these politicians are paying for loyalty, and loyalty is very important for Mexican politicians. Again, wink, wink.

Side note...I found out why so many Mexican houses have rebar! I was told that they didn't have to pay taxes if the house was under construction, hence the rebar, but that is in fact not true. Mexican home construction is apparently, for some, a years long endeavor. They paint, add on, replace tin with cement etc. as the money comes in. If they have a baby and need to add a room onto the top of the house, it is much easier to do this when the rebar is already sticking out! I also have no idea if I'm spelling rebar right.

Okay, this post will continue later since I am starving and need to eat....more on the flipside.

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