Der Chronist der Winde

Am Montag dieser Woche starb der schwedische Autor Henning Mankell. An genau dem Tag sprachen wir in unserem deutschsprachigen Literaturkreis in Mexiko-Stadt über sein Buch “Der Chronist der Winde”.

In dem Roman, 1995 erschienen, erzählt Mankell die Geschichte vom Straßenkind Nelio, zehn Jahre alt: Sein Dorf wurde von Banditen brutal überfallen, seine Schwester barbarisch ermordet, der Junge von seinen Eltern getrennt. Von Heimat und Familie beraubt, flieht Nelio in die Stadt – angelehnt an Mosambiks Hauptstadt Maputo – und kämpft dort jeden Tag ums blanke Überleben. Er schließt sich einer Gruppe von Straßenkindern an und wird schließlich deren Anführer. Durch seine besondere Art schafft er es, dass die Jungen kleine Dinge tun, die sie aus ihrer Unsichtbarkeit heraustreten lassen. Er regt sie an, Träume zu haben. Gemeinsam erfüllen sie den Wunsch des einen, und den Traum des anderen. Dabei wird Nelio angeschossen, und stirbt neun Tage später an seinen Wunden. In den Nächten bis zu seinem Tod erzählt er seine Lebensgeschichte einem Bäcker, den die Begegnung mit dem weisen Jungen schwer beeindruckt.

Kurz vor seinem Tod sagt Nelio zu José Antonio Maria Vaz, dem Bäcker:

“Mein Vater war ein sehr kluger Mann. Er lehrte mich, zu den Sternen aufzuschauen, wenn das Leben schwer war. Wenn ich den Blick dann wieder auf die Erde senkte, war das, was eben noch übermächtig war, auf einmal klein und einfach.”

Mankell starb im Alter von 67 Jahren an Krebs. 1973 reiste der Schwede zum ersten Mal nach Afrika; seitdem lebte er abwechselnd in Maputo und in Stockholm. Der Autor, weltbekannt durch seine Kriminalromane, setzte sich für den Kontinent Afrika und seine Menschen in Armut, Not und Verfolgung ein. Der “Chronist der Winde” ist ein beeindruckender Roman. Der Junge Nelio macht mit seinem Blick zu den Sternen allen Leidenden Mut – heute genauso wie vor 20 Jahren, als Mankell ihn für uns erschuf.

Viva Hidalgo! Viva México!

Today, Mexico celebrates the 205th anniversary of its independence. In the early hours of 16 September 1810, the Mexican Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo encouraged a group of people to free themselves from Spanish colonial rule. Hidalgo, the most important of Mexico`s independence heroes, had the church bells ring and supposedly shouted “Death to bad government!” that night, in the town of Dolores in the state of Guanajuato. In the subsequent months, Hidalgo gathered an army of 90,000 mainly poor farm workers from indigenous or mestizo origin who fought against the ruling elite in the country – Spaniards and “criollos”, descendants from Spaniards born in the colonies.

Hidalgo was captured and executed not even a year after his famous “grito”, i.e. shout. The Mexican War of Independence lasted another ten years, until the country finally achieved its sovereignty in 1821. The question is, if it has also overcome bad government.

Mexico is a great country. It covers nearly 2 million square kilometers, more than five times the area of Germany, of beautiful coastlines, tropical forests, pristine mountain ranges, fertile plains and deserts with a unique biological, cultural and ethnic diversity. It brought corn, tomatoes and cocoa to the world; to name just a few of the goods. Its 120 million people are friendly and hard-working. Its economy ranks 15th on the global scale – thanks to the growing manufacturing industry, the sluggish oil and gas sector, tourism and the remittances of more than 12 million Mexicans living in the United States.

But nearly 200 years after Mexicans could again fully decide for themselves and choose a government they deemed appropriate, the country could be and should be in better shape. In 2014, 55 million Mexicans lived in poverty – that are even two million more than two years earlier. 28 million did not have enough to eat, 22 million suffered from a serious deprivation in basic education, the same number did not have proper access to health care. The ones that are doing better work overtime and spend every peso they can to send their children to private schools and attend private doctors – despite the fact that the government provides both for free. But a lot of people are just not content with the quality of public services.

Insecurity in the country is a definite issue. Impunity is widespread – according to the Financial Times, only 0.5 percent of crimes went punished in 2013. The papers conclusion after the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala last September: “It is remarkable Mexican criminality is not higher still.” And Mexico ranked even worse than in previous years in 2014 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – it came out as 103rd on a list of 175 countries.

Seven in ten Mexicans say that they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country, according to a latest poll by the Pew Research Center: Rising prices, crime, lack of employment opportunities and corrupt political leaders were the top concerns.

The Mexican President, state governors and city mayors honor Hidalgo’s contribution to the country by shouting out his name and the ones of several other independence heroes on the night of 15 September. President Enrique Peña Nieto did that yesterday at 11 pm from the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Mexico City. He has three years left of his six-year term – he, and any other elected official in the country, should use that time to continue the fight Hidalgo started and make bad government truly a feature of the past. The Mexican people deserve it.

El poder de los consumidores en México – bancos

Tengo que escribir este “post” en español, porque afecta principalmente a mis amigos mexicanos. Pero también muestra a la gente afuera de México que en un país en desarrollo, como México, los consumidores tienen mucho menos poder que en un país desarrollado.

Hace algunos días me informó mi banco aquí, Bancomer, el segundo mas grande en el país, que el sueldo promedio mensual que tengo que tener en mi cuenta ya son 8000 pesos. Punto. Muchos saludos y adiós. Nada mas. Averigüé y vi que antes eran en 4000 pesos. Si no tienes el sueldo promedio mensual en tu cuenta, te cobran, al mes, 370 pesos de comisión, mas IVA, que sale al cliente en mas que 400 pesos.

Para recordar a la gente afuera de México: Hablamos de un país con un salario mínimo de alrededor de 2000 pesos, entonces ahora mi banco quiere que todos sus clientes tienen a lo menos cuatro veces el salario mínimo en su cuenta, si no, les cobran mas que 400 pesos, al mes. Una ayudante de casa en la Cuidad de México, la zona mas cara del país, gana 300 pesos al día. Entonces tiene que trabajar mas que un día para pagar para el servicio de tener una cuenta bancaria de cheques con Bancomer. Porque nunca va estar en la posición de tener 8000 pesos en su cuenta, sin usarlos. Porque ella gana 6000 pesos al mes. Pero me olvidé – nada mas 39 par ciento de los mexicanos tienen una cuenta bancaria, y lo mas probable es que una ayudante de casa esta adentro de los 61 par ciento de la población que no tiene ninguna. México mejoró en el punto de inclusión financiera en los últimos años, pero todavía esta mucho atrás del resto de América Latina.

Para mi cuenta en Alemania pago menos que 5 euros al mes, alrededor de 90 pesos. Como, francamente, puede ser que los bancos mexicanos cobran mas a sus clientes que los bancos europeos? Operan en un entorno con mucho menos gastos – pagan sueldos mucho mas bajos, sobre todo. Pues, cobran mas porque lo pueden hacer. Porque los otros bancos también te piden un sueldo mínimo o te cobran comisión. Y es una lata cambiar banco, porque tienes que llevar muchos documentos, invertir a lo menos una hora para abrir una nueva cuenta, regresar después de unos días para recoger tu chequera (si, todavía se usa mucho en México), esperar otra vez. Las colas en los bancos mexicanos son legendarios.

Logico que el banco no da interes al cliente para sus 8000 pesos que están en la cuenta.

Lidiar con bancos es algo muy frustrante en México. Es como lidiar con el ex-monopolista de servicios telefónicos fijos (Telmex) o mobiles (Telcel) – nunca te dan el servicio que tu crees que mereces porque pagas mucho dinero, mucho mas que pagarías por el mismo servicio en Europa. Que a mi me gustaría es ver a los consumidores mexicanos levantarse, quejarse, no dejarse tratar como clientes dependientes, pero demandar, si exigir, que les dan un buen servicio.

Playing hardball and crossing a line!

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning, a recording of a private telephone call between the President of Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) and the organization’s executive secretary was leaked to the public. In the call which took place in April, INE head Lorenzo Córdova tells his colleague about a meeting he had with indigenous leaders and mocks the way one of them was speaking.

Definitely, what Córdova said in the phone call, was offensive and – if you want to use that concept – not politically correct. INE’s function is to make sure that parties in Mexico act according to the rules and that elections are organized in a free, fair and effective way. There are elections coming up in less than three weeks, on 7 June. Córdova very often seems like a mum telling her fighting children to stop and behave – campaigning can be a messy business in Mexico. I still have not found out which institution fulfills the role of INE in my country, Germany. I actually think, there is no one counterpart, but that responsibilities are held by different bodies, if at all. Maybe politicians also just stick to the rules more there. In México, compliance with and enforcement of the law are some of the biggest problems.

We all know that we live in a world where government institutions such as the secret service survey phone calls, messages, emails, etc. By doing so, they infringe on basic human rights, for example our right to privacy. That is not okay, and in a lot of parts of the world there are debates going on as to how far surveillance should go. Usually the argument of those using these techniques is that they are necessary for protecting national security. I do not think that the head of Mexico`s national electoral body should fall under this category.

We also know that there are, let’s call them “free agents”, who know how to infringe on people’s privacy. Making a private phone call public, however, is even a step further. INE yesterday filed a formal penal complaint, so it will be up to the attorney general’s office to find out who did the recording and who leaked it. Taken Córdova’s position, it seems the most likely that some party official has decided to play hardball. What he or she might not have considered is that with choosing the action he or she did, a line was crossed!

Mexico’s democracy is already plagued by corruption, cronyism and elected officials’ indifference to the people they represent. It is under severe threat from organized crime. Now another unlawful instrument has made its way into the toolbox of some acting in the political arena. I hope that investigators find the culprit – because he or she has not only damaged Mr. Córdova or the INE, but the whole country.

More on the story can be found here:

Mexico’s “Green” Party

Parties that call themselves green usually define as one of their main goals to protect the environment. Using earth’ resouces in an efficient and respectful way, trying to adapt one’s consumption patterns in order to mitigate the dangerous developments of global warming and climate change – all those are usually policies pushed for by green parties.

It is particularly important for politicians that their words are followed by appropriate actions – a President claiming to fight corruption should not receive favors by a big government contractor; a governor claiming to protect human rights should not ignore when police in his state uses violence and torture.

Yesterday, on a highway outside Mexico City, I came across this car.

Yesterday at a highway outside Mexico City.

A Chevrolet Suburban, black, darkened windows, quite popular in Mexico, actually. Depending on the model, the Suburban has at least a 5.3-liter engine and 320 horsepower and a fuel economy of, in the best case, 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway (for my European friends: that is roughly 15 liters on 100 km in the city and 10 on the highway).

The car displayed huge stickers with the slogan “Partido Verde – Sí cumple“, meaning that the Green Party fulfills the promises they make. I was wondering what the political promises and goals of Mexico’s Partido Verde were when I got overtaken by that car. I think, the party has some catching up to do on their own environmental consciousness.


Mexico City is a big city, with a serious traffic problem…But today, several negative factors came together. Just so that you get an idea of what it is like to live in a megapolis of an emerging market:

1. Today is Friday – Friday evening rush-hour is the worst of the whole week…I guess it is not that more people go to work than from Monday to Thursday, but that people go out on Friday night or leave the city heading for their weekend homes.

2. Today is the second Friday in the month, i.e. people get paid (Mexicans get paid every quinzena, every “15 days”). And when Mexicans get paid, they like to spend it; so more people go to cantinas, bars, restaurants and cinemas on “quinzena” Friday than the other one.

3. Today it rained. Despite the fact that it rains nearly half of the year in Mexico (from May to October, usually), every day, traffic becomes so much slower when it does. It has to be said, though, that we are in March, when rain is extremely unusual here. And, on top of that, hail came down today…

4. Today is the last school day before Easter vacation, the most important family vacation in Mexico besides the xmas holidays.

My son attended a birthday party today. The girl, who invited all the kids of their grade, lives about 10 kilometers away from us. Unfortunately, the route is prone to traffic congestion. Parents organized car pools to pick up the kids. My phone has been in constant reception of WhatsApp messages commenting on how heavy the traffic is, etc. I am calculating that it will take my son and his friends about 90 minutes to get home…That is what it is like to live in a megapolis of an emerging economy.

Ecobici – trying to make a megacity more liveable

For the last five years, little red bicycles have helped to make the heavy Mexico City traffic a little less dense and polluting. The service – run by Mexico City’s local government – now offers more than 6000 bikes at more than 400 bike stations. An annual membership costs 400 pesos (27 USD or 24 Euros); lately, short-term memberships for one, three or seven days have been introduced. According to Ecobici, nearly 150.000 users have registered so far for the service which is the biggest in Latin America.

And right on their 5th anniversary, the Ecobicis have made their way into our neighborhood, the borough of Benito Juárez.

The only thing lacking now is educating local drivers that they are not the only ones on the streets. Might be an even tougher job than what Ecobici has reached so far.


Vivos los queremos!

I have not commented so far on what happened in Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero nearly eight weeks ago.

But today, as Mexico celebrates the 104th anniversary of its revolution, people all across the country and Mexicans abroad honor the 43 kidnapped students of Ayotzinapa by wearing black. By showing their solidarity with the students, with their families, with their friends.

Everybody has the right to lead a life in peace, in a secure and safe environment, in a society based on laws and that respects the law, and with justice being done.

Impunity is unacceptable!

Moving countries – part II

The last few weeks, I have been partly irritated, annoyed, frustrated. What happened?

After we have been living here for nearly twelve months, after the first school year finished and we have had our first summer vacactions, I decided that now it was time for myself. I had gotten my kids into the school we always wanted (and which had first told us that they could not offer them a place as classes were full). I had assisted them in countless homework sessions, struggling with the Spanish language that they had heard and partly used since they were born with their father and their Mexican grand-parents, but that they had never been formally taught in. I had found us an apartment. I had waited – also it seems – countless times for some handyman to not show up on time or not show up at all to fix something in our flat – informality is widespread in Mexico, and in the capital there is always “trafico” that serves as a good excuse. I had found us a maid, a pediatrician, a dentist; struggled with the lack of service from banks, insurance firms, the gas company.

So, after all that, I though that I would like to find a job; find a company or an organization that could make use of my professional experience, that would give me opportunities to add value, to grow, and hopefully appreciate my services by paying me a decent salary. And that is when irritation, annoyance and frustration started. And when I got aware of my blatant ignorance of Mexican labor market conditions.

I knew that the minimum wage was very low – it actually is 66 pesos, or a little bit more than 5 US Dollars, a day. As most laborers work six days a week, but get paid for seven, that would make close to 2000 pesos a month. Having a masters degree, I was considering my earning potential far above minimum wage. But still, what I have been offered so far is considerably below my NGO salary back in Vienna. And that was less than what I had earned working in knowledge management in The Netherlands. And that, again, was not as good as what I had gotten as a business journalist in Germany. You see – my career, when you measure it by income, has been in a downward spiral for the last 13 years. I have been doing something wrong (but that would be the subject of at least one other post, I guess).

But back to my job hunt in Mexico. I also knew that Germans are very spoiled when it comes to vacation days. I had 30 days when I worked at Financial Times Deutschland. Times have changed a bit in Germany as well, particularly if you enter the labor market, but still, Germans enjoy a great amount of vacation a year. In one of my first interviews, I learned that according to Mexican labor law the employee actually does not have the right to ANY day of paid vacation during the first year. In year two, law grants her or him six days. After ten years, you have the right to ten paid days a year. There are several employers that offer more than the legal minimum. However, for a European even 15 days a year is meager, and it does not even cover a third of Mexican school vacation. So, if you try to combine family and career, start saving up for summer camps.

In addition, Mexicans work the most and the longest hours – at least within the club of industrialized countries (OECD). A Mexican worker puts in more than 2200 hours a year; a German not even 1400; an American close to 1800.

So, bad pay, little vacation, and long hours. On top of all that, trying to commute in a metropolitan area of 20 million people can be stressful and can take an hour or more, each way. That is not exactly the jackpot. With that in mind, when I feel irritated, annoyed and frustrated, I am trying to cut myself some slack. And then I remind myself of the theme of this blog that says “keep on trying” – and I write another application.

What adds to my irritation is that I would rather like to find something, but without the searching part. Yes, I admit, I confess. After having moved countries four times in 13 years, searching for a suitable position has felt taking as much time as actually working in the different jobs. But, as the Mexicans say: ni modo. What happens to me now is just another phase of adaptation to a my new place of residence. I should congratulate myself that I have managed part I so well. Keeping on trying.