Life in Mexico has given me a whole new perspective on consumerism.  We’ve been here almost two months and have had to make a few large purchases.  In US dollars, here is what we’ve spent:

$674 – new flooring, interior paint, bathroom sink/faucet/cabinet
$530 – new refrigerator (my christmas present from Miguel yesterday)
$138 – used dishwasher, half-sized for service for 5
               (Miguel got tired of washing dishes in the tiny motorhome sink)
$218 – hand made dishware and complete serving set, 75 pieces, service for 6
$1339 – 1980 VW bus, old hippie-style
$184 – monthly rent

We’ve been window shopping, too.  A brand new VW CrossFox fully-equipped costs $13,758 and there’s a new construction home in our neighborhood with granite tile inside and out, tri-level, 4 bedrooms, double-lot, huge fenced patios front and back, garage with fenced driveway for only $92,343.

 Wow, it’s all so cheap!!  Right? 

The minimum wage in Mexico is $500 pesos per week, about $46 USD, and most of the people who have a job make only the minimum wage, about $184 USD per month.

Miguel’s family is lucky.  Of the three sisters and one brother who are working age, all but the middle sister is employed.  His eldest sister has been at her job for 14 years and makes $4500 pesos per month, about $415 USD.  His brother, with a wife, a son, and two step-children makes $800 pesos per week, about $218 USD per month.  The middle sister runs a small store which she rents from her mother for $800 pesos per month – they don’t keep accounts, so who knows how much they make selling snacks and canned goods. 

With 15 people in the household, it’s a good thing they own their own home.  Why?  Well, the house we rent for $2000 pesos per month has one large bedroom, one large everything-else room, one completed bathroom off the bedroom, and one incomplete bathroom next to the front entry that we use for a pantry.  (Miguel just installed a cabinet and sink on the patio so that I have somewhere to cook – and, bonus, the dishwasher fits inside the cabinet.)  It would take three or four buildings this size to house 15 people – at a cost greater than they all earn in a month.  Their neighbor rents out rooms about 8ft x 7ft for $800 pesos per month!

Let’s take another look at those prices again in pesos, keeping in mind that the average person here makes $2000 pesos per month and a working couple makes maybe $4000 pesos per month:

$7,300 – new flooring, interior paint, bathroom sink/faucet/cabinet
$5,749 – new refrigerator
$1,500 – used dishwasher
$14,500 – 1980 VW bus
$2,000 – monthly rent
$144,900 – VW CrossFox
$1,000,000 – 4bedroom house

So my brain starts thinking, if I made $4,000 per month, how could I ever afford a $144,900 vehicle?  Or even a $5,749 refrigerator?  And, yet, these businesses are thriving.

I go to the local Gigante, kind of like Fred Meyer, and while I’m paying $6 for a 6 oz. bottle of drinkable mango yogurt (which, by the way is delicious) I think, “If I were in Seattle I would never pay the equivalent of $6 USD for a 6 oz. bottle of yogurt, but that’s what the ratio works out to be in local wages.”  And then I see a pair of shapeless polyester pants priced at $160 and my mind is blown.  Cheap shoes are $230.  The small store in the basement of the house on the corner sells K-Mart quality sweaters for $150 each.  A lady sells nice winter coats from the trunk of her car, albeit synthetic pile, $240 each.  Even the used clothing and shoes being sold from a blanket laying on the sidewalk cost $50-$100 pesos per piece.  Where do these prices come from?  I would be glad to pay $24 USD for a coat or $23 USD for shoes, but not if I were only making $50 USD per week – and especially not if I had to pay $200 USD per month in rent !!

And, yet, a doctor visit costs $20 pesos.  Yes, $2 USD to see the doctor.  And the medicine is equally inexpensive.  Unless it’s for a pet – I paid $20 pesos for one (1) de-worming pill for the cat, which I split into 4 doses because she’s so tiny.  I pay $17/week per kilo of cat food and $100/week for kitty litter.  At $1.50 USD for food and $9 USD for litter my cat is not high maintenace, but in comparison to the local wage earner I feel like I’m spending like a crazy rich person.  

The weirdest part is that the local people pay these bizarrely disproportionate prices.  I can’t figure it out; I can’t even find any justification or harebrained theory to understand it.   So, instead, I’ll just leave you with another strange story:

A water pipe burst in the street in front of our house last week.  The municipal workers came to fix it, but they didn’t have any tools or parts.  They whacked the street open with rusty picks and shovels.  Miguel was watching and noticed that they were trying to patch the pipes back together with tape and used chicken wire.  He went and bought compression bands for them.  They were very grateful.  They left big holes in the street – so the people won’t drive over the pipes and break them again.  Someone put the chunks of asphalt back in the biggest hole today.  So Miguel took the chunks out and put up two 3ft metal rods, one on each side of the hole, wrapped and joined together with black and yellow warning tape, so folks would have to drive around the hole. 

I asked Miguel why he was doing all of this on his own; aren’t the workers going to come back and make a permanent fix to the pipes?  No.  The municipal government doesn’t have any money for tools or supplies.  What?  They steal the money, so there isn’t any for repairs.  Besides, these pipes carry clean water, we can’t just let it gush like that for days; the people on the other side of the city only have water four days a week.