Bref, I rode the Mexico City metro at rush hour

Before arriving to Mexico City, I had heard about how packed the public transportation was, but you never really understand something until you experience it yourself. During my third week in Mexico City, I was coming back from a meeting in the Bosque de las Lomas, 17km from my house, in the Western part of the city, an area poorly connected by public transportation. It took me over two hours to get back to my house.

First, I waited for the microbus near the location of my meeting. The stops are not indicated, so I walked along the large boulevard and asked in a local shop where the bus stopped. Following their instructions, I walked further along the road and found a small group of people waiting together, partly on the sidewalk and partly in the street. The first bus to arrive was so full that it passed right by. The second was almost as full and when I got in, I stood in the stairs for the first ten minutes before there was enough room to advance into the bus. I remained standing for the rest of the hour’s ride to the metro, squished up against and pressed between the other passengers, who, I imagined, make this same trip every day. I could not help but wonder what this would be like on a hot, summer day.

As we arrived at the metro, everyone got out of the bus. Relieved, I enjoyed the view of the Auditorio Nacional and made my way to the metro station. Little did I know then, this was just the beginning of my rush hour experience. Auditorio is in Polanco, a neighbourhood full of offices. As I arrived around 7pm, I was joined by the throng of people finishing their workdays and heading towards the metro and home.

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Auditorio Nacional, Polanco

I entered the metro and made it to the platform. The platform was full of people when I arrived, but little did I know it would become even fuller. I walked to the front of the platform, the area that is usually reserved for women and children during peak hours. Normally it is closed off and guarded by a police officer. That day it was not blocked off, which meant that the area was awash with women and men alike.

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Sign stating that this part of the metro is reserved for women and children.

When the metro pulled up to the platform it was already full. As the doors opened, a few people exited and a mass of others tried to enter, although only a couple were successful in squeezing in before the doors closed. The doors closed and opened again several times, as various parts of people’s bodies, their clothing or their belongings were stuck in the door. Finally, once all the doors closed, the metro pulled away, packed to capacity.

This process repeated itself over and over. More and more people arrived on the platform and the metros arriving remained just as full. Each time the metro arrived, people exited at the same time as others tried to enter, pushing each other, those entering lifting their bags over their heads to take up less space.

No matter how close I got to the edge of the platform, I couldn’t manage to get into the metro. I got shoved and remained standing on the platform. It also felt very unsafe, as there were so many people behind me and packed in so tightly, I was afraid to get pushed onto the tracks below.

I was amazed by how calm most people remained. I guess if you do this every day it becomes a normal part of your commute. As it was my first time stuck in this rush hour traffic, I was very agitated, but, deciding that I was in no rush (and valued my life), I stood back against the wall and waited for the traffic to die down. Forty minutes later, the platform was just as full, as were the arriving metros. I decided I would try to enter again. I made my way, closer and closer, until I was right beside the edge of the platform. As the metro arrived and the doors opened, a women behind me tried to push in front of me to get into the metro. Realizing there was no other way to get into the metro, I pushed back (just a little, I promise), and got absorbed into the mass of people inside the metro. Holding my purse above the crowd, I stood, not needing to hold onto anything, as I was completely crammed between the other passengers.

I rode the metro for a few stops before needing to change lines. Saying “Con permiso!” loudly and pushing my way towards the door, I emerged onto the platform and into the crowd of people walking in the station. The crowd was so thick, that I could only take small steps forward, following the signs and the people to the next platform. Luckily, this one was not as busy and I managed to get into the metro and arrive at my destination in just a few minutes. Emerging from the metro, I was desperate to get out of the crowd in the station and along Avenida Insurgentes. I walked quickly and entered my neighbourhood, making my way home. I arrived at my door and checked the time: It was after 8:00pm, over two hours had passed since I left my appointment in Las Lomas de Sante Fe.

Bref, I rode the metro in Mexico City.

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Adventures in Mexico City: Being a woman in public space

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Coyoacán neighbourhood of Mexico City and the Frida Kahlo museum, in typical tourist style. As I am still getting used to the city and applying to jobs, I have had some time to wander around and get to know the city.

I realized something about Mexico City that week, that I had not noticed before, as I am usually with my boyfriend or other friends: Women are not supposed to be alone in public spaces. At least, this is how you are made to feel. Allow me to explain.

As I left the museum, I walked towards the city center of Coyoacán. I had already been to this neighbourhood and I knew where I was going; the center was less than 20 minutes by foot. However, I was asked many times by idling taxi drivers if I needed a lift. When I did not respond, thinking I didn’t speak Spanish, they asked me in English. I kept walking, explaining that I simply did not need a cab.

Arriving in the main square of Coyoacán, I walked around and eventually went to eat in a nearby café. A small parenthesis here, but if you sit outside in cafés in Mexico City, you will be asked over and over again if you want gum, cigarettes or someone to read their poetry to you (no jokes). As I was sitting many musicians arrived, performed for a bit and left, asking for our “cooperation” (i.e. donation). I enjoy music, and I do not mind being offered things in the street, but it can be incessant, and as a woman by herself, it can be uncomfortable, as I am the easiest person to approach; it is much easier to approach a single person than a group.

After leaving the café, I decided to walk around the plaza and the park and sat down by myself on a bench. In the space of a few minutes, a man had come over to me. He was selling small bracelets and, exasperated, I said immediately that I was not interested. He got angry, saying that I should listen to him. I explained I just wanted to sit alone, quietly, I am sorry, but I am not interested. He got angrier, told me I was in Coyoacán and if I wanted to be alone I could go home, or back to my own country (Spain. Apparently I am from Spain. As a side note, I was slightly elated in this moment for him thinking I was Spanish and not noticing my accent).

He eventually left. In the moments after the encounter, I looked around me and realized that there were no other women alone in the plaza. It was not late, about 6pm. However, the park was full of small groups, couples, mothers and their children, and some men by themselves, but no women. There is a part of it that I enjoy: People do not sit alone, but rather carry out their daily activities with their family, friends and loved ones. However, as a women who is new to the city and who does not yet know many people, it can be uncomfortable, as I inevitably end up alone at times, but still want to experience the city.

I told a few people about this experience afterwards and they explained that it is perceived as harsh or aggressive to say “no” straight away in Mexico. This is especially true for women, who are expected to play along.

The square in Coyoacán is not the only place where it is an issue to be a woman. In Parque México there is a gang of adolescents who sell cupcakes. It seems benign at first, but it becomes very annoying if you regularly pass through the space. One day, when I said, “no, I am not hungry”, the boy responded, “qué linda!”, ironically, suggesting that I was being unfriendly. In addition, many streets in Mexico City are very poorly lit at night, making it very uncomfortable to walk alone. This does not only apply to women, but is especially relevant to them.

I think it is true to say that in many parts* of Mexico City, women cannot use the public realm in the same way that men can, and if they try, it is considered dangerous, or unfriendly. Dangerous, when she walks alone on poorly lit streets, and unfriendly, when she tries to sit alone in a public space and read, make a phone call or just be.

* This is not a rule. There are some spaces that I have felt comfortable in, and there are many men who respect women in the public realm. However, it happens often enough and for this reason I have decided to write about it.

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Plaza Jardín Hidalgo, Coyoacán