Alphabets

So I worked out why I have found it hard to get enthusiastic about Mexico.

My previous travels have almost all been in Europe, America, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. What these areas have in common is their cultures and civilisations have left a mark. They created alphabets, discovered knowledge and propagated themselves in books. They are all profoundly written cultures and as such, their impact can be observed and felt in our contemporary society. I find them interesting because to understand them, is to understand myself and the world about me that little bit better.

Conspicuous by their absence from my travels have been Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa (with the exception of South Africa). Whilst pre-Colombian cultures did discover knowledge, writing and were relatively advanced for their time, I cannot see or feel their effect in my own, Western, Judeo-Christian cultural life at all. Wandering around a museum of artifacts spanning two thousand years, not one aspect of Latin American history had any resonance with me other than to impress upon me the fact that it no longer exists in any recognisable form. It pretty much failed absolutely.

I can understand why Latin American, and perhaps even Africa, appeal to people who enjoy carnival, partying and a multi-coloured good life. But, I need intellectual stimulation from my travels. I need to feel a connection with the location and these two continents have yet to make one for me.

The one exception to this is in regards to poverty. We passed by some slum areas on the bus yesterday, and I am appalled, fascinated and impressed by the ability of human beings to survive in extreme, basic conditions. Seeing the corrugated steel roofs over tiny boxes reminded me of how lucky I am to live in the West. I have felt the same thing when travelling in North Africa and wish I could have spent more time looking around the poorer areas of town here in Mexico City, but I have been wary of the crime rate. I am not a poverty tourist, but wish I could meet the people who live in these areas and learn more about their lives. To only experience the history of a city without seeing its present makes a trip incomplete.

One thought on “Alphabets

  1. bortee

    I should have mentioned a great book while you were here and before you headed off to an ancient Mayan city: The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. He basically says that consciousness is only about 4000 years old and the Mayans didn’t have it. No consciousness, no inner narrative, very few words, no written language and so, no alphabet. We’ll talk about it next time.

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