I dream I am in a foreign country. I drive across a sprawling city where there are no tall buildings, and all the roads cross on the diagonal. Later, I am in a big high-ceilinged room with a hundred children. They are all busy talking in a language I don’t recognize. When I leave, I drive on a narrow dirt road barely as wide as my car. The road peters out into a path, wide enough for people or burros, and in the dark I picture people walking there. The sides of the trail are covered with sand, spotted with scrubby vegetation, though I have the sense of trees in the distance, and open, undeveloped land that goes on and on toward the east. I turn the car around, thinking about my afternoon with the children.
My mind is working on the differences between this world and my own. I feel like I did when I first moved to Baja California Sur. I was glad I had driven there even though the driving itself was nightmarish. But it gave me a clear sense of the vast wilderness that lay between me and the border, long open distances like in the dream. I remember in those first weeks in Todos Santos noticing all the differences between the two worlds, my mind on overdrive, always comparing, contrasting, wondering, discerning.
There were little things and big ones everywhere I looked. In Mexico, the check is never brought to your table at a restaurant until you ask for it. In Mexico, you never approach someone in a store only to blurt our your question or your demand. You say good afternoon, buenas tardes. ¿Como está? How are you? You make contact first, present, courteous. In Mexico, you might sit on the patio reading or working online. You might forget you are in another world. But then you glance over your shoulder and see an iguana as big as your leg from the knee down, as thick around as your muscled calf. He is eating leaves in a nearby tree, his chewing slow and relaxed. He seems benign, but to have him munching yards away from your table is surreal.
In my dream, as I get the car turned around and head back the way I came on the dirt road, I remember how it felt when I couldn’t quiet my brain, couldn’t stop taking the measure of all things. I am doing it, too, in the dream, comparing the culture of this undeveloped country with my own. I watch the sandy banks beside the road in the headlights. I like this foreign land. But it will be much harder, I think, to come to understand the differences between this world and mine without knowing the language here. I’ll have to get to work on that.