Learning from Crabs

July 26, 2015 - Mexico

There's a saying here in Mexico about Mexican and Japanese crabs. There's two pales; one with Mexican crabs, and the other with Japanese crabs. The Japanese crabs work together, and together they escape the pale. On the other hand, the Mexican crabs fight and pull each other down. Eventually, they resign, defeated and distant from each other, still in the pale.

The saying is certainly eclectic; however, it is representative of the urban slum community here in Tultitlan, that Amextra serves. (The choice of the Japanese crabs may be an unfounded comparison). Many in the community we live in suffer from a state of mind psychologists call "learned helplessness." They have "learned" that they will never have enough resources except the garbage they scavenge and perhaps some power from stolen electricity. With huge families to care for, they have "learned" that their sole narrative is to labor for the family's needs and accept the permanency of their situation; they can't imagine getting an elementary education or a concrete floor. They have "learned" that there is no future; and they relay this morbid narrative from generation to generation.

The staff at Amextra are few and ordinary community members. They offer their community school classes, a computer cafe, dry toilets (an amazing thing), nutrition classes, Zumba, and water filters. To the community though, these services mean so much.

To Gau, Amextra's Tultitlan coordinator, these services mean many years of fighting for trust and transformation in the community-- reversing the mentality of the resigned crabs. He knows what it is like to be entrapped in the crab pale. He's spent many years believing the dump was his life. Now, with a mischievous grin and sarcastic humor, he carries a burden for his community-- his neighbors. He sees that behind every installed water filter or kid in afterschool, these was a long fight to gain the trust of a family and to unteach what they had "learned." It is about transformation, not progress.

I have learned much from the staff at Amextra. They are seeking more than clean water, more than literacy, or mathematics competency. They are seeking to reverse the saying of the Mexico and Japanese crabs. They are seeking transformation-- for their neighbor and themselves. They are few but dedicated. They are ordinary, but passionate.


Written by Derek