Today I had a much needed pedicure. Normally I’m prepared for this–I always bring my foot saving equipment with me to Mexico, as the streets, dust and walking 5-8 miles a day leaves your feet looking less than desirable. In fact, they look awful–the dirt sifts through your sandals and grinds into your heels so that they simply don’t come clean. This morning my feet looked like I had walked through a coal field. I forgot my pedicure tools too boot, so I had to find someone to do this for me.
My friend Caren referred me to her pedicurist, a lovely young woman I’ll call Isabel, who distinguishes herself by coming to your house for manicures and pedicures. She also charges $140 pesos, about $14 USD. Isabel has a new baby and is married to a man from the state of Mexico. She grew up here, and her parents still own their home in Centro, and she tells me, have no plans to sell.
While she worked, I asked her about her life here. She said that it’s not easy being a Mexican making a living in San Miguel. Yes, she conceded, that there is more employment here, but most gringos insist that their maids and pedicurists speak English (she doesn’t). She said that she also gets lots of complaints that she charges “U.S. prices” for her work–which is completely absurd–unless you’re willing to risk getting nail services as a cheap nail salon. You typically get more than a pedicure at these places–like fungal infections–but I’ve never known of a nail salon from New York to West Virginia or D.C. to charge less than $25 (the nail fungus is free).
In addition, Isabel said that she and her husband have a hard time making ends meet, although they both work long hours. Her work, admittedly, is more inconsistent, and on a good day she’ll have three appointments. There are weeks, however, where she has only one appointment. Her husband works here in construction and makes $1500 pesos a week, about $150 USD. To earn this sum he works 10-12 hours per day.
The problem with the expat immigration, according to Isabel, is that salaries for Mexicans in service positions have not kept pace with the cost of living in other aspects of day-to-day life. She said that, by and large, the gringo community is polite to Mexican workers, and they co-exist peacefully. That doesn’t make the economic reality of her life any easier, however. She pays the same prices for food, utilities and transportation as the expats, which is a bargain for us, but not for her. She said, “My husband was en el Norte for two years, saving money so we could buy our house. Sometimes he talks about going back, so we can have more here, but I don’t want him to go. Before we weren’t married, now we have a baby. It’s not good for family life when fathers work in the North.”
For her sake, I hope he doesn’t have to go.