A simple vacation changed my life. My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay. Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.
This was my first trip to Mexico. This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place. Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.
I’m far from a naive traveler. I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips. We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.
We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel. We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel. Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders. While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?” To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken? Cool!” My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people. Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook? Yeah, possibly.
The next day saw us in Cozumel. Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy. I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience. Both places have awesome stuff to see, however. In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico. Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions. (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)
Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken. Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones. (What about the other 60%?) After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs. The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did. Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism. I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.
Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind. On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms. These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates. Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant. This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences. After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.
Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively. Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia. It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs. They often held supervisory positions as well. Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members. It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service. Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs. I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.
My youngster only saw “people.” All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators. Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him. She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect. In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder. That’s beautiful to me. How often do we elevate people by our actions each day? Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?
It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up. Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.