Hugging the pandemic away – A Mexican dilemma

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Sabahat Ali Rajput, Missionary, Mexico City

Think your government’s approach to tackling Covid-19 is bad? Think again.

The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or as he’s known more commonly, “AMLO”, declared hardly a month ago, “With the coronavirus, this idea that you can’t hug – you have to hug! Nothing happens!”

More than a week later, after death tolls had confounded the best health-care professionals in the world and paralysed entire countries, Mr AMLO decided that the best response was to visit the destitute state of Guerrero and hug as many people as possible before uploading a video of it as an example for the entire country of 129 million people to follow. 

Now, a stomach-churning video of Mexican medical workers from one of the country’s top hospitals is circulating. It shows them discussing that testing for Covid-19 in Mexico is nearly nonexistent compared to the spread.

What’s more, the actual testing equipment for the novel coronavirus has only been delivered to 3 or 4 of Mexico’s most expensive hospitals. 

As though this wasn’t already an award-winning recipe for pandemic disaster, some hospitals are charging obscenely high prices of nearly 10,000 pesos a test (“Coronavirus test costs up to 10,000 pesos in private hospitals”, Mexico News Daily, 17 March 2020, accessed 8 April 2020), which is about $433.00 (USD).

To put it into perspective, the average middle-class Mexican makes significantly less than that in an entire month – and that’s not including the nearly 40% of the population that is barely balancing on the tight rope of poverty and the lower-middle classes. 

For them, the choice between the certainty of starving if they stay home and the chance of dying by the virus is an easy one. The ghastly lack of access to the select few hospitals which are making the test available has, much like an anesthetic, numbed them.  

“I don’t care much about the virus,” one mechanic replied, when asked about the dangers he exposes himself to every day.

“If the virus gets me, it gets me. What can I do?” (The New York Times, “As the Coronavirus Approaches, Mexico Looks the Other Way”. Accessed 8 April 2020)

As I make my way to Costco through Mexico City to replenish my stock-up of supplies (as instructed time-and-time-again by the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa) I pass a number of the 16 delegations which make up this vibrant and buzzing metropolis. 

Aside from the extremely well-off areas (which represent less than 1% of the population), everyday business is alive and well. Scores of people in this nine-million-person supercity blur past my Uber window, hugging, sitting in groups huddled together in the archetypal Mexican way, kissing each other upon saying hello and again when saying goodbye. 

There’s hardly a mask in site. 

While just north of the border, the US is crawling upward of 25,000 tragic losses of life to the pandemic, 350,000 Mexican workers who depend on foreign tourism and earn hand-to-mouth wages are facing a lethal loss of livelihood and jobs (VOA News, “Mexico Loses Nearly 350,000 Jobs Battling Coronavirus”, 9 April 2020) 

Readers from the developed world should bear in mind that each day’s earnings for these workers decide if their children will eat that week. 

And so, while the apprehension in the first world is no doubt terrifying, the tension in the toxically polluted air of Mexico City can be cut with a knife. The grim silence in her affluent streets bangs loudly against the heads of the poorer delegations in the city. The quiet winds that blow in the richest neighborhoods fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury of lockdown resonate like bombs upon the eardrums of the less privileged majority.

It is impossible not to notice the eyes of passers-by when I step out of Costco with supplies to last a few weeks. I see some local Mexican children running about freely in the streets – they do not enjoy the luxury of checking their phones every few minutes to see the number of Covid deaths. The tips I give to the cashier, then to the doorman and again to my Uber driver hardly dissipate the stone anchoring down my stomach and my heart bleeds after them. 

These people may not wear silks, but there are angels amongst them.

I recall I once had to go to a pharmacy for a specific medicine only available in the extremely wealthy Polanco region of Mexico City – the Beverly Hills of Latin America. I remember seeing a young woman seated outside with a blanket around her and her infant. I was with my wife and our one-year old daughter who was nestled in her stroller. I looked at my daughter and my heart nearly burst from the confused explosion of emotions – gratefulness to God for having given me everything and ineffable agony for the lady and her child. She literally was sitting at the feet of the richest people in the world.

As I walked up the ramp – a climb that seemed never to end as I could feel the desperate eyes of a mother burning a hole through my conscience – the lady suddenly called out to me.

“Sir!”

I reached into my pocket before turning around to see if I had anything I could give her. I wouldn’t face her any other way. I couldn’t face her any other way.

My heart sank as soon as I put my hand in my other pocket. My wallet was gone. I looked back at her in horror – less because of the missing wallet and more because I couldn’t even help her.

What I next saw shattered my already throbbing soul into a million smithereens and erected in its place a universe of unspeakable respect for these amazing people.

The lady had left her spot to pick up my wallet which I had dropped coming out of our car and was rushing towards me to return it. 

My fingers tremble as I recall that moment – when time literally froze and all I could see was an angel of God before me. I did not care in that moment what was in my wallet, for I had been struck by a lightning rod of humanity. My eyes burned with water and my heart was like a supernova in adoration of this woman who had nothing of the material world, yet chose to help me even when she could have easily kept it.

After all, for the sake of her child, why not keep the wallet?

Nowadays, as Mexico is being described as “the next Italy” by several medical health experts across the country, my heart goes out to all the angels in these streets.

So while we sit in the confines of our homes watching the horror of Covid-19 from the safety of our flatscreens and complaining about how difficult it is to go out with a mask, let’s also remember that there are those who have so little, yet carry hearts of gold, who deserve our attention, care and anything else we can give them especially in these days.

As God Almighty once informed the Holy Prophetsa of a question He will ask humanity, “Why did you not feed me when I was hungry?”

4 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t have words to describe the impeccable writing… Mashallah… It gave me the feels!!
    Heart-wrentchingly emotional painting drawn by these words.

  2. A beautifully written article that not only reveals a shocking approach to such testing times, but at the same time, also reminds us to be grateful of the bounty that God has bestowed upon us all. May Allah ease the hardship of the woman and her infant that are mentioned in the article and other angels like her around the world. Ameen

    May Allah bless the writer and his family in every sphere of their lives as well. Ameen

  3. What a moving story Br. Rajput! May Allahtaala help you help these people. May the Mexican people get the blessings of Ahmadiyyat, the true Islam and may the oneness of Allahtaala spread at a speed of light all over the world, ameen.

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