Angelique Chrisafis

I had breakfast at Moctezuma’s Daughter’s Tacomobile at the side of the main road into Puebla. While I ate, Jorge told me the different ways to torture someone with a chili pepper.

“During the conquest, the Spaniards used to bake chilis and hang Aztec children upside down with their faces in the fumes. People have also been known to remove the chili seeds and rub them in someone’s eyes and blind them, stuff them up someone’s nose and choke them, rub them into open sores and cause great pain. Or you can force someone to swallow a whole baked chili and burn their throat. We have a very sadistic national cuisine.”

The sun shone and VW Beetles sped through the small lakes left in the road by last night’s rain.

We were there to observe children working on the street. At every red traffic light, hoards of 8-year-olds ran toward cars, slapping wet sponges onto windscreens, and selling plastic bags full of Fanta (individual bottles are not cost effective, but a straw is provided). Younger brothers and sisters ran through revving cars and black fumes for money before the lights changed.

I thought I could interview Jorge then and there, maybe talk to some of the kids who “after work” went to his day centre for schooling and a meal.

But as cars stopped at lights, Jorge saw people he knew.

“Miguel, you bastard. Come and eat.”

Before long, we had spread across the pavement and into the grass at the side of the road. I stopped watching the kids and started watching the old men patrolling the tacomobiles selling windscreen sun shields. A man approached us carrying a large box with a metal switch and two metal wires attached. Jorge said no thanks.

“What was that?” I asked.

“An electric shock machine.”

I looked at it again. It had a Tweety Bird and Sylvester sticker on it. The man had a full bag of change, indicating good business.

Did people buy electric shock machines over breakfast? Was this legal?

I was informed that you don’t buy the machine. You get together a group of friends and buy individual shocks. Then you crank up the voltage until the first person passes out and achieves hero status.

“It’s the true test of Mexican machismo.”

My companions, all men, all educated, all feminists, spit on the ground when they hear the m-word. Machismo is the evil corroding Mexican society. To prove it, they tell me some macho jokes.

“What do you call a woman pregnant with a female baby?”

“A cleaning business.”

“What do you call a woman pregnant with twins, one boy and one girl?”

“A well-managed cleaning business.”

Outraged as my friends are, they find these jokes quite amusing. One of the group points out that feminist jokes are just as hurtful and damaging. For example, “Why is going to bed with a Mexican man like cooking in a microwave?”

“Because it’s over in a couple of minutes.” Stony silence.

When I get home, Doña Teresa, the head of the family I am staying with, is sitting at the kitchen table sewing up stuffed chilis with a needle and thread while her husband is upstairs watching Jeopardy! She has been there for three hours. I tell her the microwave joke. She laughs. An hour later, I go downstairs and she’s still there.