Journal 2
February 1 Day 10 Rest Day

My Achilles are not ready. Today I go to school. Mecca scored dead last on the SAT 9, California’s standardized test for schools. The tests are word problems, and although the children here have learned English, they are much slower with word problems written for native English speakers. Most of the children tell me that they consider themselves Americans but their parents would say they are Mexicans. At the end of our conversation one of the boys changes his mind, “I’m Mexican.” There is some confusion in the group. Mexican or American?

Mecca is the America Americans don’t want to deal with. They need it but they don’t want to think about it. They just let it float around out here, out in the desert, out here where they can’t see it. Oh, but please do keep picking, were almost out of Merlot. On the table is a picture of the American flag, drawn by Jose, one of Amy’s students. The larger field is filled with stars, the smaller; with stripes. Mixed up. American but not American.

One of the reasons many families come here besides the work, is to educate their children. The children have emergency teachers, meaning without certification, but they are lucky to have a few teachers like Amy too. She doesn’t have to be in the lowest ranking school in the state, she chooses to be. She can do more here. We watch a video on Western exploration, the arrogance of early explorers, the innocence of the cultures they encountered, how exploration has changed. A white woman plays 20s radio music for a tribe of pygmies, encouraging them to strut and bounce like they do in New York. “Most savages are greatly puzzled by the phonograph, but the child like pygmies accept it as just another wonder of the white man.” The announcer explains. Strut, bounce, clap.

Another film, of the first expedition to the South Pole. The announcer’s voice is very dramatic, he is saving the world with every syllable. “They are at the South Pole now (actually they are 1/2 mile above it in an airplane),

It is one twenty five in the morning of November twenty-ninth, nineteen hundred and twenty nine (enter sound track: “Oh say can you see…” The Star Spangled Banner), Dick takes out the flag, weighted with a stone, it is the symbol of the monument of the supreme accomplishment. Through the trap door the flag and the stone drop together, down and down, to the very bottom of the world!” Scene of New York City; people cheering. The symbol of the monument of the supreme accomplishment?

You can now make that 8 month journey in 2 days with Executive Adventures Outfitters for $20,000 each (Business seminars welcome! Swim with penguins in between business meetings! Great views of ice bergs from the conference rooms!) You can now order Land Sat maps of Northern Afghanistan on the internet, travel the Nile River on a cruise ship, and play 18 holes of golf in the jungles of Burma’s Golden Triangle. You can even pay the Russians to take you into space.

The 21st century should have a different explorer. They will not be looking for lost tribes or unnamed land, not for caves in mountains, but for caves in the mind. For in those caves lie the answers to who we are, how we are connected, and how we will evolve. To travel the Amazon River of the mind. To the source, beyond culture and geography. Perhaps my greatest discovery on this journey will be found in the parking lot of a Mini Mart, at a truck stop in the arms of a stranger who stops to hug me, in a conversation with an immigrant, an explorer in his or her own right.

Outside the school, a signal of distress. On the flagpole, above a sign that says Welcome To Mecca Schools, the American flag is hung upside down. A cry for help. The men in cowboy hats are still sitting outside the store. The labels say made in America, but I’m still not convinced that this is America. A Mexican village completely transplanted in the US. Stripes and stars, upside down and backwards, the price of cheap labor.

Dream of a new American language.