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. . . . GROWNUP GIFTS FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES NORTH SOUTH 832-8544 443-2292 RESEARCH E. RIVERSIDE 502-9323 441-5555 & SAN EAST S.E.MILITARY 654-8536 333-3043 CENTRAL WEST 822-7767 521-5213 DATELINE I MEXICO CITY Mayan Maiiana BY MELISSA DEL BOSQUE IS1y friends and family in Mexico speak of their country these days as if it were the victim of some cosmic ill fortune. Waves of bad news pummel the country day after day: narco-violence, kidnappings, earthquakes, a global economic crisis, and a swine flu pandemic that in April turned the world’s third-largest city into a ghost town. The other day a well-traveled writer friend who lives in Mexico City conjured a mystical reason for her country’s misfortunes. She spoke darkly of the Mayan culture’s coming “sixth sun.” We are approaching Mesoamerican end times: The Mayan calendar ends its 25,625-year cycle on the winter solstice of Dec. 21, 2012. According to ancient Mayan texts, we are approaching the end of the 13-year “period of darkness” between the end of the Mayan Fifth Sun and the beginning of the uncertain Sixth, an interim during which dramatic realignments of consciousness will, or will not, prepare mankind for a golden age. With that cosmic abyss looming, my friend and other Mexicans have adopted a triage mentality. To take on all of the country’s struggles at once would be not only maddening, but unproductive. That’s one reason that the continuing swine flu pandemic, which threw the country into hysteria last April, had subsided to a nagging concern by July, when I flew into Mexico City. As I shuffled through customs, I was told to fill out a questionnaire asking whether I had a fever or a cough. Fortunately I had neither. A woman in a black-and-white military uniform with the unenviable job of collecting the questionnaires stifled a yawn when she took mine. As I exited, a man in a white lab coat sat behind a desk next to a thermal scanner that detects fever. His desk was backed into a remote corner of the airport, where it seemed no one had strayed for weeks. His head bobbed toward the desk as he struggled to stay upright and awake. The only other signs of the pandemic were government-funded cartoon posters exhorting travelers to cough or sneeze into their arms or a tissuebut never the hands! As I headed toward the city’s zocalothe massive plaza at the city centerI saw few people still wearing surgical masks. To help quell hysteria, the government had passed out more than 6 million, which sold out at the height of the scare. I spied a news vendor with a surgical mask inexplicably dangling around his neck as if it were some kind of good-health talisman. The only people who seemed to be taking the masks seriously were tourists. A European couple passed by snapping photos, trailing two sullen, embarrassed teenagers. They all wore masks. My Mexican friend made a sour face. “They are totally overreacting,” she said. Studying public health in college, we learned that these masks do little to prevent influenza virus from infecting you the virus is small enough to pass through the porous masks. Still, I felt a slight panic when I saw the masked family. I could understand their fear after months of hysterical headlines. According to Mexico’s secretary of health, 415 people had come down with swine flu in Julya huge dip from the peak of 2,969 cases in May, but still something to consider. To date there have been 16,60o confirmed cases and 146 swine flu deaths in Mexico. The numbers are dwarfed by the United States, which has the most confirmed cases in the world at 40,617, with 263 deaths. There were twenty-four deaths in Texas. My friend glanced over at me. “Don’t worry:’ she said, brushing off my panic with a wave of her hand. A bigger concern for her, and for many other Mexicans, was the country’s ailing political system. On July 5, the country’s old guardthe Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PMwon a majority in the midterm elections. Until 2000, the authoritarian PRI had run the country for 70 years. Mexicans seem to blame the PM for most of their country’s problems, but voters there also suffer from a dearth of viable alternatives. 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 21, 2009