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Behind Every Storm Cloud
By Richa Gupta
“Appearances can be deceiving,” I told myself resolutely, as I walked down a shabby street of Ensenada, Mexico. I held the bitter chill as the reason for the disappointment and slight resentment etched into every line of my face, although I knew better than to fool myself. I looked back longingly at the massive white ship that was stationed at the harbor, with its resplendent halls, shining lights and warm arms of luxury. I found myself comparing the glow of the cruise lights to the hostile gray of the city, of the welcoming familiarity of the cruise to the nonchalant “greetings” of my first few moments in Mexico. “Stop,” I told myself firmly, as I pulled a thin scarf firmly around my shivering neck.
To a teenage girl who had lived in a bustling, metropolitan city in India for a vast majority of her life, the anticipation of escaping the ordinary and setting foot into a new country was stronger than ever. While looking out of my balcony onto the deafening traffic nine floors below, I would catch myself daydreaming about the beckoning waters of Mexico, the new people I would meet, the cultural influences I would be immersed in, and most of all—the excitement whose cause cannot be clearly named. To be honest, to say that I was devastated upon reaching Mexico would not be an overstatement. The shops, stalls and diners looked similar to those I kept seeing at home—and with that observation, my high expectations were crushed. Certainly, some shops caught my attention—those selling Mexican garments and dolls—but by then I had found it painfully difficult to return to my old state of anticipation and positive suspense.
As I walked quietly alongside my family, I decided to ascribe my stony indifference to hunger. Since I am a vegetarian, finding a suitable place to eat became a demanding task. We finally settled on a dark, compact diner that was run by three young women. I closed my eyes tightly as one of them led us to one of three tables, of which the other two were starkly unoccupied. I sat down primly, glaring at nothing, as I ordered the first vegetarian dish I could lay my eyes upon. I had envisaged my first meal in Mexico to be bright and cheerful—a contrast to the place I was sitting in. Sheer disappointment gave way to anger, and as each long minute of wait grew, so did my exasperation.
At last, the food came.
I felt blood rush to my cheeks as the woman gracefully departed after serving us. Waves of shame overwhelmed my conscience as I stared in awe at the work of art that adorned my plate—triangular chips burned to a golden crisp, trickles of brown beans, dots of bright red tomato salsa, the occasional, pale purple dice of onion, a delectable green guacamole paste, dollops of fresh cream, elaborately applied strokes of melted cheese… To my slight surprise, I found my hands, always so eager to dive into a new dish, remaining firmly by my side—and I realized it was because I was reluctant to disturb such a masterpiece of cookery and skill that had been so humbly placed before me. I hesitantly extended my arm and took a chip. Strong contrasts of flavor exploded inside my mouth, as I felt the cool, soothing cream cancel out the spice of the lashing sauce, the avocado paste add substance to the lapping waves of cheese, and the caramelized onions add sweetness to the acidity of the salsa and jalapenos. The aromas wafting from the Mexican plate attracted the likes of my family, and I felt a strange sense of possession as I politely reminded them of the dishes they had ordered for themselves. Contrary to the usual decorum I exhibit when eating, I ate voraciously, consciously basking in the savor of contrasting elements that ultimately combine to create a plate of harmony. By the time my cracked plate was licked clean, my hunger was appeased. But not my mind—it was racing.
All this time, ever since I had set foot in Mexico, I had been judging everything based on the superficial knowledge I had acquired through my discriminating sense of sight. It was only now did I realize how utterly wrong my perceptions and opinions had been. The dinginess of the restaurant had been entirely cancelled out by the delicious food it served to its few consumers. And if this old, tiny diner with poorly painted walls, peeling plaster and little business could present its taster with a gustatory delight, who knew what other surprises Ensenada treasured?
As mentioned before, my mind was racing, adamantly refusing to come to a halt. It was leaping to all the small stalls I had passed by, due to my lofty belief that they presented us tourists with nothing extraordinary. Overcome by a sudden burst of zeal, I leapt up. After wholeheartedly thanking the three owners of the restaurant, I ventured out onto the streets of Ensenada, hungry for more—but not for food. And from that point of time, I unknowingly entered one of the most memorable afternoons of my life. After a rapt conversation with a middle-aged, sprightly woman selling Mexican shawls, I learnt that her small garment business had been started by her great-grandfather ninety years ago, and that she was poised to pass on this venture to her son. She had been knitting and creating beauty all her life, and believed that her son was destined to take her business to great heights. After careful consideration, I finally settled on a lovely black serape, adorned with red roses and leaves, and was gifted with an elated smile in return. As I pulled the warm shawl over me, I was amazed that I had never given her roadside stall a second thought when I had seen it first. Another seemingly insignificant store sold Mexican jumping beans, much to my wonder. I looked at the little beans in transparent, plastic boxes leaping when exposed to the sunlight, and was also given an in-depth, insightful explanation of the reasons behind their behavior. By the time I boarded the ship in the evening, it is fair to say that I was a much more enlightened person.
Nowadays, I don’t remember the trip to Ensenada solely for what I saw, but rather for what I learnt. The principles behind the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” became paramount components of my life, because I discovered that regardless of how uninteresting something may appear, there is color artfully concealed in it. I now abide by this maxim: behind every storm cloud exists a rainbow, and it is up to us to find it.
#Real #Essay #Mexisco #Enlightened #HumanCondition #Travel
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