Welcome to Mexico
By Victoria Schmidt
A Visit to a Farmacia
While standing in one of those endless lines at a pharmacy in Guadalajara, I entertained myself by watching people. This pharmacy is attached to a small laboratory that manufactures a special medication my husband must have. But it is also a neighborhood pharmacy, stocked with basic necessities of a neighborhood pharmacy.
Surrounded by Mexican families, I watched the people in front of me--a mother holding her infant in her arms, with her toddler son clinging to her leg. The woman standing with her I assumed was her sister. They chatted back and forth, and the little boy stared up at me with his deep brown eyes as he held onto his mother’s jeans. He was obviously sick. He looked extremely tired, and had a runny nose, which his mom would wipe for him.
After what seemed an hour of waiting, they finally had their turn at the counter. The young mother gave over a prescription, and waited. The medicine was brought out. Then there was a discussion, and two containers of baby formula were pulled off the shelf. The cashier rang up the total.
By this time, I was at the counter at the next station, and my order was in the process of being filled. I looked at her cash register, and could see the young mother going through her purse, and talking to her sister, who began to dig through her own purse, and to check her pockets. Without knowing Spanish it was clear to me that there wasn’t enough money to pay for the order. One of the containers of formula was returned, and the new total was given. Still there was not enough money.
I looked at the mother’s face, and I could see her looking from her infant to her sick son. It was obvious to me that she was attempting the impossible. She was trying to choose between the needs of her infant, and her sick son. She could only pay for one, which shall it be? She turned away from me and spoke to her sister again. People in line seemed impatient. I looked at the cashier, and pointed to the formula and asked “¿Quanto?”
“Seventy pesos,” he replied. I pointed to my cashier and then at myself, and he understood immediately. My cashier rang up the order and he put the formula in the mother’s bag along with her son’s medication. He told her the new total and she looked surprised, and he nodded towards me. I just smiled, said “Buenos Tardes” and walked away quickly, so as not to embarrass her.
I didn’t do it to make myself feel better, or to endear myself to a stranger. I did it because I could not stand to see a mother having to choose between the needs of her two children. For me, seventy pesos was a paltry sum, but for her, it was much more. I wondered how often she had to make those kind of choices? How hard it must be when the minimum wage is about $63 pesos per day, and how very little that wage will buy for a family with growing children.
We met again in the lot, where she came to me. “Muchas Gracias,” she said. I answered with the only thing I knew to say. “De nada.” I wish I could have said more. As we drove out of the parking lot, everyone in her car waved to us. I think about them often, and wonder how they are doing. And I wonder how many families there are like hers, and who helps them?