Three weeks ago I received an email from a UK immigration officer letting me know that a decision had been made regarding my Student Visa request. Two days later I received another email, this time from the Visa Processing Office in Mexico City, saying that my passport and attached documents were ready for me to pick up.
At their office.
In Mexico City. (Which I will now refer to as DF throughout the story)
For those readers who don’t know this requires a two-and-a-half-hour plane ride (and another one back). But I was the interested party so I did what I had to. The following Wednesday I boarded a flight at 6AM hoping that when I opened my passport there would be a shiny new sticker inside.
I arrived sleepy and nervous in DF and got in a Taxi headed for my cousin’s apartment. I figured I’d change my clothes and head straight to pick up my documents. But when I was checking and re-checking that I had the receipt to turn in at the Visa center I realized there was an actual pick-up time.
So my plans changed slightly.
I decided to take my first Uber ride to meet Romina Becker (for those who follow the blog, she’s the one behind the beautiful illustrations) and her mural-in-progress. As someone who had never used Uber I assumed that it would be set automatically on the cheapest setting. Low and behold my ride ended up being a glossy black sedan with leather interiors and a driver in a suit. As I have never used this service before I was unsure about what I was supposed to do and more importantly where I was supposed to sit.
I may have done a faux pas. Actually, I’m pretty sure I did once I sat in the back. But it was a short ride and I think my driver knew I was a newbie because, what girl wearing Doc Martens, an oversized henley, no makeup, purple hair, and a Fox-print backpack actually needs an UberBlack? The ride ended up costing what would be eight dollars and with traffic it only took about twenty minutes.
Romina is one of the many emerging artists part of HidroArte, a city program created through the Water department to bring awareness for water conservation. The walls being turned into murals are those surrounding the water pump stations, so each station gets three or four artists working there. This year they are painting in three different boroughs. It was pure luck that she would be painting in the same one I was staying in.
But it almost didn’t happen.
Two days earlier, as Romina and the other two artists were prepping their spaces, a resident of the area walked over and started asking questions: Who were they, what were they doing there, and what would they be painting in her neighborhood? The representative from the Water Department explained the program and all three artists showed her their sketches. Since the program is about water, the theme of the drawings had to be related to water.
The resident proceeded to tell them that this was an exclusive neighborhood and claimed that she spoke for all its residents when she said that nobody “wants to see fishes from their apartment window.” She suggested they do something closer to Diego Rivera’s body of work. I wish I’d been there to let the resident know that Diego’s work wasn’t seen as exclusive and high-end when he first started. Same could be said of Turner, Manet, Monet, and just about every other awesome modern and contemporary artist. Romina said she felt let down at first but then realized most of the artists that inspired her had gone through this kind of thing before.
So when I got off of the UberBlack, I was still in the same exclusive neighborhood but in the new location the three artists had been given. We talked about her inspiration behind the work (Greek mythology), the pitfalls of wearing a gas mask when painting (and the upsides after I started coughing), my upcoming trip and Master’s degree, her recent move to the city, and “The happiest place on Instagram”.
By lunchtime I decided that I would not get an Uber to the Visa Processing Office since it was only a forty-minute walk and I would rather spend my money on coffee. I got KrispyKreme donuts for the crew when I went for my very necessary 2PM Americano and then started walking.
The Polanco neighborhood of DF is home to most of the foreign embassies, luxury brand boutiques, upscale restaurants, and a lot of pretty apartment buildings. As I trekked towards my destination I felt like I’d seen some of the prettiest cars, bags, and people. But then I saw a lot of people begging and asking for food or cash. I gave my four remaining glazed donuts to a family sitting a corner only to cross the street and wish I had more sweets on me.
As for the question people always ask about walking in DF…
I know people who have been mugged over a cell phone or even Nike sneakers (Yes, you’re reading correctly) but I was not a worthy target. I don’t wear jewelry aside from my bracelets and Sacred Heart pendant, both of which are not exactly Cartier. As for my favorite backpack, it was bought at Target and its straps are full of pins I’ve bought at used bookstores. If you see me walking by I probably look like an overgrown Goth who has run out of makeup (actually that description is not too far off).
I reached the building on the other end of the neighborhood and went up to the second floor. I started to get dizzy and sweaty. When I sat in the waiting area I know the man next to me was looking at me strange because I was panting like a puppy returning from the dog park. I turned in my receipt and waited for my name to be called. Once that happened I got up a little too quickly and almost passed out but managed to walk, sign, and retrieve my packet.
I ripped it open and took out my passport, searching, searching…
And there it was: my permit for entry for study in the United Kingdom.
I crossed the street to the Starbucks, ordered my usual iced coffee with coconut milk, and collapsed on the high chair closest to the power socket. I just sat there exhausted from the walk and the stress of not knowing if I’d be granted the permit or not. There was a guy studying at the communal table who kept stealing glances at me. I think he was worried. I mean what if you´re at a coffee shop minding your own business and then this girl comes in, plugs in her phone, and just sits in a chair for an hour staring into space (probably panting really loud too).
Once I finally caught up on my breathing, I called my grandmother, dad, and aunts, group texted my cousins, unplugged my phone, and started walking back to the apartment. It should’ve taken a quarter of what my previous walk had, but my Doc Martens felt heavy. My cousin and I ate our dinner watching Hot Pursuit and then I stayed up reading.
The next morning I woke up and started walking to Romina´s mural. I figured that I would bump into a Starbucks at least twice on the way there but instead I was approached by Oxfam volunteers asking me for a credit card number so I’d donate and join the cause.
“I don´t have any cards on me,” I said.
“I don’t believe you, unless you have a lot of cash on you.” He answered. I hope these were real volunteers but still I walked away very quickly and zigzagged for a few streets. I only had 400 pesos on me (roughly twenty-five dollars) but I wasn´t taking any chances.
Luckily there was a small café in front of the mural in progress that sold Nutella chocolate chip cookies, so all was well.
I stayed most of the morning chatting, relaxing, and checking my Instagram feed. But before lunchtime I said goodbye to Romina and left for the subway station.
As I walked to the station I noticed the American and European tourists, sunburned raw and hauling their backpacker´s backpack, amidst the street full of suits, fashionistas, newsstands, and street food.
I took the stairs into the Metro and searched for my platform. In front of me walked a blonde, extremely thin and tall girl in skinny jeans and a tank top, probably a model from Eastern Europe. To a passerby we would’ve seemed opposites with my brown and purple messy bun, dark jeans, grey long-sleeve and cherry combat boots (which were getting heavier by the second).
When I emerged back to the surface I was in the Condesa neighborhood where I was meeting my cousin for lunch. We ate in a pretty bookstore next to his university and then I took the metro back. It was then that I realized my feet were bleeding and when I emerged into the street it was raining.
I took shelter in “El Péndulo”, the bookstore, and looked around the graphic novel and comics section and bought some beautifully crafted notebooks. Once the rain stopped I started walking to the apartment, every step proving to be more painful than the one before. It took an hour to walk what should’ve been fifteen minutes. But once back I costumed into my dressier clothes for dinner with my other cousin.
I went to sleep at midnight and woke up at 3AM to get changed and close my suitcase in the dark. I arrived at the airport at 4AM but, though I was checked in, was in the baggage drop line until 5:20AM.
I boarded the plane at 5:45 and passed out until the wheels hit the ground in Sonora.
In under 48 hours I walked, saw, talked, searched, and took one step closer to my dream.
Thank you for reading. For more information on Romina’s projects check out her Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook page. To find more Hidroarte murals and information about the projects search for the hashtag #HidroArteDF.