Arriving in Oaxaca, Mexico, was unnerving. In the end of October, Stockholm, the alarm woke me from a nervous half-slumber at three-thirty in the morning, and I rose to get ready for the long journey west. However, I arrived at the airport and was told I had been put on standby on two of my three flights and a knot formed in the pit of my stomach. In the end, I made it onto all my flights, but in the uncertainty I was wandering around the airport in Mexico City, with only a couple of hours of sleep in my body, unravelling. The flight to Oaxaca was over-booked with Day of the Dead tourists and it finally left three hours later than scheduled. Landing in Oaxaca after midnight, I did not make it to the hostel where I had booked a room until almost three in the morning.
I rang the bell. No one opened. The street was deserted, the airport shuttle had dropped me off and I had no sense of direction, no idea of where anything could be found. Ringing and ringing on the hostel doorbell, it became obvious that the twenty-four hour reception was just words on the website. Me and my suitcase, on a dark street in a strange city. The area looked residential, and I had no way of telling in which direction I might find another hostel, night club, anything that might have helpful, awake people at this hour. My phone did not work.
After half an hour of standing outside the hostel door, not knowing what to do, I started walking. Mainly, just to not be standing still on a dark street. A man walked by. He started talking to me, he had long hair and well-worn jeans, he said he was an American photographer who lived in Oaxaca. When I explained my situation, he offered to help me, to walk with me in a direction where we might find something that was open, and I felt I had no other choice.
The thought ran through my head: What if he leads me to a secluded place and robs me now, or rapes me, or both – but I was too tired, my mind too fragmented to let the thought fully register and turn my stomach into ice. And when we walked by a door saying ‘Hostel’ just a couple of blocks up the street, we rang the bell, a drowsy man opened and the American photographer helped me with the Spanish, explained my situation and the man said: Sí, sí, they had an available room that I could occupy until ten thirty the next morning. The American photographer said goodbye, and I carried my bags into the room. And I do not know if I have ever been more relieved, getting undressed in the dark and crawling into a too hard, slightly uneven bed with faintly strange-smelling sheets. I was asleep within minutes.
It did not dawn on me until the next morning. How lucky I had been, under the circumstances. How I might not ever have been closer to something bad, during all of my travels, I have been spared, but this: Alone in a strange city in the middle of the night. Remember this. Remember that this is how I arrived in Oaxaca, right smack in the middle of the Day of the Dead celebrations. My life had been hectic since August, with conferences and PhD courses and fieldwork and workshop preparations. I had no energy reserves. And now this arrival in Oaxaca. Jetlag.
Simply put: I was a wreck, and in no position to celebrate anything. And here I was, about to enter the party of the year in Oaxaca.
Me, my first day in Oaxaca: Hot, exhausted and paper flowers in my hair.