Down to Mexico to Look at Poop
While Brian and Marc got to scuba dive and frolic in West Edmonton Mall’s water features for this latest episode, I scored a plum assignment that took me and the crew down to Puebla, Mexico for a week!
Sure, it also took us deep into the world of what lives in your poop, but the Mexico bit more than made up for that. It came at the tail end of my first round-the-world circumnavigation too – I had been at home in Vancouver, then called to Toronto for a shoot, then on a plane from Toronto to London, England for another shoot, then from London to Hong Kong on UBC business, then back to Vancouver for one day – long enough to refresh my memory as to what my husband looks like and to do a load of laundry. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the fun we had, and I’ve included a few personal photos too...
We had a ton of adventures in Puebla. On our first day, the director spent the day in meetings co-ordinating our week’s worth of shooting and the crew was allowed to run riot on the streets of Puebla. Although we all embarked upon separate exploratory journeys, everyone ran into each other somewhere between the famous cathedral and the fancy coffee joint. We spent the rest of the day exploring Puebla on foot, enjoying many cold cervezas (it was almost 30C while we were there!) and the fact that you can get a 5-course lunch for about $4.50CDN.
The next day was really fascinating. We went off to the countryside to find a quiet, rural, farm-y looking spot to shoot a short interview between myself and Ana. Our local tapeworm guru, Elias, told our driver to head out to a small village called Acajete, maybe a 45min drive outside of Puebla. We picked up Elias' friend Ramirio from his house on the outskirts of Acajete and asked him to direct us to a scenic, rural locale. He guided us to the poorest part of Acajete, a stretch of "farms" on a gravel road leading up the side of a mountain. We found a family who was willing to let us shoot on their spread, so we conducted our interview in the midst of a very, very poor rural homestead.
The 6+ family lived in a single cinderblock room, maybe 10 feet by 20. Using logs and scrap wood, they had constructed several pens for their livestock - a few chickens, a couple of ducks, a veritable parade of dogs, a kitten, a family of sheep, a donkey, and two pigs (one had a brown furry patch over his eye; I named him Pirate Pig). I asked Elias what they earned in a month and he said maybe $350CDN a month. Not much with all those mouths to feed.
We conducted the interview in front of the pig pen, on ground that our Canadian expert, Ana, assured me was undoubtedly contaminated with tapeworm larvae. We chatted about the side effects of tapeworm infection, including epilepsy. At this point, it came out that one of the family’s sons, Gustavo, was suffering from grand mal seizures and the family was spending most of their meagre income on his medication. His Mom brought out his medical records for Ana and Elias to examine.
They spent a long time discussing his condition with the family, and in the end, Elias offered to have Gustavo put into a special stream of the health care system that would mean all his care and medication, for the rest of his life, would be absolutely free. Together with the money we gave the family as a thank-you for allowing us to film on their property, our visit made a real difference in their lives. It was so mind-blowing to think that that morning, when the family woke up, they hadn't the faintest idea that a gaggle of Canadian filmmakers and scientists would wander into their farm and bring about such a change.
The following day, we shot some scenes at Puebla’s medical school in the Department of Microbiology, and the next day was field trip day. We joined a team from the Ministry of Health and traveled a very long way indeed to meet a small-scale pig farmer and see how he checks for worms in his product.
After driving for nearly four hours, we reached our destination, the tiny village of Mitepec, where met up with the farming family we’d be shooting. Immediately upon our arrival, the patriarch of the family whipped out a 2L Coke bottle filled with homemade mezcal. He passed around cups, and we all, partially out of politeness and partially out of sheer curiousity, tried some of his moonshine. He also showed us how his wife makes tortillas - we enjoyed some fresh off the grill - and how they make cheese, which they sell as a side business.
After we all had a little snack, we watched as the family’s three sons, each with a quite deadly looking machete, butchered a pig expertly and quickly. I only had to avert my eyes once, when they approached a rather delicate region of the pig with a very big machete. We saw how the pig was tapeworm-free thanks to the family’s sanitary farming practices, practices which researchers like Ana and Elias are trying to encourage throughout small rural communities.
Following our pig butchering, we grabbed some 70-cent beers from one of the many places advertising "cervezas fria para llevar" and checked out a few other things in town, including a rock that a local had just found that had a pre-Colombian etching on it, and then did the long drive back to Puebla, stopping at a few small clinics along the way so our guides from the Ministry of Health could check up on their rural compatriots. The next day I interviewed Jasper in the comfort of our hotel’s rooftop, poolside bar. Seriously, folks – I have the best job ever!