It gets down to the lime, really. The green. The money. You can buy a dozen limes down the street here in Queretaro for 5 pesos (38 cents). Or, you can go to Target in Munster, Indiana, where I found myself last Sunday, and buy one lime for 69 cents. Someone is getting rich on limes, and it isn’t the Mexican.

Selling bouquets of limes, chips, fruit...on a street corner at night in Mexico City...

Selling bouquets of limes, chips, fruit…on a street corner at night in Mexico City…

To hear tell it in The New York Times, the high cost of limes north of the border is due to the drug cartels. All those truckloads of limes leaving Michoachan are a cover for the drug trade, security measures impact the cost, and smugglers have turned to limes over drugs. The NYT only has it partly right, in typical fashion–the writer had to please the gatekeeper on the copy desk and puff it up so the story gets play. The truth is that the cartels have been mixed up with lime exports for more than 10 years, at least. So why the recent price spike? Other factors include: a lot of rain and fungus, margaritas and guacamole, and greed, the latter mostly on the part of Godzillas like Tar-jay.

If you’re working in the US-owned plastics factory in Saltillo, Mexico, and you’re making $17.70 a day, you might find it hard to buy that bag of limes for 38 cents. Thanks to that factory worker, and others here, US trade with Mexico has grown by nearly 30 percent since 2010 to $507 billion annually–this, according to The New York Times. Numbers don’t lie because they can’t.

And the numbers from that Middlefield, Ohio-based plastics factory? Their Mexican return is up 80 percent since 2010. Yet, they pay a Mexican factory worker what your average US worker spends for a couple of lunches at McDonald’s. Never mind that other business. Americans demand marijuana, cocaine and heroin from Mexico. Every time I see an Escalade with a Michoachan plate, I don’t think, oh, that lousy Mexican drug dealer. I think, oh, that lousy cocaine addict in Chicago, or that poor slob of a heroin addict in New York.

Maybe if that plastics factory owner broke down and paid the workers, oh, say, $25 a day, maybe, just maybe, one person would not turn to making, selling and smuggling drugs.

I don’t know how the Mexicans make it, all things being relative. The INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geografica e Informatica) says a Mexican household is classified as “rico” that has an income of 44,000 pesos ($3381) and above, per month.  (One US dollar equals 13 Mexican pesos, approximately.)  I always knew I was rich in so many ways, but I had no idea of my vast fortune. $3381 would not go far in Chicago, but it stretches pretty well in Mexico. Here are some other numbers: My three-room apartment without utilities is 3600 pesos, my gas is 400 pesos every three months, my Internet is 350 pesos a month (I can’t figure out my light bill…about 200 pesos every other month). The Peace Corps gives me an allowance of 9711 pesos a month, so if I don’t go loca, which I do occasionally, I can live reasonably on that per month. I am certainly not rich by Mexican standards, but most of them are not either.

Most full-time teachers here make 15 to 30,000 pesos a month; if you’re part-time, about $5 an hour (less for Marco’s daughter who coaches swimming). One student-teacher at the university where I teach has three jobs. He makes around $1000 a month and lives with his parents, which puts him squarely with many US twenty-somethings, but for different reasons. I don’t know many US graduates who would work three jobs to earn $1000 a month, even if they were living with their parents.

The spending is loco anyway. Looking back on some of my expenditures, I found my September light bill was 49 pesos ($4)–the same as what I spent on a piece of carrot cake and a cappachino.(The electric utility is government subsidized.) My student, Juan Pedro, says Mexicans would rather buy clothes than food. You have to put your priorities somewhere. My guru, Edson, who works at the state agency where I volunteer, says it best: We (Latin Americans) don’t have a lot, but we’re happy. There is no shortage of happy here. I see it everywhere: the pats on the backs to children, the hugs and pecks, the courtesy extended.

And I just can’t drop that business about the limes. There is no shortage of limes. Both in the trees and on the table.

Mexico is the world’s largest producer of limes, and more than 95 percent of the Northamerican lime export is from Mexico. They’ve been growing here since the Spanish brought them in the 1520’s. For commerce, limes are grown in nearly half the 32 states of Mexico, and it seems everywhere, even on the campus where I teach. There, the citrus trees bending with oranges, limes and lemons are left untouched, along with the pomegranates, the cherimoyas and the tuna (prickly pear, or cactus fruit that tastes a little like watermelon).

Every decent Mexican table has a bowl of cut limes–for tacos and tequila. The limes I like here are small, thin-skinned and juicy, unlike the green golf ball I purchased at Tar-jay. Limes add flavor with less salt, make chicken interesting, kill bacteria, and are loaded with tissue-building vitamin C. What’s not to like? The lime is a lover of a food, a necessity, a staple of the Mexican diet. Mexico is rich in limes, and everything.

There’s plenty more where that came from.

The opinion expressed above is mine and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Peace Corps.–Nancy Nau Sullivan, University English Specialist, Queretaro, Mexico