Mexican hunger-striker gets trip to royal wedding

2011-04-22 07:29

A fairy tale has come true for a poor Mexican teenager who spent 16 days on a hunger strike hoping to wrangle an invitation to Britain’s royal wedding.

Touched by her attempt, a good Samaritan put up the airfare to London, where she hopes to at least watch the festivities from outside Westminster Abbey.

Estibalis Chavez, a 19-year-old studying for her high-school equivalency degree, drew public attention in February when she camped in a tent outside the British Embassy in Mexico City for more than two weeks.

She hoped her perseverance would get her invited to the gala wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Chavez wasn’t daunted by her lack of money or social connections.

“I saw this as making someone’s dream come true,” she said. “I didn’t think it was impossible.”

In a country with many more pressing problems - poverty, crime, drug violence - many people laughed at Chavez’s hunger strike, calling her the “crazy lady of the embassy.”

But a man who happened to walk by her lonely protest camp came forward to lend her $1 250 (about R8 430) for a flight to London.

“It moved me to see that no one understood her very well ... I think she is right to fight for what she wants,” said Octavio Fitch Lazo, a member of an association that is lobbying Mexico’s congress to adopt silver coinage.

While it’s doubtful Chavez will be able to get inside Westminster Abbey, Fitch picked the teen up at her home in the slums north of Mexico City and took her to the airport Thursday for her flight to Europe.

Chavez’s mother died giving birth to her, and all the teenager knew about her mother was how much she loved Princess Diana, Prince William’s mother.

Since she was a little girl, Chavez read as many books about the royal family as she could. Her books, drawings and paintings of princes and princesses decorate the family’s small house.

When Chavez heard about the royal engagement, she began planning a way to get to the wedding.

In early February, Chavez left the hilly working-class neighbourhood where she was raised by her aunt and her father, and took a bus to the upscale neighbourhood where the British Embassy sits.

Armed with little but her tent, determination and hand-drawn portrait of the royal couple, she vowed to fast - until death, if necessary - to get an invitation.

“I had never done anything like that,” said Chavez, who is still amazed by her own chutzpah. “How did I wind up doing all those things to go?“

She described the first three days of her hunger strike as “horrible.” For 16 days, all she drank was water, and she lost 8.5 kilograms.

Then came the rejection letter, written by Chris Kealey, assistant private secretary to Prince William. It said all invitations had gone out already and there were no spots for her.

“I must convey to you that it will not be possible for you to attend the ceremony at Westminster Abbey,” the letter read.

“I was really down, not because I hadn’t eaten anything, but because I hadn’t achieved anything,” Chavez said.

People gathered around her protest camp and laughed at her saying “told you so,” she recalled.

Chavez was so weak at the end that the embassy had to get her a cab to take her home. She vomited for a week after the hunger strike.

Angered by what happened, her aunt burned all the magazines the teen had collected about the upcoming royal event, Chavez said.

The teen’s luck changed when Fitch, whom she had met while camping outside the embassy, contacted her and said he would lend her the money and book her flight.

Even after the rejection, Chavez hasn’t given up hope of getting an invitation once she is in London. She also wants to give William and Kate the portrait she painted of them.

Yet, amid the happiness, there are anxieties. Chavez worries she might be flagged by British customs as a danger to the royal family.
“I feel nervous,” she said.

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