Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Friends in Unlikely Places
The bells in Huajuapan's cathedral (see above -- it's cute) ring every quarter-hour, marking the s-l-o-w passage of time in this little city that has become my new home. I've been here for just over two weeks -- unemployed for more than half of that time (I finally started work late last week, but that's a blog for another time) -- so I've had plenty of opportunities to embrace the relaxed pace of life here. I've settled into a little routine, surrounded by an unlikely cast of characters that have become my new friends.
There's the tamal vendors that are out on the street in the mornings. They've jerry-rigged three-wheeled bicycles to accomodate big pots of steaming tamales, which they sell for 6 pesos (60 cents) a pop. Sometimes they'll cycle past me when I'm out on my morning jog, prompting lots of shouts of the word "güera." "Güera" translates roughly to "white girl," lest I forget that I am a freckled, blonde-haird anomoly in a sea of short, dark-haired, Mixtec-descended Mexicans. Depsite the catcalling, they're always happy to sell their treats to the sweaty, iPod-clad gringa who approaches them right after her run for her breakfast each morning. De-lish.
There's a woman named Sonia who sells me delicious Oaxaca-cheese-filled quesadillas for lunch at the market. Sonia's quesadillas are made with lots of love -- and cooking with love takes a lot of time. She painstakingly makes her tortillas by hand, adds cheese and veggies (extra 'shrooms for the gringa) and grills them up slowly. We've had lots of time to chat about my work visa woes, and Sonia has suggested that perhaps it would just be easier for me to marry a Mexican and get my visa that way. She thinks that her 26-year-old brother would be a viable option. We'll see.
There's Leo, the guy who runs the local hardware store. I've bought some odds and ends from his shop and he's curiously asked me what a big-city girl like me is doing in a little place like Huajuapan. Leo's brother lives in Chicago, so we've chatted all about the Windy City. I hit Leo up for help when my water heater busted last week. He spent his lunch hour dismantling the contraption, a labor for which he refused to take any money. Instead, I paid him with a six pack of Indio beer. We've been best pals ever since.
There's Carmen, my landlord, who keeps a pristine garden in the middle of our apartment complex. She's up with the sun -- and coos of caged doves that live amongst the plants -- raking and weeding and pruning and potting. The garden boasts lime and pomegranate trees, tons of ferns and flowers, and, most recently, Halloween decorations which she's ostensibly added to help her American tenants feel more at home as the all-important holiday approaches.
There's the crew that assembles for the salsa dance class at the community center on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. At first they weren't sure what to make of the gangly, uncoordinated gringa who clearly had never danced a (sober) step of salsa in her life. During our first classes together, I felt like proverbial last pick for the dodgeball team, standing lonely on the sidelines as guys and gals paired off to perfect their dance moves. But now, two weeks into the course, I'm a popular pick as men seem to like to practice their, ahem, English with me.
There's the octogenarian couple who sells chile-powder-covered corn on the cob in the evenings on the zócalo. The elotes really hit the spot after I've worked up an appetite with salsa dancing. They're impressed with my ability to tolerate all of the spice that the señora sprinkles on the corn. Not too shabby for a gringa -- or a güera, as it were.
So the Gringa Culichi has made a home for herself in the tiny, sleepy little town of Huajuapan de León. Who knew that unemployment could be such fun? Lemons to lemonade, as the saying goes.