Monday, January 25, 2010

Laughter in a time of goodbyes

With three short weeks to go until I move back to the khaki-colored world that is Chicago, I’ve begun a series of long, sad, drawn-out goodbyes here in Oaxaca. As was the case in Japan, the proverbial painful Band-Aid is being removed very, very slowly, allowing for multiple opportunities for tears and hugs and sentiments.

This past weekend, I traveled to Juxtlahuaca, my novio’s hometown, a picturesque pueblo that time has left behind, tucked away in the Sierra Madres. Our trips to his childhood home are usually for happy occasions: his mother’s birthday, a cousin’s child’s baptism, the chance to hang out in a cemetery with his extended family. But the churning, unsettled feeling in my stomach reminded me that the purpose of this trip was different: We’d made the 2.5-hour journey so that I could say goodbye to his family, a group of warm and wonderful people who have accepted this funny, awkward gringa into their home and hearts from the first day we met, a day spent in search of fish on a mountaintop almost one year ago.

His parents, brother and sister all understood the reasons for my decision to move back home. As sad as it would be to tell them goodbye, I knew that I had their support. What worried me was how his 6-year-old niece was going to react. Like the rest of her family, "M" has accepted me unconditionally, affectionately calling me tía (aunt), seemingly unfazed by my funny accent and habit of asking her uncle to define the often-incomprehensible Spanish that excitedly spills from her mouth when she runs to greet me at the door with a big hug. Like many kids that grow up in Oaxaca, "M" has seen multiple neighbors, friends and family members leave her community for work in El Norte, often unsure of when -- or if -- they will return. It broke my heart to think that I’d be leaving her for seemingly the same reasons.

But "M" wouldn’t allow me to be sad. Seemingly sensing that I needed a good laugh, she told me about her recent vacation to the beach, showing off her braided-and-beaded hair as she recounted all the details:

"Sara, I went to the beach, and -- guess what? -- I saw a lot of people from your planet!"

"M" and her mother had taken a road trip down to Oaxaca’s coast and spent a week beach-hopping. The fact that the Spanish word for "country" (país) starts with a "p", just like the word for "planet" (planeta)makes "M's" slip understandable, but no less funny.

Or perhaps she really does think that I -- and "my people" -- come from a far-away galaxy. I wouldn't blame her: "M" went on to tell me of the scandal she’d seen in Zipolite, an unapologetically liberal beach in otherwise-conservative Oaxaca, often frequented by hippie-dippie foreigners and their Mexican counterparts who enjoy the community's clothing-optional rules.

"A lot of them were naked. Does everyone go naked on your planet?"

No, M, we don’t all go naked in Chicago. It gets too cold.

But maybe you can come visit me someday on my planet. In the meantime, I’ll fondly remember yours.


Roberta said...

Very sweet. Hopefully she will be sble to come to our "planet" someday. I'd love to meet her.

boniourkee said...