Category Archives: Ti’ho Tales

Another Morning in El Mercado – El Chile Pica

El chile pica” warned the waiter, pointing to the blackened chile habanero bits mushed up in the little bowl.

The gringo smiled. He had eaten chiles before. Had even watched a show by Rick Bayless once where Rick explained how to spot a particularly spicy one.

De verdad pica; tenga cuidado” repeated the waiter.

He seemed truly concerned and hovered for another moment at the red plastic table watching the gringo, who nodded and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

The waiter turned back to the counter to pick up another order; mondongo para la mesa cuatro, his Mom told him from behind the counter, hands slick with pork fat as she worked the lechon.

He was setting down the spicy soup at table four when he heard a loud cough and the scrape of a plastic chair being violently pushed on concrete; the gringo was standing up waving his hands in the air and his mouth opening and closing like a freshly caught pescado. Comical almost, if it wasn’t for the fact that he looked like he was going to die right there.

Pinche gringo, que bruto; se lo dije” he thought to himself.

People at the other tables smiled bemusedly at the gringo’s predicament and those nearby held out their drinks or some tortillas, all of which the gringo ignored, not out of rudeness of course but because he simply couldn’t see them, his eyes were watering so bad.

Mom was already out from behind the counter, arms around the stumbling gringo and leading him towards the counter where Luisa had some milk in a glass. Mom was also stuffing tortillas in his mouth to soak up the picante.

Little by little, his eyes drying and the coughing subsiding, the gringo came back to this world. He opened his eyes to find himself sitting at a stool by the counter with everyone looking at him. He gave a limp wave with one hand.

Bien, estoy bien” he said lifting one hand and looking somewhat chagrined. Everyone smiled and returned to their meals.

He walked slowly, almost carefully, to his table and sat down to finish his tacos.

The waiter stopped by at the table.

Esta bien? Si pica el chile verdad? Se lo dije no? he asked with a not unkind smile.

Oh, si!” said the gringo and gave a feeble laugh. The waiter patted the gringo’s shoulder and moved back to the counter.

Tacos de lechon para la dos. His Mom gave him a wink.

 

The Heat

“It’s not every day that you feel like actually killing someone” an overheating Jack thought to himself as he looked in vain for a way to somehow maneuver around a fat woman in a black sleeveless top and red polyester skirt featuring a prominent and evidently struggling zipper along its taut length, and her two teenage sons in jeans, metal-band t-shirts and chanclas, sporting identically gelled jet black hair that stood up in some sort of Archie comic throwback look.

They walked slowly, and occupied the entire narrow sidewalk of Merida’s calle 58, which was packed with sweltering human flesh, while alternating green and yellow buses and a swarm of white colectivos inched and honked along the street beside the seething humanity. Overhead, the sun pounded down angrily, seeming to push against Jack like a physical force. He winced, and felt the steady trickle of sweat against the small of his back. Behind him, the crowd seemed to push him forward, although he couldn’t tell if anyone was actually touching him. He didn’t want to think about.

If he had only heeded his wife’s advice not to go shopping this morning.

“It’s too hot, and there are too many people,” she had said in that irritating all-knowing way she had. Perhaps just to spite her and perhaps prove that he did not mind these inconveniences, or perhaps to just get out of the house, he had ventured out and now he was stuck in this mess.

Jack felt an elbow in his side as a mestiza complete with hipil, sabucan and small child’s forearm firmly in her grip, pushed past him and headed for the fat lady, whom she also pushed aside like a small Mayan missile, the little kid half running, half stumbling along behind her. The two Archies looked surprised but moved to the side. Jack saw his chance and followed quickly on the heels of the mestiza, but he was too slow. The family closed in again and Jack had to bite his lip so as not to yell at them in frustration. He could feel the heat of the pavement oozing through his sandals.

An OXXO appeared suddenly, it’s giant letters beckoning him inside. He swerved, almost tripping as a man behind him stepped on his heels. He glared back, but the perpetrator had already moved on. As he reached for the door, it opened from the inside and hit his hand, causing him to grimace in pain. A group of students rushed out past him and he again had to wait, somewhat impatiently, to go inside. Wafts of cold OXXO air trailed behind the students, dissipating quickly in the heat around him. Jack felt like his hair was going to spontaneously burst into flame.

The air conditioning inside the OXXO was ice cold against his wet skin and felt heavenly. Jack stopped for a moment inside the door and looked around. There was a lineup at the cash register and many students from a nearby school sitting at both of the two tables. He walked slowly to the refrigerated drinks area and stood, looking at all the options in the coolers. Finally he grabbed an iced tea – Snapple in Merida: who knew? – and headed towards the cash register. Only one was open of course, and there were about four people ahead of him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that some of the students were getting up from the table and moving towards the door. Jack decided to take a break and sat down with his icy tea, sipping the artificial peach flavored liquid and feeling his body temperature return to a safe, comfortable level, his mood mellowing from murderous to magnanimous and he smiled at the students who were very entertained by something on one of their cell phones.

 

Seidy Spills the Beans

Seidy stood in the living room, her eyes wide and darting from face to face, somewhat akin to the desperate flapping of a bird trapped against a glass door, having flown into the house and not able to distinguish why it can see the outside but can’t get there. She looked at Betty, then Pat and then at the mestizo couple that had barged into Pat’s centro home, all of whom were looking at her with expressions ranging from the mildly concerned and questioning (Pat, her patrona or boss and Betty, Pat’s Merida friend and ex-pat mentor) to angry and accusatory (the formidably alpha mestiza and her compliant husband, the latter unable to make eye contact with anyone and who studiously examined his feet).

Finally, unable to stand the pressure, Seidy spoke, directing her comments to the mestiza woman who was adjusting her hipil in preparation for a position on the sofa.

Quienes son?” she asked the mestiza in a soft voice.

Sabemos que tuviste que ver con nuestro hijo Marco” the mestiza replied in an indignant tone, while her husband looked at his tattered sandals “y él nos dice que se van a casar. Es cierto eso?

Pat looked at Betty questioningly. Her Spanish had not yet developed beyond the Tarzan and Jane phase and she was clearly not understanding what was being said. Betty glanced at her. “It appears that this lady’s son has asked Seidy to marry her” said Betty.

“But she is only 15 years old!” exclaimed Pat. Betty shrugged, looking back at Seidy. She wanted to hear more.

As the exchange continued between Seidy and the mestiza, it became apparent what had happened. The son, Marco, and Seidy had struck up a relationship at some point in the trajectory between Pat’s house and the bus stop where Seidy went on Saturdays to go home for her one-day weekend and apparently there had been some kind of hanky panky which had led to the declaration on the part of Marco that he was in love with Seidy and wanted to marry her. Furthermore, it soon became obvious that the hanky panky had surpassed the usual flirtations and had gone into the more serious territory of sexual relaciones. Marcos’ mother, the mestiza, had been shocked and wanted to know more about this harlot who had claimed the heart of her youngest son. She was the mother of 8 and Marco was her baby, her favorite among all her children and she was not going to let go of him lightly.

Soon, under the pressure of the questioning and accusations, Seidy, who was now staring at the floor, confessed to having had relaciones with young Marco and that a few weeks after the deed had been consummated, she had gone to the seguro alone, where, after waiting in line for several hours the indifferent nurses had performed a blood test and informed her on a subsequent visit that she was probably pregnant. When she shared this revelation with her young lover, he had optimistically insisted on marrying her and told her they would then live together at his parents home in nearby Tecoh.

Seidy did not know Tecoh; only that it was about an hour from Merida in the general direction of Mani – she had looked it up on the fold-out map of the state in the Yucatan Today magazine that Pat kept on her coffee table – and she really did not know how she was going to live with Marco’s mother who, from what he had told her, was a firebrand of a woman with very definite ideas on what needed to be done around the house and who had no qualms about making sure that those who lived in her house did what she needed to have them do.

She looked up.

The mestiza stared at her from her perch on the edge of the sofa, arms crossed in the classic body language of rejection and with an unlikely mixture of satisfaction and dismay on her face. Her husband continued to look at his sandals, obviously wishing he was far away, perhaps in a field planting corn or cantina in Tecoh with his friends, discussing local politics or something else less embarassing. The talk of relaciones and pregnancy had made him uncomfortable; this was women’s talk and he resented having been dragged to witness it all. The girl seemed pretty enough; if Marco wanted to marry her, so be it. In any case, the wedding would have to be paid for by the girls parents, so it didn’t affect him that much, he though to himself.

Pat and Betty remained seated, unsure of what would happen next or what to do if something happened or if they were expected to do something. Finally Betty spoke up.

“Creo que esta bien por ahora. Vamos a regresar a nuestras casas por el momento, mientras pensamos que vamos a hacer” she said, and got up to open the front door.

The mestiza said nothing. She got up and, flipping her scarf-like reboso over her shoulder with a violent gesture, gave a last glare at Seidy who looked away guiltily and, mumbling something that sounded like gracias to the two gringas, left the house. Her husband followed, making eye contact for the first and only time in the whole visit – with Betty – to whom he nodded and walked through the open door and onto the sidewalk, into the sweltering Merida afternoon to follow his wife, who had already made it half way down the block and seemed not at all concerned that her husband had not caught up with her. She had more important things on her mind.

Seidy, as soon as everyone had left the room, turned abruptly and headed for her room. From where she stood in the living room, Pat thought she heard sobbing.

Walter Visits Migracion

Waking up early just to stand in line with 30 other morning-challenged individuals was not Walter’s idea of a good time, but it was one of those necessary evils required for any foreigner that wanted to live in Merida or Mexico in general. It was just before opening hours at the Immigration office in Merida and Walter was renewing his visa.

Ahead of him, Walter tried, in an effort to make the wait a little more interesting, to guess at the different types of nationalities and occupations of the various people ahead of him in the lineup. There were several what appeared to be Cubans judging from their complexion and who spoke in the rapid fire Spanish unique to them, almost unintelligible to Walter seeing as his Spanish was at the primary-school level and the fact that these people had an aversion to clear pronunciation and zero tolerance for the letter “s”. It’s as if they have marbles in their mouth when they talk, thought Walter bemusedly.

Several older couples, probably Americans or Canadians like him, waiting patiently and with a slightly amused expression on their faces, exchanged glances and soft greetings, unlike their more rambunctious Latino counterparts who either spoke loudly or not at all, the latter not making even the slightest eye contact with those around them. A young Chinese – or perhaps Korean, Walter couldn’t tell – woman stood out among the other nationalities, poking at her smart phone.

It was 8 AM and the office was about to open.

A scruffy young security guard with a LavaGuard uniform finally came out to where the lineup began and opened the gate of what was once a stately colonial home on the Avenida Colon, now a government office. Most of the houses in the area were now offices or banks; none or at least very few, had regular citizens living in them anymore, what with property taxes being what they were and the fact that corporations and wealthy folks from other parts of the country and world were snapping up anything that looked remotely colonial. Sensually round arches, colorful plaster tile floors, hammock hooks in the walls, stately columns; these were all selling points for smooth-talking real estate agents who breathlessly described even the lowliest of the old homes as dream homes for their hopelessly romantic and innocent newly arrived victims.

The line moved abruptly into the driveway and up the stairs to the entrance of the immigration office where each person proceeded to sign in and was then given a number, written in felt pen on a little square of what had once been a more dignified manila folder; the number indicated that persons’ position in the process to follow. A single digit number meant you were first up and was your reward for skipping that second cup of coffee at home. Everyone shuffled off to a place in the driveway area: the bird excrement-splashed broken plastic chairs under a giant ramon tree were the first choice for those who wanted to sit, followed by standing room only in any place that offered shade from the morning sun. Those people with small children succumbed to the persistent urgings of their offspring who insisted that they were hungry and the only thing that would make them happy was a processed food snack from the vending machine conveniently placed at the foot of the stairs of the former residence.

While waiting, one could admire the large fenced in area near the back of the property, complete with a security guard and barbed wire, where it was rumored that an illegal Cuban was being held in true Guantanamo style. However, unlike his Arab Guantanamo counterparts, this Cuban was waiting for deportation, and not being held indefinitely in a hellish limbo that held no predictable future, indicating that Mexico was, at least in this particular case, more concerned with a semblance of lawful procedure than its neighbor to the north.

When Walters’ number was called, he again climbed the stairs and gave the receptionist a quick overview of what he was doing, which was then confirmed on the computer and a second, colored bit of paper was handed to him and he was waved inside. There, another waiting room, already packed with the people that had been ahead of him in the morning lineup, awaited him complete with the relief of cool air conditioning and a television showing the most inane of Televisas’ programming. Walter gritted his teeth and found an empty spot next to the Asian woman, who didn’t look up as he sat next to her, completely absorbed as she was in her phone, paper-filled folder and backpack at her feet.

Every few minutes, an official in khaki pants and navy blue polo shirt with the white embroidered logo of the INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracion) would come in through a second door and everyone would look up hopefully like a group of puppies in a pet store kennel. A number was called and another foreigner disappeared with the official into an interior office.

Walter watched the television, frustrated that he didn’t have his iPhone or at least something to read with him. Televisa’s morning show was on and several European looking Barbie & Ken-like television hosts played off each other and did silly dance moves to some norteño music, while a secondary character, dark-skinned, dressed in mismatched clothing, sporting several blacked out teeth and unkempt hair provided the humor quotient – he represented the indigenous Mexican man on the street. His ridiculous slang and apparent ignorance made him the butt of any and all jokes from the rest of the cast.

In any case, even with the inane television, it was a good thing to be in this air conditioned waiting room and not out in the heat of a Merida summer looking for yet another comprobante of some sort. On a previous attempt the week before, Walter had shown up at the office with all the papers requested on the photocopied list given to him by the receptionist, only to be told that there was a document missing.

“But it’s not even on the list” said Walter in his best Tarzan Spanish, trying somewhat successfully to control his frustration and knowing he was utterly powerless before the whims of Mexican officialdom.

Si, pero es necesario que lo tenga” replied the receptionist curtly and, with a shrug and a dismissive wave, motioned for the next person in line to come forward, an indication to Walter that the discussion had come to an end.

So he endured the pseudo-comedy on the television and was grateful for the air conditioning. It could be worse. The oficina de migracion had been in a building downtown before, which was a pain as far as parking went and there certainly was no air-conditioned room with a TV to distract him as he waited.

Again the door to the interior office opened and an older, resigned-looking female immigration official stood there, looking at a number in her hand.

Treinta y cuatro” she called out, and looked up to see who would be next.

Walter looked at his number – 41. “Just a little bit longer” he thought. The Asian woman next to him gathered her things from the floor and stood up, giving Walter a quick smile before heading into the office behind the blue-clad woman.

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Will Walter get his paperwork sorted out? Will the Asian woman show up in a future installment?  Will that colonial ever get sold and the immigration office moved somewhere with actual parking and a real filing system? Stay tuned!

Sergio Gets a Phone Call; Regarding Juanita

The phone rang about four times before Sergio decided to pick it up. It was 9:30 and his wife was out, picking up their exchange student at the airport, otherwise he probably would have let it ring. Maybe the plane was late. He was in the middle of watching a movie he had rented at Blockbuster that afternoon and Bruce Willis was just dispatching another mono-browed bad guy by ripping off his arm with a telephone cord; unlikely, but what did you expect from a gringada called Die Hard III, he thought.

He picked up the phone. “Bueno?

A calm but somewhat urgent voice of a man on the other end informed him that he was calling on behalf of Juanita Morantes, who had apparently had a nearly fatal encounter with a package of cookies and that he had found her on the sidewalk outside her house. She was alright, said the caller, who gave his name as Marco, but was still a little shaken and since he had asked if there was someone to call, she had given him Sergios number.

Sergio listened while the stranger explained that the police paramedics had come and gone and had pronounced her fine, before muttering a “gracias” and then adding “y ella quiere que la vaya a ver?” Marco  replied that it was probably a good idea, just to make sure she would be alright and that he really had to be going. “Esta bien” said Sergio before again thanking the stranger and hanging up, a resigned and slightly annoyed expression crossing his face. Whoever heard of someone choking on cookies?

Sergio had not seen his sister Juany in some time, since the last family Christmas dinner when they had had a rather forced encounter over a large, dry turkey and sandwichon dinner. Rebeca, his wife, had been slightly depressed as her parents were not coming from the DF that holiday season due to a last minute Mexicana Airlines strike and Juanita had been as pedantic as ever, complaining about her various ailments and the fact that the house – their parents house, she had reminded everyone – was falling to pieces around her. While pushing aside the romeritos that Rebeca had painstakingly made as part of her Christmas season dinner tradition, Juanita picked at her piece of turkey meat and went on and on about the plumbing, the electricity and the fact that her phone service had been cut due to the fact that she could no longer afford it. When tears came to her eyes during this litany of complaints, Sergio had finally had enough and had stood and gone to the kitchen to fix himself a stiff drink. When he returned to the table sipping his Buchanans he had found Juanita’s chair empty. “Y mi hermana?” he had asked. Rebeca shrugged her shoulders in a resigned way and replied “dijo que se iba a su casa“.

He found her on the street, just down the block from the house, walking to the avenida to catch a bus and asked her if she wouldn’t rather have him drive her home. He did not ask why she had left or insist on her returning to his house to finish dinner. She simply looked at him for a moment with those sad, bovine eyes and replied “No, gracias, anda con tu familia” before turning and continuing her solitary walk on the deserted street. Sergio wasn’t even sure that the buses were running that night, but before long a noisy green Minis 2000 squealed to a halt, cumbia music oozing through open windows and the door. Juanita made her way up the vehicles stairs, the bus lurching forward even as she was still depositing some coins into the drivers fare-box.

Sergio had walked back to the house, both angry and relieved, passing the inflatable Frosty the Snowman his wife had bought at Costco weeks before, and had gone inside. He shook his head. Why had she even bothered to come if all she was going to do was be miserable?

Since then, there had been no news from his sister. Until now.

His sister had always been resentful of the fact that he and his brother had gotten away from the old house after their mother got sick, had gone to study and make something of themselves and had married and were doing well. He did not understand why she did not do the same, preferring to remain in that old dump of a house when she could easily have sold it years ago and taken the money to get a small house in one of the new developments around the city. He had even offered to help her with the Infonavit and get a low interest social housing loan but Juany had refused. “En manos de quien voy a dejar esta casa? La casa de Papa y Mama?” she had asked him.

He slipped out of his house slippers and into his street shoes, buttoning up his shirt as he looked for his car keys and cell phone. Bruce Willis will have to wait, he thought as he dialed Rebeca’s number and closed the door behind him. “Bueno?” he heard Rebeca’s chilanga accent in his ear. In spite of them having been married and living in the Yucatan for years now, she had not lost her sing-song way of speaking, probably due to the fact that she mostly socialized with other wachas who, as a group, felt somewhat ostracized by their Yucatecan counterparts; a certain polite distance was always kept between the ladies who claimed true Yucatecan heritage and the new arrivals from the rest of the country, especially those from Mexico City, el D.F.

Tengo que ir a ver a Juanita” he explained to Rebeca “se cayó afuera de su casa y me habló un tipo para decirme que la vaya a ver“. He could imagine Rebeca frowning as she heard this but she simply said “está bien” She added that she, Rebequita and Annie had just passed a police checkpoint near the airport, that the plane had arrived on time and they would be home soon.

He arrived at Juanita’s house 15 minutes later, traffic having been mercifully light at this time of the night. After driving around the block he found a place to park, cursing the fact that he had to leave the BMW on the street in the middle of the night for God only knew how long. Who knew what kinds of delinquents and prostitutes were around in the ‘centro historico‘ – he smirked at the thought – once the shops closed and the sun went down. What a pain.

Juanita came to the door a few minutes after he had knocked loudly on the once-grand wooden door that reminded him of his childhood, its blue paint cracked and peeling like a dry lake-bed.

Pasa” she said and he followed her inside, being careful not to touch anything in case it broke.

The house was a mess, it really was falling apart. Sergio wondered for a moment if this whole incident had not been an excuse to get him to actually come and see for himself what the house looked like; that he would feel some sort of pity or something and offer to help pay for some repairs or whatnot. He had no intention of sinking one single peso into this lost cause of a building, he thought to himself.

Como estas? Que te pasó?” he asked his sister.

Juanita gave a tired little sigh, and he braced himself for the usual bout of complaining and self pity.

But none came. Juanita simply told him what had happened, that she had gotten a piece of cookie stuck in her throat and had gone outside for help and a man had helped her and she was really quite fine now, thank you very much.

They looked at each other for a moment, then Sergio looked away.

Pues, si estas bien, te dejo – tengo que regresar porque hoy llega la niña de intercambio de Estados Unidos” he said “quieres venir a pasar la noche con nosotros?” he added, knowing that she would not come yet feeling that he should ask, to be polite.

No, no no, estoy bien, gracias por venir”  replied Juanita and walked him to the door. He gave her a half-hearted peck on the cheek which she returned with an equal lack of enthusiasm. “Cualquier cosa… me hablas, oiste?” he said before turning away. Juanita nodded and went back inside, closing the old door, both aware that Juanita did not have a phone available to her at that time of the night.

The BMW was still there, having survived it’s short stay in el centro apparently unscathed and Sergio got in, buckled up and drove home as quickly as he could, away from this part of the city that was now foreign and completely unappealing to him.

Santiago Learns a Lesson

** warning – this article contains ‘bad’ words **

Santiago Puc Arjona felt chastised and furious. An important lesson about drinking and driving, as well as the dangers of littering, had been brought home to him just minutes before, when, while driving back to his home in Merida, he drained the bottle of Corona he had brought with him from his cousins wedding in Tixcacal and tossed it out the window of his silver 1992 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. The bottle had shattered against the glass in his drivers side door, which was when Santiago realized with some surprise that he had forgotten to roll down the window before throwing the bottle out.

Chinga su madre!” he said aloud, angrily.

Continuing to curse his bad luck under his breath, he pulled off the narrow highway and, checking for traffic, opened the door and stepped out to survey the mess. The remains of the Corona bottle littered the inside of the truck and the drivers side window now featured a rather prominent crack that ran diagonally across it.

Me lleva la puta madre” he cursed again under his breath angrily and proceeded to look behind the seat for something with which to sweep out the glass. Yesterday’s copy of the Por Esto newspaper would do, he decided, and rolling up a section or two began to sweep the glass shards out of the truck and onto the side of the road.

When he was done, and shiny bits of broken glass lay motionless on the grey asphalt, he felt a sudden and very real urge to urinate. Leaving the side of the pickup, he stepped to the front of his vehicle where traffic coming from behind could not see him and unzipped his fly. The relief was blissful as he watered the weeds on the side of the road and he turned his face towards the sun, closing his eyes, to take in the last of the afternoon rays. The buzz from the beer at the wedding had not dissipated even with the adrenaline-pumping moment when glass hit glass inside the truck.  He zipped up and walked back to the drivers side of the pickup taking no notice of a car-full of tourists who turned their heads to see what he was up to as they drove past in a rental with orange Quintana Roo plates.

Snakes are not uncommon in the Yucatan and among them, the boa constrictor is often seen on highways and byways, sometimes making the Local section of the Diario de Yucatan newspaper when a group of police or firemen are called upon to shirk their patrolling duties and is assigned the delicate task of catching one in someones home and then have their photo taken with their prey.

It is less common for a snake such as the aforementioned boa to to slither out of the underbrush on the side of the road and somehow find its way into a vehicle, but today, as Santiago’s luck would have it and while he was happily relieving himself, a boa constrictor did just that, nestling itself comfortably in a space behind (and under, given its size) the bench seat that stretched across the interior of the pickups cabin.

Santiago got in the pickup, turned the key and the 6 cylinder engine roared to life reassuringly. Putting the vehicle in ‘drive’, he pulled out onto the highway and reached the periferico a few minutes later, coming to a stop at the traffic light and completely oblivious to the fact that an enormous reptile was curled up just inches away.

Pat Reflects on her Merida Reno

(Authors note – so as not to confuse you, dear reader, this particular moment happened before Betty came to Pat’s house to discuss the Seidy ‘situation’) Enjoy!

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“15 new messages” was Pat’s cue to begin clicking around her Facebook page, reading this and that until she remembered that she had wanted to replace the happy couple photo currently adorning her profile with something a little more up to date.

She clicked on “change picture” and began burrowing down into several directories on her laptop where she had stored her photos from the last few months, looking for something appropriate to show the world that she was adjusting to life in Merida, newly single without appearing too available or needy, and reasonably happy.

She opened a directory in which were photos of her in and around her new Merida house, before, during and after the renovation. The architect, a short, fifty-ish Yucatecan with greying hair and an excellent command of English, really had done an amazing job, and she congratulated herself on the decision to hire him based on the stellar recommendations she had found on several websites dedicated to the subject of life in Merida.

At first he had not seemed that particularly enthusiastic about the project, but she soon came to realize that this was his personality; cool, calm and serious, not prone to enthusiastic outbursts of feigned optimism or dramatic displays of frustration or dismay in the face of the many adversities that their project had run into. When the gutting of the house had begun, he negotiated on her behalf with the badged inspectors from the local INAH office who eagerly descended like rapacious vultures on the property, apparently smelling their prey from their air conditioned offices far away and anxious to justify their blood-sucking existence by attempting to apply their extensive rules and regulations on yet another unwitting foreigner who would sure pay any and all citations and fines involved with such a project. Pat suspected, and the architect later confirmed, that they could care less about the ‘historic preservation’ aspect of their mandate and were much more interested in supplementing their incomes with a little extra cash in exchange for certain permits and permissions.

He had also managed the hiring and supervision of the firm that provided sandal-clad albañiles who did the construction, the ingeniero who re-did all the electrical work and the company charged with renovating the plumbing. These contractors were all alike in that they appeared on the construction site as a group of rag-tag brown men who did all the work; an ingeniero who wore an impeccably clean long sleeved shirt and blue jeans with an ironed crease and who spent an inordinate amount of time on his cell phone while sitting in his air conditioned pickup on the street outside; and his assistant who was the immediate contact with the workers and who, if necessary, could be counted on to move things along and actually get dirt under his fingernails.

Pat had watched the work progress with fascination and more than a little concern, marveling at the way the workers would move giant rocks, heavy wooden beams and truckloads of concrete blocks and sacks of cement, without the benefit of a hard hat or steel-toed boots. Perched on precarious metal and wood andamios, they would shout to each other in what Pat would later find out was Mayan, avoiding all eye contact with the gringa watching below. On the rare occasions that she had tried to initiate some sort of dialogue with her admittedly limited Spanish, they would look at her blankly and then continue on with their work. Mostly, they ignored her.

The much anticipated visit (Pat had read about this on the internet) from the IMSS official who had come to verify that the workers on the list he had received as being on the payroll were in fact the same as the ones actually on the job, had resulted in work stopping for a day as initially the architect had not been on site and the man from the IMSS had tried to communicate his mission to Pat, who really did not understand the finer workings of this typical Mexican bureaucratic institution. When she finally managed to locate the architect on his cell phone, he told her he was in Progreso and would be back in the afternoon. He reminded her not to sign anything and ask the IMSS to return later in the day. Mr. IMSS was a little miffed and warned everyone present that the work could not continue until he had spoken to the architect and so, the workers sat around to wait for further instructions from the ingeniero who was due to arrive in a few hours. Pats voiced concern that the time could be spent sweeping and/or generally doing some cleanup was met with more blank stares and a few shrugs.

During the re-construction phase, Pat had learned to keep away from certain parts of the evolving house, as these were used as changing facilities and what her nose told her was a latrine, until she made it clear to the ingeniero and architect that she would pay for a portable toilet.

When the albañiles were done and the walls resurfaced and smooth, the electrical and plumbing workers moved in, smashing holes and canals in these same, apparently finished walls into which were inserted copper pipes for the upgraded plumbing and plastic tubes into which the electrical wiring would be pulled. This made little or no sense to Pat, who did not understand the natural order of the construction process in Merida but was reassured by her serene architect who simply nodded and explained to her that this was the way it was done.

Finally, the rough work was complete and the adventure continued with carpenters, painters and aluminum workers, who, under the architects guidance finished the house more or less on schedule and with minimum collateral damage.

Her thoughts wandered back to her present. Ah yes, the profile picture. Pat sipped her lemon tea and decided on a photo where she was standing in front of her bright yellow wooden front door, which contrasted sharply with the deep burgundy color of the facade of her new Merida home, clicked on the upload button and waited for her profile picture to update itself.

The doorbell rang.

Pat padded through the silent house, cup of tea in hand and opened the door to find Seidy waiting.

Buenos dias, Seidy” said Pat, opening the door wider to let her muchacha in. “Buenos dias, señora” said Seidy with a smile and headed towards her room beyond la cocina, to the obligatory cuarto de servicio, to change into her work clothes for the day. Initially, Pat had balked at the concept of making a special room for the hired help, but after being assured by her architect as well as several other people who knew about these things, she agreed to include the additional room in the renovation.

“I really must call Betty” thought Pat, watching Seidy disappear into the kitchen, as she closed the door quietly and returned to her laptop. Her Facebook profile picture now featured a beaming, obviously happy middle aged woman standing in front of a brightly colored colonial style home. “Much better” thought Pat, closing the laptop for the moment and heading back to her bedroom with its en-suite bathroom to prepare herself for the day ahead.

Enter Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barlovento Ruiseñor Pesado

Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barlovento Ruiseñor Pesado or “El Duque” as he was jokingly referred to by his Yucatecan friends walked carefully along the sidewalk; at this time of the afternoon it was late enough that he didn’t need to be concerned about which side of the sidewalk it was, as the sun had already disappeared behind the buildings in el centro and the temperature, while still very warm, was no longer suffocatingly hot.

He didn’t mind the nickname. It was to be expected, what with that insanely pretentious last name his parents had insisted on bestowing upon him.

Originally from Alicante, Spain, his mother Doña Alicia Ruiz-Señor Pesado and his father Don Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barvolento were of royal blood, or so they claimed. They had fled Spain and it’s violent civil war in the late 1930’s, able to do so through their wealth and connections, had come to the Yucatan and settled in Merida in a fine mansion in the city’s center and had pursued their lifelong ambitions of alternately impressing and intimidating those around them, in their minds all undoubtedly of inferior social class and economic means. Doña Alicia was particularly fastidious when choosing worthy companions for her weekly canasta game. Meanwhile Don Marco had opened an exclusive boutique that provided the up and coming society around them with the finest clothing and fashion accessories and had been able to maintain the pleasant fiction that was their royal status in a new land teeming with aspiring socialites and new money.

Marco, the son, was one of 8 children, neither the youngest nor the oldest but somewhere in between and had been raised – as were all the children – to carry on the family tradition of pompous superiority but had committed the grave and imperdonable sin of falling in love with the dark skinned daughter of one of his fathers Mayan tailors. The outrage and dismay caused by this breach of etiquette resulted in his virtual banishment from the family and its fortune, such as it was, and when Marco announced his decision to marry the girl, his mother and father upgraded his banishment status from virtual to real and he was, as they say, ‘cut off’.

He had moved to a relatively new – at that time – area of Merida, the colonia Garcia Gineres, with his new wife whose apellidos were considerably shorter and monosyllabic and found work with a company that commercialized products related to the booming henequen industry. They had raised 3 fine children, two sons and a daughter, who were themselves now married and successful in their own right. Now in his sixties, Marco divided his time between his garden at their Garcia Gineres home and socializing with lifelong friends and acquaintances, many of whom were getting on in years, but who still found time for a game of domino or a weak, tepid coffee at a small cafe in the bowels of the Lucas de Galvez market, in the very heart of Merida. During these encounters, the old friends would discuss the latest local and national political gossip, argue over whether Bush was right in invading Iraq or not and describe their various ailments to one another.

It was, in fact, one of these sessions that Marco had just left, and was now on his way to a bus stop some blocks from the market. He chose to walk a few blocks each time he came downtown as it was his only form of exercise and the walking seemed to ease the pain in his knees that would flare up when he spent too much time kneeling in his garden.

He was walking a little faster now, still remembering with a smile his friend Alberto – “El Caballo Perez” they called him – wagging his index finger as old men do – and giving them all advice about the dangers of mixing Viagra with Red Bull, when he noticed a door suddenly opening across the street and a woman staggering out onto the sidewalk. She clutched at her throat and without saying a word, dropped onto the sidewalk where she lay, motionless.

He heard himself yelling “Señora!” and, without even checking to see if a car, or worse, a bus, was coming, he rushed into and across the street to see what he could do to help this obviously ailing elderly woman who had, from the looks of it, fainted right there in front of what was probably her house. Behind him, a man with a bad leg came to the window to see what was going on, a television flashing blue light on the wall inside.

He reached the woman, now lying in a crumpled heap at his feet and felt his heart was racing, perhaps from the adrenaline charged effort of the sprint across the street or perhaps from the realization that he was faced with a possible life or death situation. Kneeling down he, he noticed cookie crumbs on the front of the woman’s simple house dress and he recalled her clutching at her throat just before she collapsed. At that moment a door in his mind that had been shut for ages opened and he remembered – as if it was yesterday – a medical training session that had been obligatory for all employees of Telas Agricolas Yucatecas S.A. many years ago and what to do if someone was choking. Reaching under the woman he half-lifted her in order to wrap his arms around her from behind, placing his hands under her sternum and applied what he remembered was a technique called the Heimlich maneuver, pulling his closed fists towards himself through the womans chest.

There was a sudden sputter, a cough and a gasp for air from the woman in his arms; a piece of something had flown out of her mouth and onto the sidewalk. “She is going to be fine!” thought Marco as he relaxed his grip and then, when he saw she was indeed breathing, released the woman, who was now sitting up, coughing, eyes watering. She turned to look at him, blinking, in confusion.

Se cayó, señora” Marco explained looking at her, concerned. “Cómo se siente?” he added. The woman could only nod, obviously still in a state of shock from what had just happened. Her breath came hoarsely. “Bien” she replied in a weak, unconvincing voice, between fits of coughing. He was suddenly aware of a voice from the television inside the house; a woman’s voice seductively extolling the virtues of Ponds hand cream.

Across the street, Don Arsenio had opened the front door to his house and was standing, watching intently, completely oblivious to his television or the fact that he was not wearing more than an undershirt and ragged shorts. A few more passersby had gathered and they too, were watching from the safety of the opposite sidewalk, and from that group a heavy-set woman accompanied by a small child, a girl of about 7 or so, quickly checked traffic and crossed quickly over to Marco and the now calmer Juany, still sitting on the sidewalk. In her hand was a cellular phone.

Acaba de llamar a la policia” she said excitedly to Marco, her eyes not leaving the woman sitting in front of her “dicen que ahorita vienen” The little girl stared at the strange sight of a grown-up sitting on the sidewalk.

Marco nodded. “Le ayudo entrar?” he asked the woman on the sidewalk, motioning to the open door of her home. Doña Juany nodded and tried to get to her feet. Marco took her arm, helped her to her feet and gently escorted her inside, where he found a chair in the sala and sat her down. He turned off the television, silencing the strident, nasal voice of a woman making a pitch for a skin-bleaching cream.

An ambulance appeared moments later, lights flashing, its appearance heralded by sirens which had been thankfully turned off as it came to an abrupt halt in front of Doña Juany’s home. The heavy set woman enthusiastically filled in one of the paramedics with the details as she had seen them, while two others went inside the house to check on Doña Juany. While Marco explained what he had seen and done, the paramedics checked Doña Juany’s pulse and made sure she had not hit her head. When asked if she would like to be taken to the hospital ‘para que le revisen‘ Doña Juany shook her head vigorously and it was decided that she was fine, no injury to the head and so, no danger of a concussion and, after a brief interrogation of Marco’s relationship to the woman and jotting down the particulars, the three of them left, pulling away in the ambulance that now only sported a smaller, more discrete number of red and blue lights flashing on its roof.

Marco pulled up a chair, sat down in front of the woman and asked if there was someone he could call. He felt it would be unwise, as well as somehow discourteous, to leave the poor woman alone after her fright. Doña Juany, now regaining her composure, replied that yes, but that her phone line had been canceled and that the nearest phone was at Maria Inés corner store down the street; she scribbled a phone number in pencil on a slip of paper napkin and Marco stepped out to find the grocery store and make the call.

Pat and Betty talk to Seidy (you decide where we are going next)

Hola Seidy!“, said Betty with a smile when Seidy opened the door for her. “Está doña Pati?” Seidy smiled a shy half smile which Betty took as a sign of affirmation, lowering her eyes and moving out of the way so Betty could come in. The blond woman followed her to the indoor patio where Pat was crouched among a group of plants, rooting around as if looking for something.

“Hi Pat! What are you doing?” Betty asked, curious.

“Betty!” Pat looked up from between some arecas “I’ve been having some problems with my garden; Manuel says it’s probably sayes and so I am trying to find their nest”.

Betty knew that Manuel was Pats’ part time gardener/mozo who went to the house a few times a week to tend to her gardening needs. Most of the time, she had noticed, Manuel spent his day staring dejectedly off into the distance with a hose in his hand, watering different parts of the ambitiously lush patio jungle Pat had created in the middle of her new home. From her own experience, she also knew that sayes – a Mayan word with a Spanish suffix; she had looked it up – were leaf-cutter ants who voraciously attacked anything green, establishing underground nests from which they emerged, usually at night, to cut leaves (hence their name) and carry them back to the colony. Pat wasn’t going to find anything at this time of the day.

Betty waited while Pat got up and they gave each other a little hug, Pat being careful not to get her dirty gloved hands on Betty’s clothes.

“Want something to drink?” she asked.

“Love it” Betty replied.

While Pat went to the kitchen to wash up and get Seidy to fix something to drink, Betty plopped down on the large metal-framed sofa-lounge with the thick cushions and looked around. The house, yet another small, once-forlorn Merida colonial that had been subject to an extensive reno by a recommended local architect who had redone everything in spite of officious protestations from the local INAH office whose mandate, it seemed, was to thwart any attempt at reconciling the city’s history with the present century’s need for such frivolous luxuries as plumbing and electricity, was all muted earth tones and natural surfaces. The old tapestry-style multicolored tile floor was the only splash of life in an otherwise somber ambiance, what with its exposed rock walls, wood accents and high ceilings. Far from depressing though, the effect was peaceful and relaxing and the profusion of green in its center, with sunlight streaming in from an overhead opening in the ceiling made one feel as if in an oasis, completely removed from the hustle and bustle just beyond the front door.

Pat came back and sat down, pulling her legs up under her. “Thanks for coming” she said, glancing at her friends face. She had called Betty that morning to have her come and help with her Seidy ‘situation’.

“No problem” Betty answered “have you talked to Seidy yet?”

They looked up and smiled politely, stopping the conversation that had just begun as Seidy appeared with a tray holding 2 glasses with ice and a glass pitcher of bright red jamaica. Pat had only recently discovered jamaica when Seidy had one day suggested the drink to accompany lunch, becoming quite enamored of it’s refreshing taste and, after reading something online about it’s apparent health benefits, made sure to always pick up a package of dried jamaica leaves when grocery shopping.

“Well?” continued Betty, after Seidy had set the tray down, served each of the women a glass and left, presumably back to the kitchen.

“You know, I haven’t really found a good moment to properly sit down and talk with her” replied Pat. “I just can’t seem to find the right time” She looked down at her hands, somewhat sheepishly.

“Oh Pat” said Betty knowingly “there’s just the two of you in this house most days; are you sure you’re not just putting this off?”

Pat nodded. “I guess so” she said. “I just can’t get started” She looked up at Betty “How do you do it? Talk to your muchacha I mean?”

“Watch and learn” said Betty, setting her glass down.  “Seidy!” she called out in an authoritative voice. Pat looked nervous.

Seidy came back from the kitchen and looked first at Pat, a questioning expression on her dark face, then at Betty. “Señora?” she asked.

Sientate, Seidy” said Betty and Pat motioned for her to sit next to her. Seidy sat down, the questioning look on her face turning into what might be described as defensive anticipation. She knew something was up.

Betty began. “Como te sientes, Seidy? Esta todo bien contigo?” Seidy nodded. “Como esta tu familia, todo bien?” Again, a nod. Pat, feeling she should ask something, broke in with “Y tu madre?

Bien” Seidy replied, looking from Betty to Pat and Betty again and finding this strange questioning rather disconcerting. Normally, her conversations with Doña Paty were of the Tarzan and Jane variety, with her patrona giving her instructions in what little Spanish she knew along with elaborate gestures in sign language, and Seidy answering with simple, short phrases that could be understood without difficulty by her new boss. She had worked only one other job before this one at the home of another woman, Doña Licha, a severe Yucatecan lady who had scolded and reprimanded her on everything; the washing, the cooking, the cleaning; none of it was being done correctly or quickly enough. It was hard if not impossible to please Doña Licha and after a month, she had told her mother that she was quitting. Her mother had scolded her as well, telling her not to be ungrateful and what else would a 15 year old with a grade 4 education expect to be doing, but Seidy had had enough and would not budge. A few weeks after that, her mother had found and recommended Seidy to, Doña Paty.

Tu padre esta trabajando?” the interrogation continued courtesy of Betty. When Seidy nodded yet again, Betty announced that que bueno; it was important that her father keep his job because jobs were hard to find in these troubled economic times and people should be grateful and…

Her well-meaning yet thoroughly patronizing monologue was suddenly interrupted by a loud knock at the front door.

Betty looked at Pat and Pat looked at Seidy and then all three stared for a moment at the door, no one saying a word. There was another knock, more insistent, almost desperate.

Seidy looked at Pat, got up and hurried off into the kitchen, leaving Betty and Pat sitting there.

ENDING A

“Well, aren’t you going to see who it is?” asked Betty a little impatiently. “Oh yes, of course” answered Pat. She got up and headed to the front door, not before there was yet another knock. Now, as she approached the closed door she could hear voices outside it; a man and a woman – from the sound of it they were arguing. “Pues CLARO que lo voy a ver” she heard the woman say in an angry voice.

“What is this?” Pat wondered, and opened the door, revealing what was most definitely an elderly Mayan couple; the woman wearing an hipil and the man in dark polyester pants folded up at the bottom, a long sleeved wine colored polyester shirt not tucked in and a baseball cap that said Tommy Halfmaker. Both were quite short and were wearing plastic sandals, revealing their calloused, brown feet.

Trabaja aqui una muchacha que se llama Seidy?” asked the woman, fixing her gaze on Pat while the man said nothing, looking past her into the house. The woman looked upset.

Si, pero…” Pat’s answer trailed off as the hipil-clad mestiza turned to the man with a triumphant look and then pushed past Pat and headed towards the central garden area, where Betty sat, jamaica in hand, staring at this sudden intrusion. As Pat turned, the man removed his baseball cap, muttered “con permiso” without making eye contact and followed the mestiza into the house.

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Who are these mestizos? What the heck is Tommy Halfmaker? Will the sayes return? Why is Pat such a wuss?

Will we go with Ending A? Your vote will decide!

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’Ho Tales, coming sometime soon!

ENDING B

“Well, aren’t you going to see who it is?” asked Betty a little impatiently. “Oh yes, of course” answered Pat. She got up and headed to the front door, not before there was yet another knock. Now, as she approached the closed door she could hear a male voice outside; was he talking to someone or to himself?

She opened the door and before her stood a city policeman. A dark skinned, Mayan-featured member of Merida’s finest in a pale blue uniform smiled at her and she noticed he had a length of sisal rope in his hand. The rope was attached to a very familiar looking black dog. Obviously, this was Betty’s dog, Frijol. What was the policeman doing with him?

Buenos dias” said the oficial with a smile, revealing impossibly white teeth. Then, checking his watch, he corrected himself “Tardes – buenas tardes” he emphasized the tardes and again flashed a toothy smile while shaking his head at his own mistake.

Buenas tardes” Pat answered. She turned and called to Betty. “Betty, this policeman has your dog!” Betty sat up quickly, set her glass of jamaica on the table and rushed to the door.

Buenas tardes?” asked Betty stating what was both a salutation and a question. While her face was not unfriendly, her voice said hello and what the hell are you doing with my dog?

The policeman hadn’t stopped smiling. He was a happy policeman, this one. “Es suyo el perro?” he asked Betty. Betty now noticed that a rather sheepish Frijol was looking up at her, apparently trying to decide if it would be appropriate to wag his tail.

Si” responded Betty emphatically “es mi perro” Pat wondered if she should invite the policeman in.

He decided for her. “Puedo pasar?” he asked motioning to enter the house with his free hand.

Claro que si” answered Pat, stepping aside to allow the policeman into her home. As he entered Betty bent down to scratch Frijol behind the ears; he immediately decided that yes, it was alright to wag his tail and began to do so in such a violent manner that he threatened to knock over the macetas with their potted plants beside the door. He also licked Betty’s face happily. The policeman’s smile faded and he looked at Betty with a mixture of pity and distaste. “Estas gringas con sus perros” he thought to himself before regaining his composure and rearranging his face to once again highlight his Colgate smile.

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A policeman in your house – Pat what are you thinking? What is Frijol doing on the end of a rope?
Does Seidy put artificial sweetener in the jamaica?

Will we go with Ending B? Your vote will decide!

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’Ho Tales, coming sometime soon!

Annie Arrives in Merida

Annie arrived at 9:13 PM in the middle of Merida’s rainy season on a Continental flight from Houston, the only direct flight into Merida from the U.S. She had not wanted to stop in the United States as she did not support that country’s politics, but had discovered that she had to in order to fly into Merida and not nearby Cancun. Annie was about to enter the University of Calgary to begin a career in international politics and because of her interest in Latin American studies, learning Spanish seemed like a smart idea. She had taken some beginners classes and so had a very basic grasp of the language, but the reason for this trip was to polish her language skills to get a leg up on the courses that would be coming at her in the fall.

Annie could not believe the heat once she left the somewhat air conditioned airport building. It was a sticky, warm mass of humidity that enveloped her, got into and under her clothes and made her hand, holding the handle of her carry-on bag, slippery with condensation as her body – and the luggage – warmed through, from the outside in. And this was 10:30 PM. She wondered how bad it would be the next day.

Her host Mom, who told her “Just call me Rebecca” when they had first talked on the phone after several weeks of emailing back and forth, had been there at the airport to greet her. Standing beside her was her 10 year-old daughter – Rebequita – who had stared up at her with an expression of cautious suspicion, as if to size up this new -although certainly not permanent – member of the family.

Rebeca (the Mom) now led her through the dimly lit parking lot to an older model silver mini-van. “Aqui estamos! Que calor, verdad!” she said with a grin and opened the rear first, before opening the other doors. The luggage man, perspiration staining his light blue shirt, lifted the one large suitcase from his dolly and placed it in the back of the van. Annie had wanted to drag her luggage out herself but Rebeca wouldn’t hear of it. Rebeca gave him some coins and a “gracias, joven” and he was off, half walking, half running to get inside and perhaps have a shot at another customer before the passengers dispersed.

As he ran, huffing and puffing and pushing the dolly in front of him, he made a little sign of the cross in grateful thanks for the tips received just now. It was only 10 pesos and probably one of the most miserable tips he had received in a while but he tried to concentrate on the positive and  on getting back into the luggage pickup area where he might find some more passengers who needed help. The Continental Airlines flight was the only international flight at that hour and there was only one opportunity to get a few services in and make some tip money. The worst was when you had all their luggage piled up on a dolly, 10-12 suitcases and were ready to get out to the car, get the tip and hustle back in, they would decide to chat and catch up. And you had to stand there like some kind of living statue while you were completely ignored or, if someone should catch your eye, you had to smile politely and then look away, so as not to let them know you were itching to get on with it already.

The van moved slowly, in a line of several cars, until they reached the parking lot exit. Fortunately Rebeca had remembered to pay her parking ticket inside. On a previous airport visit, she had forgotten and after reaching the exit realized her mistake and had to leave the lineup of cars, park again and head back inside to pay the damn thing. The airport had installed machines that replaced the humans who used to work at the airport parking lot exit, making the process entirely automatic for about a week, when it was discovered that the new machines did not accept some larger bills and that they ran out of change rather quickly. The previously dismissed employees were now back at work in an office behind the machines, dispensing change and small bills for customers and occasionally charging the old fashioned way – by hand. Rebeca shook her head as she thought of the embarrassment of having to leave the lineup that day. She pulled out of the parking lot and merged into traffic on Avenida Itzes, towards Merida.

Annie sat in the front seat as Rebeca drove the three of them home, Rebequita in the back seat watching, on a screen strapped to the headrest of the seat, a DVD of what sounded to Annie like The Little Mermaid in Spanish. As Ariel chattered unintelligibly with her fishy friends, Annie suddenly felt tired from the long travel day, but she knew she had to stay awake just a little longer to meet the rest of the family.  She was glad to see flashing lights ahead, blue and red and noticed the traffic slowing. Something to keep her awake.

“What it is?” she asked Rebeca, who was putting on her seat belt as she slowed the van down. Her agreement with her host Mom had been that she could speak in English only the first week and from then on, todo en español. Her host Mom would not speak English to her at all, unless it was an emergency of course.

Es la policia” answered her host Mom, “un reten. Tienes tu cinturon puesto?”  Rebeca looked at Annie’s seat belt and nodded approvingly. Of course Annie, conditioned like any good Canadian to strict seat belt laws, had put on her seat belt as soon as she got in the car and didn’t really understand the question, but did not have the interest or the energy to get into a discussion on seat belt regulations in Mexico.

Rebeca rolled down her window as they approached the police checkpoint. The three lanes from the airport were becoming one and Annie noticed how all the cars jostled for position, horns blaring, to get into the only lane that was open. No one seemed to want to give an inch. She wondered if her host Mom would let the little car to the left of them with the family in it get in front of her, but no way. Rebeca stared straight ahead, oblivious to the traffic around her and satisfied that she was now in the correct lane. Traffic was now moving at a snails pace.

They arrived at the checkpoint. Annie saw a black and gold police pickup truck with a black canopy on the back, a second smaller black police car – both with blue and red lights flashing – several dozen traffic cones with lights inside them marking the lane they were in, and a large, bright light hanging from a tree that shined directly into their faces. Policemen wearing black on black uniforms topped with black bullet proof and carrying menacing machine guns. Across the street, for traffic coming in the opposite direction, the scene was the same. Some of the policemen wore ski-masks. Annie felt nervous excitement at this blatant display of law and order.

Porque…hacen…” she gave up trying “why are they doing this?” she asked Rebeca.

Rebeca said nothing and concentrated on the policeman now approaching her drivers side window. The officer wordlessly pointed a flashlight into the interior of the van through the open window, pausing briefly on each of the three faces.

Annie was annoyed by the light in her eyes but she sensed it was not a good moment to voice her objections.

Rebeca said nothing and looked back at the officer.

Adelante” he said, waving his hand.

Rebeca rolled up her window, looked at Annie and gave her a tired smile. Annie smiled back.