(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!
“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 surely 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 reassured 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.