Monthly Archives: August 2011

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.


“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.


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!


“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.


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.