Nightlights

It was a Friday afternoon, which meant that all was silent in the community. Like clockwork this quiet peace comes over an already quiet barrio (neighborhood) at the end of each week, for Saturday is a holy day for the majority Adventists who live in the quaint town of Honduras. I sat with Erendira on Don Ciro’s porch. She, like me, was an extranjera, though it’s possible that, phenotypically, I am still perceived as more Mexican than she is. My jet-black hair and brown skin are typical of the Chiapenecan, while her brown hair tinted with golden highlights, bright blue eye shadow, and fair skin are novelties. In our own way, we understood each other.

She is a 26-year-old mother with a daughter of two months, and I a 20-year-old “muchacha” with no husband, no children, and a slowness to my Spanish that could only result from having learned this language in class rather than from birth. “Quieres sabritas?” she said suddenly. I looked at her quizzically, not having the faintest idea what she meant. Getting up, she walked quickly to a small shop just steps away and returned with two bright green plastic bags. “Ahh, las…chips” I said with a grin, taking a moment to regale her with my Spanglish. We sat and watched as the clouds bien cargardas con agua (full of water) loomed in the distance, though they were being held at bay by the looming mountains of the Sierra Madre. I will never tire of this view I thought to myself, though the silence of these streets would take some getting used to. Eri, as I’ll call her, understood. She was from a bigger city and this was her first weekend in Honduras. As a maestra (teacher) at the local elementary school, she usually returned to her home and child in Tapachula for the weekend. However, the six hour trip home was becoming costly and so she had decided to stay here in the Sierra, she confided. Sigh, the two “city” girls from very different cities of the world were at a loss for what to do. So we did what most of our neighbors would in their idle moments—platicamos (we chatted).

I had first met Eri in the local Centro de Salud (health center), where I often was observing consultations with Argenis, a friend and the social service year physician stationed here. It turns out that she works at the school just feet away from the clinic and often frequented the ciber café just a few feet in the other direction. Like everything in this community, the distance between both physical places and people is little to speak of and the same faces that you comes across in the clinic waiting room are the ones that greet you in the street and welcome you into their homes when you are in search of a hot meal. People, like the coffee that flows so freely here, are fluid and weave in and out of one another’s lives sharing experiences that are never completely personal because they are always inherently collective. This goes, too, for the experience of seeking health care.

Eri and I spoke about everything from traditional Mexican customs (baile, pozol, mole and more) to the state of natural resources in Chiapas to the reasons that people have such faith in the ever-popular vitamins that are sold by traveling Guatemalan salesmen who pass through the community. “The people trust them [the sellers],” she explained, though she said she had never tried the vitamins herself. “My mother uses them though,” she added simply. The narrative of vitamin deficiency is prevalent here and one that I had become familiar with through the many interviews I’ve conducted and conversations I’ve had with men and women both in and out of the clinic. I had been wondering when and how this belief originated, for it seemed to be the main motivation behind the de facto belief that vitamins should be taken by all in order to prevent illness. “It’s not like the United States where your food is good,” one man of 64 years explained to me, “we don’t have good food here. The vitamins help us.” To the contrary, I thought, looking down at the bowl of mole before me. This food is delicious. But I knew what he meant. There was no denying the paucity of fruits and vegetables here and the constant desire to take vitamins was understandably connected to it. Yet, the practice of injecting one’s own medications seemed like an utterly foreign practice to me. Eri said that she never did this (she preferred to take medications only when absolutely necessary), but she told me that her mother had learned and could inject her own vitamins. We went on and on platicando (chatting) like this for hours, as the sun waned and a cool wind began to hurry down the silent road towards a hill in the distance. Eri told me about her childhood, her love of Chiapas, her desire to see other parts of the world, and why she loves teaching so much. I felt utterly happy as I listened to her words and responded in kind. I knew in those moments that I’d found a friend.

***

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And now, it is 8PM and the only lights to speak of are a single vela (candle) sputtering on the cement floor and the fluorescent glow of my computer screen. The electricity went out a while ago and so dinner was a steaming cup of coffee and a few “animalitos” (animal crackers) that had been stocked away. Don Ciro didn’t seem in the least bit troubled about the lack of electricity—this is a commonplace occurrence when the rains arrive, I’m told. He hoped that the electricity would be back on by Monday. Monday. I could just see the pile of emails rising mercilessly in my inbox…but they would have to wait. I’ll admit that it’s still difficult for me to separate myself from the slightly frantic Harvard undergrad who is used to keeping up with the email that va corriendo (‘goes running’) as if it were a form of communication akin to text. But ah, to let go. All of it would have to wait.

The candle light suddenly shivered violently and disappeared with a final triumphant glow. Well, that’s that. Shrouded in darkness, I would close my laptop and go to sleep. The small black numbers glow in the top right hand corner of my screen and Doña bids me goodnight. 9:07PM.

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