Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blue Bugs & Laundry Wars & Olla Solars

Last night Neyda picked me up in her blue Volkswagen and it was packed with teenage girls – two daughters and a neice plus two puppies. They all live together in that house on Hidalgo in Puente, along with a teenage son, Neyda’s mother and 99-year-old grandmother, and the husband Victor, not to mention a big old dog named Toro.

In that house with two bathrooms and three bedrooms a dirt backyard lives four generations of women.

Is it hard? I ask them as we sputter down the highway in the bug that has the same smell as the beetle we had growing up in the 70s in Washington, the one that went clickety-clack in reverse because mom stripped a tooth off a gear.

No not really, the girls respond, the furry puppies asleep between their legs. They are so nonchalant it’s as though they don’t understand my question. Estamos acostombrada. We’re used to it.

I marvel. I live alone, I say. I think: I don’t have to share a bathroom with anyone.

Really, they reply, but with not a bit of surprise or curiosity in their voices, the Mexican way. Things are the way they here, not much challenging the status quo. Maybe they don’t want to know about alternatives that seem out of their reach. Or maybe they are content. That’s possible too.

The community that they create via family is …admirable. I have days, like this one, where I really do feel like the strange one, like I missed the boat. My envy fills the bubble of space in the bug. Comparing mind, the Buddhists call it. Do I miss having a family of my own? I was close a few times, but nothing clicked, better options, alternate routes, drew me away. Would I be embarrassed to tell them how many countries I’ve set foot in, how many lovers I’ve had, how many gran crus I’ve drunk, how many degrees I’ve earned? What does it add up to?

Neyda is my age exactly, ’64, year of the Dragon. She is soft-spoken yet impassioned. She has a big scar down her left arm like a piece has been cutout. She has long brown hair pulled back in a tie and wears cloak tops and Flexi shoes that make her look more like my mother than my peer. She is the jueza auxiliar in her town – which means on any given night her house is full of citizens with dire problems of abuse, violence, hunger, sickness – people who come for advice – and love. This is an honored position, unpaid position because she doesn’t take bribes under the table. She is the first female the community has elected, and the powers that be are not happy, because, by her ethical actions, she is upsetting the status quo.

This morning while my coffee brews in the French press I think: I came here to help them, but maybe they should be helping me. Maybe they are. Am I weeping for joy or sorrow? Four generations in one house and I’m alone in my hovel, in Central Mexico, in the Peace Corps, far from my family (what there is of it) and my friends, who are like family, who are running around the globe, trying to make it a better place, attached to nothing too. (Oh, Jake's got a cat named Wallace now.)

I go out to the rooftop to hang my laundry on the line, and see that the clothes of my next door neighbors are strung like fiesta flags, in zigzags, so much clothing they’ve had to string new rope up over my nice table area. I have to duck to get to the machine and I’m mad. They took my whites out yesterday and put them into a bucket so they could do their mountains of loads – because I hadn’t been able to get back from my meetings in time to empty the machine and put it through the rinse cycle. And I’m jealous that they have so much clothing, bras in Crayola colors and distressed jeans and mens' boxers and spaghetti strap tops. I have one measly line when I do wash; and even that they’ve interrupted.

Why haven't I found a match, someone to hang my clothes next to, the serial monogamous in search of the realthing, hoping it will just appear on my doorstep, the one sustainable, endurable love that might pull me off the path and settle me down.

I have days like this, in the Peace Corps, in life, when I question everything, when the fatty smell of carnitas floating up from Jimenez and the jarring Banda music and the whirring of the Herblife blender makes me pine for the calm, control of Mount Pleasant, USA, where I fit in and don’t have to question the decisions I’ve made. While here, some days, today, my difference feels alienating, and I want to stay inside and hide from it.

But I can’t. Chin up, I'm a PCV. It’s time to get the olla solar ready for my experiment with Alicia. We are going to cook with the sun today – if we can find some space on the roof amidst the neighbors’ laundry!