Sunday, February 13, 2011

Walking and driving

I am about the only person around here who walks to walk. It feels a little strange; it is a luxury. I can walk because I want to, not because I have to. I have a vehicle; no one would understand it if I decided to walk the hour or more each way to Tapesquillo for my English class. And although I have not yet established what one colleague suggested might be "Dr. Lisa's Taxi Service", when I drive I can also give rides to other people, who would otherwise have no option other than to walk, perhaps carrying heavy cargo from the market.  

Last week, for example, as I was preparing to go up to teach, I got a call from one of the women who wanted to know if I could pick her up, and along the way I stopped and gave lifts to a few other people.  When we brought a weaver from Zacualpa to Tapesquillo to show and talk about weaving styles, the only way we were able to do it was for me to get her (since she lives in an aldea outside of Zacualpa, and although it is not as far from Zacualpa as Tapesquillo is from Chinique, and the road is nowhere near as steep and winding, there is, however, very little vehicular traffic on that road and no cars that go back and forth on a regular basis, as there are on the Tapesquillo/Chinique road.  So I drove out to get her, and then on the way back, got a call from one of the women who was going to attend the weaving discussion, asking if I could stop in La Cruz, on the outskirts of Chinique, and pick her up. When I arrived, she had an elderly couple with her. I tried to indicate that they could all get in the cab, but they were already climbing into the bed of the truck. The road was, as it usually is, quite dusty and we all -- passengers inside the cab, passengers in the bed -- looked for ways to cover our breathing passages (for me it's always a trade off between the suffocating heat if I  keep all the windows closed, and the dust that has given me a chronic cough and sniffle since I arrived). 

Most mornings I take a walk outside of town; sometimes I don't get around to it until the afternoon but that's not the usual routine. I head up on the last street on the western edge (more or less) of town, that turns to a dirt road after it passes the street where the big antenna is located, and eventually, I am told, winds up in San Andrés Sajcabajá.  There are usually very few people headed out of town during the week, and in the early morning on weekends as well. There are occasionally motorcycles that whiz by, and much more occasionally trucks or 4X4s. Most of the people on foot are heading into town: children heading to school, women carrying basins of corn to be ground, and on Sunday morning heading in to market. Sometimes there are women returning home with ground masa. But mostly I have the road to myself.  It stretches up for a while without any dwellings close at hand, although there are some narrow footpaths that lead to houses that are not easily visible from the road, and then more than a kilometer up the road, there is a settlement of sorts -- several houses, one after the other, that are constructed right along the road. The patios and entrances seem to be on the "inside", away from the road, presumably to give some privacy to the families. I say presumably because I've only called out "Buenas tardes" when I've seen people outside their homes as I have passed, and haven't had any conversations.

This morning I started out somewhat later than usual as I was trying (more or less unsuccessfully) to view and stream and download some things.  The market was in full swing when I passed by, but I had gone to Chiché yesterday, which has a market about 5 or 6 times the size of Chinique's, with more selection, fresher produce (according to my friends; a lot of what I saw this morning in Chinique looked pretty crisp) and better prices, so I wasn't planning to make many purchases (some staples like rice and salt).

As the pavement ended and the dirt road started, I saw on the curve up ahead a woman and young boy herding some cows and other animals. As I got closer, I could distinguish both sheep and goats (about half a dozen of each) along with the cows and calves. A couple of dogs tagged along; they didn't seem to be doing much to help, just along for the outing. There were two or three dogs that lagged behind, just kind of ambling along, and the others were closer to the herd of animals, but again, didn't seem to be "working". Nor did the boy, for that matter. Both the woman and boy had switches, but the woman was the only calling out to the animals, flicking her switch, and trying to keep them all on the path (a few rebellious calves and sheep plunged off onto the side of the road and she strode quickly after them, but then rejoined the group a little farther on). We greeted each other as I passed through the herd; she asked if I was going "up ahead" ("pa'rriba va?"). I said yes, but that I was just going out to walk, to stretch my legs.

I didn't take a photo; I am a bit circumspect about interrupting people when they are working, or at least people I don't know.  I thought about it, and then decided not to ask: for me to feel good about it, it would have required more of a conversation -- who I am, what I am doing, how to find her again so I could give her a copy of the photo. Some other day, perhaps -- it's not like she was taking the animals to pasture today and today only.  Yes, the light is different every day and perhaps I will never see the shot I saw, of the woman walking towards me, a male goat leading the way... but I have to balance aesthetics against ethics.

Sometimes I have offered rides to people who have declined; or rather, who have not even acknowledged the offer. I usually slow down on the road to Tapesquillo if I see a woman, or a couple, or a woman and children, especially if they are loaded down with things and gesture towards the back. Sometimes a person indicates they are only going a short distance; other times the person hasn't blinked or nodded. I figure, I have the truck, might as well use it. 

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