Saturday, January 21, 2012

Small kindnesses

Guatemalans, or at least the ones who have befriended me, are capable of extraordinary generosity. When I was in Xela, on the morning after the despedida (that is, last Saturday, January 14), I needed to buy brake pads for my car (I could tell that the brakes were beginning to sound a little crunchy and thought it would be prudent, even if I were only going to be driving it for another few days; the last thing I would need was to have the brakes "go" on the way to the airport). It's always cheaper to buy replacement parts in a large town; in the town where I live, population 2,000, it is not always possible to get replacement parts for a Mazda, and they would have to be ordered from elsewhere and then installed. So I asked Humberto, at whose house I was staying, where I could get them; I had seen signs for one of the big auto parts stores, Hermanos Copher, and thought that would be a likely place. He suggested that there was a auto repair shop nearby and that they could get the brake pads and install them, and then wanted to know if I had time to go to the top of the Cerro de Baúl, which has a view of the entire city of Xela. I had been planning to leave, but it seemed as though he and Ana wanted to make sure I saw some of the beautiful places nearby, so I said that I needed to be back in Quiché in the afternoon but that was fine.  We then drove to the auto repair shop, talked to the mechanic and arranged for him to do the repair. He said it would take an hour and half and so we walked back, got into Humberto's car, and went to the Cerro. It was a bright and warm (for this time of year, and for Xela) day, and it was a pleasant drive up, and the view was spectacular.

We got back, and went to retrieve my car. I had also asked them to look for the driver's side mirror as that had been a casualty (luckily just about the only one) when the surly bus driver had deliberately side-swiped my car earlier in the week, forcing me into a roadside ditch. The mechanic had found one but hadn't bought it as it cost 450Q and he wasn't sure I'd want to spend that much money. I wanted the mirror so we asked where to find it and then Humberto accompanied me and we set off. We went to three different auto parts stores and none had the mirror; the point, however, is that Humberto eagerly took off half of his Saturday to run around Xela with me from auto parts store to auto parts store. He could easily have just given me directions to the various stores and let me try to handle the transaction on my own (and in this case, there was nothing that required special cultural or mechanical knowledge. I just went into the stores, told them the model of my car and asked if they had a driver's side mirror).

Likewise, I would never have been able to have packed and moved without help from several friends who, between them, helped clean my house, pack suitcases, and haul suitcases and furniture from the house I was renting to the place where I am storing my things. Catarino and Sandra, who had offered some time back to store my furniture and go to the airport with me, came over in the afternoon and stayed with me until late at night (I spent the night in their house so we could all leave together in the morning).

The original plan was that we were going to have a nice dinner together. The day before, Catarino had told me that Sandra had already gotten the chicken and was preparing to cook it. However, it became clear by mid-evening that we were not going to have a leisurely meal. As much as I thought I had gotten a good start on packing my suitcases, I soon realized that I had more than I had thought, and that i had not really taken into account the "moving" part -- I had furniture, dishes, utensils, appliances (fridge, blender, coffee grinder), toiletries, staple food items, linens. All of these were things that needed to be packed and stored. So we packed and sorted and threw out and cleaned, and around 8 I suggested that we take a break, go back to their house and eat (we had brought 2-3 truckloads already) and then do the last load. So we ate a pretty hurried dinner, not doing justice to the soup that Sandra had prepared some hours earlier. I had put aside some rum and the last bit of the expensive tequila I had bought in Mexico, but we were too tired (and I was too anxious) to look through the boxes to see where they were, so we just ate relatively quickly and almost in silence, and then returned to my house.

At 11:00 at night, as we brought the last truckload of stuff prior to our 7 a.m. departure the next morning, I shuddered to think of what I would have done had I not had several extra pairs of hands. Not only did Catarino and Sandra help, but Catarino's brothers had helped unload furniture from the truck (at one point earlier in the day Catarino had driven a truck load to his home and Sandra and I had stayed continuing to pack and clean). The kids -- Catarino's children plus assorted nieces, nephews, siblings, cousins -- had also done their share, scrambling in their eagerness each time we brought a load of things.

I should mention that getting to their house means maneuvering the car, or oneself carrying boxes and chairs, along a narrow, rocky dirt drive that slopes down past two other houses and goes in and out of at least one ditch.  The ground is uneven except for right around their house, and so getting the boxes and furniture transported by hand involves both strength and balance, especially at night. Because of the difficulty in turning the car around in these narrow spaces I didn't bring the car all the way down to Catarino and Sandra's house (the last of the three houses on that drive) but to Catarino's parents' home, which meant easier turning but more carrying. All of which was done quickly, skillfully and cheerfully, even 3-year old Brandon eagerly grabbing a bag or a pillow to contribute his share.

Just one more example of the many gifts I had received from my Maya friends in Quiché and elsewhere...

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