Me and My Village

Ajijic gardenI was recently told a ridiculous joke, one of those silly ones that just hit me funny and causes me to break up laughing every time I think of it. I can’t even remember the actual set-up, it was so dumb, but the punch line was “porno music in a barnyard; brown chicken, brown cow.” Seriously, if you sing it to yourself, you’ll start to hear the theme that we all know means a good looking pizza delivery man with a Tom Selleck moustache is on his way up the front steps; baoun chika baoun baoun.

Wanna know why I am suddenly hearing porn music? Vincente the roof guy, that’s why. Really, I thought the whole dreamy Mexican laborer thing was something cooked up by the bridge playing romantic short story writers, a mighty demographic down here. Especially since the parade of workers that our Raphael turns up with is usually of the bloodshot eye and ass crack displaying variety. How the elegant Vincente hooked up with our one-eyed Rapha is a mystery to me. All I know is, every time he saunters through the living room in his wife beater with one of those 10 gallon buckets slung up on his shoulder, I get what the bridge players are so inspired about. And I hear the porn music.

We are having our roof retiled, yet another advancement opportunity for Raphael here at Joachim International. He is always here doing something, although it’s seldom anything to do with the garden which he was hired to supervise more than 2 years ago. I suspect if I checked his business cards it would show our house as his office address.

Even without Raphael and his rotating work crews, our house is generally swarming with courteously smiling Mexicans, especially on the days that Carmen comes. Carmen is our maid and immediate next door neighbor. She has four children, a husband, and an indescribably scruffy dog that I surreptitiously douse with flea medicine anytime I can corner him and get him to hold still. Since Carmen came, the sense of our house as a kind of community center has increased exponentially.

In addition to the relatively easy to identify cast of characters of her immediate family, there is an extended family of local landowners who all look vaguely alike and drop in with wheelbarrows full of sad looking ears of corn or piles of clothing and scold the children for missing Mass. That crowd defies my informal census taking, although I think I can pick out a grandfather and grandmother from the mob. I’m not sure if they go together or not. There is clearly some overlap between this large family and the guys that Rapha organizes to paint or work around the garden.

It is common in our area for upscale contemporary gringo houses to share a wall with rambling Mexican living quarters that are unique in their acheological quality. You can tell when the family was flush and when they ran out of money by visiting one of these meandering construction sites…here’s a wall with a window, here’s one without, here’s a room with a roof, here’s one that’s open to the sky. You get the picture. There really isn’t any counterpart in the U.S., at least not where I’m from. The most I can say to describe it is that there is more outside than inside and seen from above, which is easy in the roofless parts, it would look like a brick puzzle, or the kind of maze that white rats run through. Carmen has one of these housing arrangements on the other side of our bougainvillea, and when she’s not here she can be found cooking in the “corral,” a huge backyard with a vegetable garden, fruit trees, miles of clothesline, chairs for lounging in and a dining set. She cooks over a gas ring that is also set up in the corral. I’m pretty sure she feels sorry for me because I have to cook inside my small kitchen.

Directly across the street from this family compound is a door that leads into a quarters with even less roof than Carmen’s. Her husband and son hang out over there and entertain the hombres of the village, including Raphael and Vincente and many others who are actually drinking beer and playing dominoes when rooftopsI think they’re on my roof switching out tiles. At any given time, about half of these folks will have a key to my house, and I pretty much never know what’s going on. It doesn’t bother me, in fact I have come to love the ease of being able to just pick up and leave, knowing that when we get back, no matter when it is, the house will be clean, the dogs fed, the grass cut and the gates locked.

I admit that there is the possiblity of a small sacrifice of privacy. I haven’t got used to the shy brown eyed daughters who sometimes silently appear at my side when I think I’m alone watching Dancing with the Stars to remind me that I owe money for raffle tickets for the elementary school. That startles me, but it’s a small price to pay for the community that Bruno and I often congratulate ourselves on having found. We’re so proud of our community, in fact, that last week we invited anyone who wanted to attend to go to the circus.

And the Circus, my friends, is a whole ‘nother story.

Elliott Joachim pulled the plug on life in Metro D.C. and headed South of the Border. In her blog, Lifestyle Refugee (honey, what the hell are we doing in Mexico?), she regales you with how a middle range baby boomer builds a new life in Ajijic.

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