Dogs in Mexico are sentries and tell us when there are neighborhood intruders. When the intruder also happens to be a service person (garbage [la basura], water, etc.) or a solicitor, we get a minimum of two sounds: the dogs first, alerting the neighborhood and then the service itself announces its presence. The latter can take the form of banging on the side of a truck, a loudspeaker, a musical instrument (most often amplified), chimes, bells, whistles or simply a horn. Multiply the number of households within a half-kilometer radius and you’ll have an idea of the canine communication that takes place.
Santa Julia is a poor neighborhood. The deeply rutted and creviced (crevassed?) dirt road on which I live (don’t get the wrong impression – most of Santa Julia’s streets are paved or cobblestone) comes to a dead-end two buildings beyond us, and at this cul-de-sac live three ex-pats with very little money, two homes for children, and several houses that I think belong to Mexicans who are slightly above the norm in income. We get no solicitors that I’ve noticed. It’s sort of a reverse NIMBY for our enclave: we are too distant, too poor.
I asked my landlord how does the garbage get handled – put it on the corner as in some Mexican locales? – and when does the water delivery take place. He gave me the days and said that I’d hand the garbage bag(s) to the guy(s) on the truck.
¿A qué hora?
¿Quién sabe? En algún momento de la mañana.
It would be some time in the morning.
So the four guys who most mornings wait for their ride to work at the corner were waiting at 7 a.m. Then the girls from Casa Hogar adorably started down the hill on their way to town in their sporty uniforms; younger ones holding the hand of an older girl (7:30), and the handyman came a las ocho (our guard dog, a mix of pit bull [a favored breed in Mexico] and bulldog, barking her welcome and wagging her tail generously).
Near 8:30 there was a bell clanging and men calling and the garbage truck backed up our street: I had hoped I could just toss the bag from my second-floor landing down into the truck, but I had to go downstairs and hand the bag (and 20 pesos) to a teen. Altogether six men and boys worked the truck and before they were on their way from our dead-end street, two were standing on top of the refuse, opening bags and separating recyclables.
I returned to my hot chocolate.
The Weight of Water
Bacteria is thought to be present in the tap water in many houses, so bottled water is purchased for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene such as brushing teeth. I understand some people wash dishes using purified bottled water as well, although most seem to believe that using tap water is sufficient so long as the dishes are dry before being used with food. Some houses have water purification systems installed of which two aspects are critical: ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and filters to trap sediments.Where the purification systems don’t exist, we buy bottled water.
In our neighborhood water delivery takes place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, so the next day (el Sabado) I had my money (22 pesos for a 20 liter container + una propina) ready for the delivery man. The container is called a garrafón or garaf. The driver arrived shortly after noon and delivered first to the Hogar, then to the houses.
A liter of water weighs just about a kilogram (2.2 lbs), so the garaf weighs about 20 kgs (44 lbs). I carried the garafs, one at a time, up my narrow circular staircase.
I used to be stronger than I am. Lifting the garaf so that I could arrange it on the dispenser proved tricky: I couldn’t get the full garaf high enough to center it on the dispenser, so I had to move the dispenser to a lower table. Even the lower height was a little dicey. Trying to tilt the garaf so water didn’t flow everywhere while centering it on the dispenser before the dispenser filled and overflowed was finally accomplished with a minimal of flooding on the kitchen floor, but I might ask Jack, the landlord, to do it next time.
Because the apartment is furnished and there is so little trace of me other than my clothes and toiletries, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in a hotel. During the first two weeks I had bought a few items to make life easier, but it hadn’t changed my feelings towards the space. Over the past two days, however, I’ve bought a number of things for the apartment: wine glasses, toilet paper, ice cube trays, paper towels, food storage containers, and a rack for air-drying washed dishes and utensils. I now have enough hangers so all my clothes can be hung. I don’t yet have niceties; for example, I haven’t found paper for lining the the drawers in the clothes chest or shelves in the pantry. But I’m using my own supplies and am no longer dependent on the kindness of the landlord for some things. So it’s feeling more and more like my home – although not my new “home” town.
This morning around 6:15 two sets of fireworks displays went off. I peeked out and saw white flashes from the northeast and southeast, so from my vantage point they were to the left and right of La Parroquia. I counted four seconds from flash to sound so they were perhaps a little over 2 or 3 km away. The celebration continued for about 15 minutes, the bursts coming farther apart but greater in intensity and duration as time progressed. Were these estadounidenses celebrating their Thanksgiving?