Issue 3 TOC
 
Abroad


 

by Kate Petre



    ¨Chicklets.¨

    ¨No Gracias.¨

    Don´t make eye-contact, I´m thinking, don´t look.

    Ahhhh! I looked. What beautiful eyes, moist and round and the color of the
amber being sold across the street.

    ¨Chicklet. ¿Quiere chicklets?¨

    ¨No gracias.¨

    I look at him when I say it this time, then look back to my plate full of
beans and tamales.

    The little boy carries his little wooden shelves full of gum and candy over
to one of the stores that surround the courtyard where I am eating. There, a
Tzotzil woman in a finely woven tunic smiles and says something to him in
their language while pulling her coin purse from the folds of her drapery.
She buys a packet of chicklet, this woman whose life and ancestry have been
marked by simple poverty.

    I sink into my seat feeling sour. And as my little American heart melts, a
highly developed survival instinct perks up the boys´ ears and he´s back at
my side asking again if I want chicklets.

    Fine, I buy a packet on the condition, I tell him, that he takes it because
I don’t like chicklets. Okay, he says, and charges me ten pesos, or one
dollar, for a lousy packet of cheap gum. I deserve that. His big eyes have
got me now and he asks if he can sit. I don’t know how to get out
of it and I look around, conscious that everyone is witnessing me being
taken for a sucker-- he sells suckers too. A small signal is probably going
up somewhere and swarms of chicklet-selling children are on their way.

    But they’re children, just children.

    So I turn it around, I decide it’s an excellent opportunity to practice
Spanish. I ask him his name. Candado, he says, almost whispering and I have
to lean in to hear him ask me what mine is. How old are you, I ask. His
first response is I don’t know, but when my face involuntarily turns to
shock he tosses out 12 to placate. He looks no older than 9 or 10. I have
one more tamale on my plate and I offer it to him. What’s in it? he asks.
The little sneak probably steals better meals than that. He eventually takes
it, wrapping it in napkins and placing it in a compartment in his little
store. I’ll eat it later, he assures me.

    He is Tzotzil, a tribe of Maya ancestry, from the independent village of San
Juan Chamula. The Spanish never actually entered Chamula and still haven’t
officially so that it remains an autonomous municipality within the state of
Chiapas. But the ever virulent Catholic Church was able to creep its gilded
hands in far enough to warp the native ocultism into a semi-Catholic hybrid
religion that entertwines its faith with that of the entire city-state. The
participants of this priestess religion converge most every day of the week
except Wednesday (naturally, there is a superstition against the hump of the
week so that on this day the church, including the market around it, is
deserted).  Inside the dim cloisters the air, heavy with the smell of
burning sage, turns smokey from the several lines of colorful candles
burning in front of each Chamulan kneeling on the pine needle floor.
Associating each different colored candle with what Christians would call
sins, when the small candles burn out the sins dissappate with the smoke.

    Despite or because of this unique and proud history, the recent development
of evangelical Christianity among indigenous communities in protest to the
oppressive Catholicism that represents Mexico´s corrupt society has caused a
similar schism in the Chamulan community. In the great tradition of human
intolerance, the apparently irreparable break forces boys like Candado to
move to the outskirts of the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, the
cultural center of Chiapas where there are always plenty of tourists like me
from which to poke and prod an almost honest living ten hours a day.

    Now he’s taken off his wooden storefront and balanced it on the edge of my
table while he slumps down in the seat next to me like a schoolboy in math
class. I can’t help but look to where my purse is. Buy me a coke, he says.
Audacious little fuck. But at this point I’ve taken to my role as
humanitarian sap and I tell him I’ll give him another ten pesos for him to
buy whatever he wants at the store. In exchange I make him teach me some
Tzotzil words, which I forget immediately.

    Later, I see him flashing his bejeweled eyes at some sunburned Europeans. He
looks over at me and a big, white beguiling smile reveals itself between his
lips and I realize he knows much more than I do, this 12 year old. Minutes
later he is at my table again and I shake my head to tell him he’s not
getting anything else today. It’s okay, he says. I’ll see you around.

    The next day I’m emailing most of the people I know in an internet café as
the rain cascades down the orange tiles and tin roofs outside causing an
unpleasant coldness on my relatively bare skin: Mexico begins to pull a cold
summer out of its bag of tricks.

    ¨Chicklets.¨

    I turn around and wait for Candado´s features to surface from the dark,
unfamiliar face of a small Chiapan child. And they do and my face brightens.
¨Hola!¨ I see the same  slow developing congniscence in his face as my
whiteness becomes more specific. ¨¿Como estas?¨ he asks and I turn from what
I’m doing to greet him properly as a friend. Buy me some gum, he says
pertinently. I give him ten pesos and a teasing smile. I’m his patron, I
think, and that’s what I should do, give him something so I don’t feel bad
not giving to others.

    "Buy me lunch, I’m hungry."

    I have gotten up from my chair to pay for my
internet and as I walk outside he is right on my heels. I’m hungry, again,
more insistent and whiney. I already gave you ten pesos, I plead with myself
and him. How much do I need to give, should I give? Suddenly I hear the
sweet sound of my name pronounced properly. I look up to see the two jolly
Australians I spent a couple of days with in Oaxaca where I shared a quick
moment in their valient attempt to know the world in 12 months. I am so
happy to see them, to speak English, to not be alone, that I barely turn to
the boy.

    ¨Manaña.¨ I say.

    "Where will you be manaña?" he asks.

    But I am already gone, crossing the street to hug my old friends. ¨Manaña,¨
I throw over my shoulder, leaving him standing on the other side of the
street staring at me.
 
 
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