Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween

This piece, originally titled Jack o' Lanterns, was one of my very first on this blog two years ago and remains one of my favorites. Reposting it is becoming an annual Halloween tradition. I'm taking a few days off from writing to prepare a presentation on photography for the Bloggers Conference, which takes place Nov. 5 in Mérida.




Three years ago on a weekend off from teaching in the summer course at San Ildefonso Tultepéc, in the state of Querétaro, I took a hike on the outskirts of a tiny nearby pueblo named El Cuisillo. It's located close to the border between Mexico and Querétaro states. That makes it about equidistant from the towns of AmealcoQuerétaro and Aculco, Mexico, along a two-lane highway that in two or three hours takes you, if you flag down and jump aboard one of the dusty buses that occasionally passes by, from this very small place to the world's largest metropolis.

The people of El Cuisillo are very shy but friendly. In keeping with that spirit, it is an unpretentiously scenic walk along roads and paths through their land. From hilltops you can glimpse distant rock formations, ravines and cliffs, and the occasional small house with cornfield, or perhaps far away a small child with a stick trying to goad a slow-moving cow out to pasture. There are some interesting pre-hispanic ruins in the area. The ruins are just there. There is no visitor center with bored security guard, you'll fend off no vendors selling fake artifacts and bottled water, and you need not heed any "do not climb" signs nor thoughtfully consider pedantic interpretive plaques of questionable interest. There is no one else around; you can enjoy the quiet and imagine yourself the explorer.

For some reason here, I suppose it's the stillness of the air and the rock formations reflecting sound waves, once in awhile I mysteriously hear clear voices and laughter but see no people. Perhaps they are hiding in the bushes and watching this strange foreigner smiling and whistling to himself, writing in a little book and taking pictures of things that seem to them very ordinary and mundane. Perhaps, as many acquaintances of mine in Barrow, Alaska will attest, the "little people" do exist, and maybe they live here, too. It certainly seems like a place they would appreciate. It may be a mystery I will never solve, and I like that. I've walked in the vicinity many times over the years and always find something new to do or see. It's a place I have visited with others, but mostly I like to wander here alone.


Many of the families in the region are indigenous Otomí, like these boys, and live a subsistence way of life near the poverty line. Besides keeping some animals and planting a small garden and milpa, or cornfield, some families make fired-clay products to produce cash income. The area produces a lot of these ceramics, such as pots, planters, platters, small replica churches and houses, sun plaques and other decorative, kitchen and garden items. Apparently someone in the area realized that with well in excess of 20 million persons living within a couple of hour's drive, there might be a market for jack o' lanterns. It seems like every clay workshop produces them. Halloween is not a tradition in Mexico, but some families do observe the day.

When I passed by their house the boys ran up to the road with arms full of "calabazas," or

pumpkins, for sale. I purchased two at the asking price of about a dollar each. I managed somehow to get them back to Mérida in my luggage without breakage. They have served me well now for three Halloweens. I have yet to receive a trick-or-treater at my door, but if one comes, I am ready.

Happy Halloween.

2 comments:

  1. I find this concept of poverty interesting. Living in poverty depends on your location, your perspective. In the U.S., the "poverty line" for a family of four is $22,350.

    Were one of the families in this area you mention to receive that amount every year, they would consider themselves rich. And they would be quite well off, lacking little.

    Much of the concern in the United States for us "poor Mexicans" is due to their laying a Mexican income over an American lifestyle in their minds.

    Those kids in your photo look perfectly okay, well-fed and content. The one on the left clearly has access to medical care when needed.

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  2. unseenmoon, I agree with you one hundred percent. I suppose I could have written "poverty line," instead of poverty line, or changed my wording a bit. You're right, this particular family, despite not having lots of cash, is not impoverished in the way that many NOB might assume.

    However, there are many in this area who live in extremely marginal circumstances, with drafty dry stones houses, cardboard and plastic roofing, dirt floors, and without clean drinking water or sanitation. It is those, and not necessarily the folks in this photo, of whom I was thinking.

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