I recall, however, that upon our departure five years ago I thought the same thing, that we would not be back, so who knows what the future will bring?
The plan was for Hector to drive us in his truck back to Oaxaca City but first we would drop off my aunt and uncle in the town of Jaltepec where they could pick up their government checks – what I suppose is their Social Security. I was told that they would first have to listen to speeches by local leaders about all the great things the party was doing for them. It seemed like a time-share trap.
On the way into town we met with a car-full of cousins. They were coming to say good-bye. I guess we left a little earlier than planned. I’m glad the timing worked out and we met on the road.
These goodbyes were more tearful than the last. My cousin Raquel, in particular, was very emotional. She begged us to return soon. How could I not make that promise?
Again, we were on our way.
It strikes me how attached they seemed to be to us or to me at least. My mom is one of them; she is from that life; has their references; speaks their language, so it’s not surprising, their affection for her. I am a different animal – not fluent, not at all familiar with that life or culture, so far removed in my everyday life from anything they imagine – yet, they are tearful at my departure.
Is that what real families are like? Do they love you whether they know you or not? Do they love you whether they “get” you or not? If they saw me in my natural habitat – screaming at traffic, having a conniption because I can’t have my office painted just the right shade of blue, slipping on gloves for every household activity lest I break or chip a precious fingernail – would they still love me?
During the two-hour trip back to Oaxaca City, I don’t attempt to keep up with the conversation from the front seats. I passively watch the desert scenery pass by. A goat stands at the side of the freeway. I hope for his safety.
Back in the City
We unload our bags at the hotel and then walk to the zocalo for lunch. The zocalo is the town square that, for this city, is the main area for tourists. It's safe. It's clean. It would be easy to believe the rest of the city is like this. It is not.
There are restaurants on three sides of the square. A government building anchors the fourth. Most of the dining is outdoors to take advantage of the festive atmosphere. Peddlers hawk kitschy souvenirs of all kinds, from jewelery to hand-carved letter openers. Beggars are not uncommon.
I was aware of this as we chose a table at our restaurant. But still, our table was near the edge of the cafe's enclosure, near enough that we were targets for peddlers and beggars.
And what are you going to do? You can't buy from everyone. You can't give anyone enough to really make a difference. Ancient women with wrinkled skin and black, squinting eyes extend their gnarled hands and what do you do? Some of the women carried babies and, as always, I wondered - why do the poor have babies?
Again, The Fever came to mind:
". . . a voice says - why not all of it? Why not give her all that you have?
"Be careful, that's a question that could poison your life . . . "
"If you hear that question, it means you're sick. You're mentally sick. You've had a breakdown . . . "
"But there's a reason why I'm the one who has the money in the first place, and that's why I'm not going to give it all away. In other words . . . I worked for that money. I worked. I worked hard to make that money and it's my money, because I made it."
"You say you work. But why does your work bring you so much money, while their work brings practically nothing? You say you "make" money. What a wonderful expression. But how can you "make" so much of it in such a short time, while in the same amount of time they "make" so little?"
After our lunch of too generous proportions, we took our leave of Hector, shopped again for souvenirs and returned to our room for siesta (and, in my case, my first contact with email in a week.)
Late in the day, we rose for another meal. Again, as with our first night here, we dine at our favorite restaurant El Asador Vasco, perched at the edge of the balcony, viewing the evening activity but distanced from harsh reality. Again, there are margaritas.
And my mother tells me of when she was much younger, and looked up at the privileged diners at the tables at this very restaurant and felt the envy and never imagined that she might dine at one of these tables one day.
And here we are. But it's not enough. It's never enough.
"There's never enough solace, never enough consolation."
The next day we fly, uneventfully, back to California, she to her home in the northern half and I to my home in the southern half.
Our journey has come to an end. We are home once again in the Land of Opportunity, where more than enough is never quite enough.