sábado, 24 de julio de 2010

Tio Moncho

I woke up to a phone call from my friend Morlin. He could tell I had just woken up and didn’t miss the opportunity to remind me that I am a lazy bum that sleeps many hours later than every other person in town. It was 7:15. He asked if I would accompany him to Monchito’s house whose mother had passed away the previous night and where the wake was now being held. I dropped all my plans for the morning (drink coffee) and headed straight there. This is my uncle we’re talking about!
One of the first community events I went to a little less than a year ago was the national election that was shrouded in some controversy due to the coup in June 2009. I went up to the school to see if there would be some action but, of course, there was none whatsoever and it was a rather boring non-spectacle. While sitting outside the school gate throwing rocks at other rocks and talking to Morlin about his views on what had gone down in the capital, his uncle Moncho approached us and took a seat. To this day, I have never met anyone so warm and welcoming on the first meeting as Moncho was to me that election morning. He invited me over for lunch and insisted I think of him as family. Since then he has been my uncle Moncho.
Rarely a day went by that I didn’t stop by his meager but comfortable house that sits in the middle of an enormous, beautifully kept piece of property covered in jicaro trees and chickens. Monchito is in his early 40’s, has an amazing mustachio, and lost his wife more than a decade ago. Since then, he has taken care of his mother and 16 year old son, Jeffery, in the same house he grew up in. Often on weekends we walk out to his family’s property up the road, scour the mango trees, and shoot at doves with our slingshots in vain. Between my gringo goofiness, Morlin’s general goofiness, and Jeffery’s teenage goofy insistence on complaining about everything good or bad, we make quite the posse. I’m surprised Moncho isn’t mortified to be associated with us.
About 6 months ago, his mother suffered a stroke and our expeditions out to the mangos came to an abrupt stop. She was embarrassed for me to see her in a debilitated state and therefore I had to see less and less of my second family. But Monchito asked me to still come over every once in awhile just to sit outside in his yard and catch up. He never left his mother’s side and the exhaustion was obvious. By the time she passed away last week, I think his tears were a mixture of both sadness and fatigue. I walked into the room where the wake was being held and he embraced me like an uncle to his nephew.
Since being here, I have been to a number of wakes but this was the first one in which I was especially close to the family and was able to see more of the full process. When a family member passes away, that is only the beginning of the stress. It usually goes something like this: on open casket is placed in the main room of the house sitting on top of giant blocks of ice. That room is filled with women and their small towels. Every woman carries a towel. It is their swiss army knife. They use it as a sweat rag, a fan, a shade umbrella, a flyswatter, and general accessory. They wear it as a hat. They wave it around like a rolled up “We Always Believed” t-shirt at a Rockets 94/95 NBA Finals game. I like to imagine that they have the same animosity towards the gnats they are waving them at as I did for John Starks. These women with their towels sing songs and pray. Outside are all the men. They talk about soccer or the heat and it is not uncommon to see a few spiking their coca cola cups with a little splash of guaro (grain alcohol/ gasoline). It is the family’s responsibility to feed all these people.
When I first saw this transpire I was sick to my stomach and refused the food. I couldn’t believe that the grieving family had to foot this responsibility in addition to everything else. A lot of people were walking in, grabbing a plate, and leaving without saying a word. But seeing it from behind the scenes gave me a better perspective. Those closest to the family rally to the cause and the entire yard becomes a Thanksgiving Day kitchen. Before anyone else arrived, an army of apron adorned women tended to the massive cauldrons of chicken, rice and tamales while us strong men set up everything else. It was an honor for Tio Moncho to host the town in remembrance of his mother and an honor to see how his family and friends came to help.
After the burial comes the Novena- 9 days of prayer, song, and mourning in the same living room where the casket once was and there is now a shrine. They sing a vaguely in unison call and response prayer song and one old deaf lady sings her own thing whenever she wants. Then they will do the same thing 9 days leading up to the 40 day anniversary. Then again at 6 months. And again at a year. A lot of remembering. A lot of mourning. But like I said, it is an honor for me to be taken in as a part of Monchito’s family and I can see the pride in his eyes behind the tears when he sees his house fill up with those wishing to remember what a great woman his mother was.
Other news:
My intake of and hatred for soda has increased 100 fold.
My intake of and love for coconut cookies has increased 100 fold.
Three new games have taken the Tular streets by storm. 1) Marbles. I never learned how to play but am learning now. My thumb is sore. 2) Roll a tire down the street with a stick. Classic. 3) Group of boys stand in a circle with a rock in the middle. Whenever you bend down even the slightest to pick it up, you are fair game to be punched very hard repeatedly. The goal is to grab the rock without getting punched. American suburban mom’s would love it.
Little kids don’t let bikes way too big for them get in their way of fun! One sits on the main bar of the frame (the one connecting the handlebars to the seat post) with both legs to one side and does the steering. The other crouches and puts his leg through the middle of the frame (under the main bar- normal bike riding has your legs over the main bar), both feet on the pedals with legs splayed out as far as humanly possible (thus looking like a crab), holding on to the main bar above him. Are you getting this? It is amazing.
Goats no longer respect my god-given human authority.

by the way, this picture is the view from my front door.