Quisiera Ser Alcohol

January 13, 2008 at 10:44 am | Posted in Mayan Culture, Village Life | 6 Comments

Despite my love for the Yucatan, the Mayan culture of drinking has long been an uncomfortable backdrop to my adoration of the culture.  Reading Heather’s Lost Weekend post and Yucatan Living’s editorial, The Dark Side of Yucatan, reminded me of my first experience with the devastation that drinking brings to village life.  Below is an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote about life in Chichimila.

Pardon the length, and be thankful I didn’t post the entire eleven page essay!

It was Don Isadoro, Doña Sevita’s husband.  He was in the middle of a drunk that lasted forty days.  He woke up with a bottle of Chac Po’ol (in Maya this means hot-head) and wandered around town all day until he passed out at night.  That first night, when I didn’t know who to welcome with an anthropologist’s eager face or a young women’s distrustful distaste for sloppy men who stand too close, he came into my room to introduce himself.  I sat on my hammock (it’s like getting your sea legs on a boat-with time you find your center) and he stood, holding on to the hammock strings to steady his swaying.  He spoke slowly and clearly to me with a thick Yucatecan campesino accent.  He swayed toward me and then away, his lips moving thickly and his lids drooping over red eyes.  I was nervous, but he only came to welcome me.  He swept his arm across the room, telling me that this small, poor house of his was mine to enjoy as well.  He lost his balance and caught himself again on my hammock strings and continued talking.  The people in this village are tranquilo, he slurred, not like those from Chiapas who would kill any stranger they saw.  As soon as his son came back from work, he would get the key to the back door so I could access the kitchen and spend time talking to his wife.  He finally wandered away to rejoin his friends and their bottles of clear alcohol on the stoop outside their door. 

Isadoro had been drifting deeper into his drunk, and was less the genial, if inebriated host and more a wandering, silent ghost.  Sometimes he acknowledged me with a nod, and other times floated by without seeing me.  Sevita was becoming more silent too.  We gestured and laughed less.   She didn’t come to sit in my room with me to converse in smiling silences and isolated words.  She came to me crying, and asked me for three pesos to buy tortillas for lunch because her husband was spending the money on alcohol.  

The crash woke me up in the middle of the night, which I later learned was a plate which fell to the floor after leaving Isadoro’s hand and making contact with his wife’s forehead.  Screams in Maya followed, a door slammed, and I lay there listening to the crickets’ noise which overlaid the sudden silence.  No sleep came and the next human noise I heard was a car pulling up to my door.  Sevita came in, walked to the glass front cabinet, opened it and rustled around, taking what I later learned was money from her son that she had stashed out of her husband’s reach.  She came and stood over me and obliquely said “Tak i wini?” (Are you tired?) and showed me the blood stains on her once pristine white embroidered dress.  I couldn’t say anything that she’d understand so I put a sympathetic look on my face and touched her hand before she turned to leave.  She went to stay at her mother’s for a week and didn’t come back until they put Doro in the town jail for whacking at his elderly, speechless uncle with a stick. 



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  1. You know, Gabacha, if you have that 11 page essay anywhere email-able, I would love to read it.

  2. Sure, Joyce! It’s not entirely about drinking, but that’s definitely a theme.

    Where shall I send it?

  3. Go ahead and send it to joycejameson at yahoo. And yeah, lol, I don’t want to read it for the “drunk” stories, Lord knows I have enough of my own… 🙂 Thanks a million – I’m really looking forward to reading it!

  4. Wow, you blew my little surface observations out of the water. Great stuff!

  5. Yeah, it’s been a week since I read the whole thing but it’s been a horrid week, so I apologize for not saying sooner (publicly) that the essay is a GREAT read, and I thank you (publicly) for sending it to me. I’ve read it three times since then (oddly enough for some sort of grounding effect on my life). Write more. Submit stuff for publishing. You have great talent.

  6. Thank you so much, Joyce! Your kind comments are making me glow.

    Heather, you have a beautiful way with words in your posts!

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