Saddlebags

Daley Plaza

You can live in a huge city and still be a hermit, it was one of my favorite things about Chicago. It’s easy to be invisible if you wish.

But it’s not possible to go unnoticed or be anything but an attraction if you are red and white and everyone else is black and brown, in my neck of the woods I can go months without seeing a non-Latin person. The eye is simply drawn to what is different, and I had to get used to that.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable going places by myself when I moved to Mexico, in part, it was my new visible status, but much of it was my less than commanding command of the Spanish language. Three years ago, a wonderful occurrence in La Tigra changed the way I felt about negotiating Mexico on my own.

Doña Lydia and Don Saul’s Vegetable cart.

Before Doña Lydia opened her weekly market, an unsavory looking man sold similar vegetables out of the back of a truck on Saturdays. Felipe went with me the first time to help acclimate me to the system, which of course was no system, but more of a good hearted (mostly) bullying to get the choicest products. It reminded me of a Red Cross drop; relief workers chucking out bottles of water and dry goods, hordes clamoring for the toss.

The man was gruff and the ladies made bawdy innuendos about Felipe buying chilies (he was the only man shopping) and how much everyone loves chilies and how big the chilies were… It was funny, but weird and I really didn’t like the vendor. So I seldom went alone.


Then came Doña Lydia. I was determined to make this new service work. I was irked by not being independent enough feed to myself without Felipe’s assistance.

From my experience with the previous Chili, (the cognomen for all vegetable vendors– an obsession with you chilies, you say?) I knew better than to go early; I refuse to scuffle over onions and chicken necks. I waited until the hubbub died down then went and introduced myself. I explained I lived in La Tigra, I was very excited about their service, my Spanish wasn’t great, but I looked forward to shopping with them and requested their patience with my communication skills.

They were charmed, not because I was charming, but that anyone appreciated their willingness to get up at four in the morning, drive three hours round trip to the markets in Zacatepec and bring it to La Tigra so that we could have fresh vegetables once a week.


On Wednesdays, I gleefully saddle up my pony, ride to La Tigra, fill Monty’s saddlebags and enjoy some Spanish practice with the jovial, forbearing couple. Unless Wednesday falls on the first of the month when the mother’s and elderly receive their oportunidades and progresa checks, then the Doña waits until the following day in hope of seeing some of the cuentas diminished.

Shortly after the Doña established her service the ladies of La Tigra proceeded to run up huge bills (credit is expected). I’m always fearful the magnanimous Jehovah’s Witness greengrocers will give up on us, cut their losses and never come back to our infamously swindling rancho.

Though I have been very grateful the few weeks we’ve needed this remarkable, interest free service, to go home with saddlebags full of fresh vegetables, when we would otherwise have eaten only beans, eggs and tortilla all week. I’m effusive with my thanks and they stare at me like I have pudding in my head. Though they were more shocked when I started asking,
“De donde viene?” in relation to some suspiciously perfect looking apples.
They proudly replied, “Los Estados Unidos”
I replaced the intruder, picked up a knotty little fruit next to it inquiring,
“Y este?”
Hesitatingly the Dona offered, “Chihuahua.”
“Un kilo entonces, por favor” I requested contentedly.

I could tell they wanted to ask me why, but were too polite because the little ugly ones were much cheaper and they didn’t want to embarrass me.

So I said off handedly,“These only took a couple of days to get to me, they will be much fresher.”
“Si es verdad” she nodded approvingly.

This exchange went on for several weeks. Each time I offered another reason(less gasoline used in shipping, supports local business and workers), why I buy Mexican products when I am in Mexico and U.S. products when I’m in the United States.

Even if there weren’t any of the other wonderful reasons for shopping with the Doña, this is why I am loyal to her cart– she now pats each product I would prefer to buy, and assures me,
“De Mexico.”

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

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4 thoughts on “Saddlebags

  1. “They look at me like I have pudding on my head.” These are the sentences that make me laugh. So spot on, I know that look!

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