I recently received some unhappy news. One of my favorite people in the world, who is also related to me, needed surgery to remove a likely cancerous growth. Distraught, I went to my sister- in- law Chucha for a restorative hug. She gives seriously comforting hugs.
I explained my distress and the following day Felipe came home with a gift from Chucha, a hunk of dried rattlesnake. I am to eat a small piece every day to protect me from the possibility of genetically related cancer.
According to an oncologist treating a woman here in La Tigra, rattlesnake meat is one of the best cancer preventives.
How does it taste? Sort of salty, sort of rancid. Still, I’m grateful to Chucha and all her healing gifts, and I will eat every bite.
I am thrilled to report my dear friend’s prognosis was the very best it could be, and she will require no follow up therapy. Except perhaps, a hunk of dry rattlesnake meat. 🙂
When Felipe’s family arrived in La Tigra, all the ejido land close to town was owned by the town’s founding families. Thus, the plots his family was allotted for planting, though ample, were far up the mountain. Because of the distance, they lived there during the growing season.
Felipe’s father built a shack of sunflower stalks covered in a tarp for the family to sleep in during the season’s heavy rains. It’s difficult for me to imagine this. I’ve weathered the spring rains in my “tank of cinder blocks” house, and felt fear that comes from awe at their force. I shake my head in wonder thinking of him as a child with seven other people inside the tiny structure, made, essentially of sticks, during a deluge.
He says it was cozy and dry. His father and brothers dug a trench around it to divert the water. Every afternoon, his mother smoked it. He recalls the small thuds as scorpions fell from the walls, dizzied by the smoke, as he puts is, they were easy to kill.
Under El Sabino
Felipe, Socorro and I spend our Sunday afternoons together. Occasionally, they like to trek up the mountain to El Sabino, the piece of land they lived on, to look around and reminisce. I pack a lunch. This week’s menu was tostadas de picado de res , and trail mix. The land is called El Sabino for the huge Sabino that lives there. It’s an odd place for a Sabino, generally they grow on the river bank. Socorro thinks there’s an underground river below it and its companion, the biggest mango I’ve ever seen. Both trees require three sets of arms to encircle them.
Soco demonstrates her baking moves
The tour includes a hike through the land as Soco shows us the trees they planted, guajes, limones… and laments the guayaba that died. A tumble of rocks was once her bread oven. She sold bread to the workers who cut a road into the mountain side. The family never needed a road, they came on burros, packed with all the household items they’d need for the season, on trails too narrow to walk abreast.
We pick up garbage, do small repairs to the fence, and fantasize about having a cabin here, like the city slickers from Cuernavaca with a vacation cottage in El Mango, a tiny town even deeper in the forest, which can only be reached by burro or four-wheel drive.
Socorro grabs a handful of prodijiosa* on the way out and Felipe encourages me to taste it, but I remember its remarkably bitter flavor from our last visit and ruin his trick. Soco tells me she’ll make a tea to clean her blood. Felipe recalls the annual ritual; she made him drink a tiny cup for nine days in a row, and if he threw it up, he had to drink another.
Faithful bocho creaks down the “barely a road”, Felipe waves other travelers coming from El Zapote, the “barely a town” on the Cero Frio’s plateau, around us. It’s rumored the road is soon to be paved. El Zapote residents commute to civilization is a jarring, and sometimes treacherous hour, each way. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have a fast, smooth commute. I wonder if anyone will feel as I did , happy for the convenience, but saddened by civilizations encroachment.
Concrete or no, we will still have the sabino, the mango and Soco’s stories of life in the campo in the house made of sunflower stalks.
• As usual Soco’ remedy was confirmed by “modern” information.
I fell in love with Felipe for his stories. Years later I realized, as I listened to his mother, whose stories have not been filtered through the knowledge of letters, and are redolent with place, where he’d learned his craft.
We met in Chicago eighteen years ago. He was undocumented, working as a bus boy, I was a server in the same restaurant. As I got to know him, he told me stories of his home town, a tiny village in the Sierra Huautla mountains. To an untraveled Midwestern girl, stories tinged in accent, spilling from a beautiful man lips, made La Tigra sound like the most exotic place on earth.
As he drug the anaconda out from under the mulberry bush last week, I laughed as I thought of my past fascination and naiveté regarding La Tigra. I recalled this story he’d told me many years ago, and I asked him to speak it to me again. I didn’t realize until this telling that the events had taken place where we now live.
The remains of the huamuchil.
When I was a little boy, about six years old, my family was hired to clean peanuts here at the Piedra Rahada, it was owed by my brother -in -law at the time. We were all there, under the big huamuchil that died last year, it was a very old tree even then.
My brothers were bringing the plants from the field and my mother and sisters and I beat the roots with a mocho, the back of a broken off machete, to knock off the peanuts. At that time you could still drink the water from the creeks, when we ran out, it was my job to fetch more.
I went to the place where there is water all year round, between the roots of the big amates and parota, you know the place, all the animals drink there still. As I walked up the creek bed I saw a big rattle snake on its way for water too. I backed away and when there was some room between us I called to my family, “There’s a really big snake down here!” It was about the size of the masaquata I killed today.
My mother came down into the creek bed and when she saw the snake, even though I was pretty spooked by it, she said “Oh that’s not so big! This is what you do. ” She began to look for a big branch. “The stick has to be dry”, she said, “because the venom is like electricity and can travel up a green branch.”
She chopped off a dead branch with her machete. (She still always carries a machete.)She walked up along side the snake, who didn’t even turn to look at her, and smacked it on the head. Dead. She picked it up, went back to work, and I went for water.
Where the wild animals drink.
Soco butchered the snake. The meat was sold as a cancer remedy, and the skin for decoration, unless it was damaged. Damaged skin was used as a preventive medicine for chicken plague. She kept a small piece in their water dish to help keep them from falling prey to illness.
I wondered how Felipe felt about his mother pish-shawing his fear of a large venomous snake.
“I felt good,” he told me,” my mother always made me feel safe, like I could take care of things myself, that there was nothing to fear.”
I can’t think of a better testament to good parenting.
The bad news: I am behind in my recitations because I’ve been missing my walks due to severe asthma and allergies. Even talking caused coughing fits, and weirdly, I can’t memorize without speaking the poem aloud.
The good news! It provides another opportunity to tell you about México Medical System .
In my usual, let’s wait until I’m almost dead before we go the doctor mode(I think I channel some stubborn old Midwestern ancestor ) Felipe and I ended up on a forty minute, midnight mad dash to emergency on Sunday. A fleeting moment of romance pierced the terror as my gallant husband carried me to the car; for I assure you it is terrifying not being able to breathe with the hospital over an hour away.
Of course, there was a huge storm threatening, relampago flashing, tronar crashing as if the devil was chasing us to drag me to hell, and of course, the bocho had a dangerously low tire and an ominous screeching emanating from the drive shaft. I was in my mismatched pajamas, unable to breathe when seated, I knelt in the bocho’s filthy floor (it had recently been full of chicken shit , don’t ask)) with my head handing out the window like a gasping golden retriever. I didn’t even know if Felipe knew where we were going. Fortunately, he did.
We went to clinic I visited when I needed treatment for fibroid tumors . It’s open for overnight emergency services, and is only forty minutes away. I was on an IV(the most painfully administered one I’ve ever received, bless her heart) in let’s say… seven minutes from curb to faint inducing needle insertion(and I am not a baby about these things folks ). Approximately twenty years ago, I visited Northwestern University Emergency room for a high fever. If memory serves, I waited two hours on the floor(again, unable to sit up) of the waiting room for a bed in the hall way.
Just for fun, let’s compare of the cost of these two visits.
México— Emergency Sunday 1am private clinic visit.
40 pesos about $3.75
U. S. A. —Entering the Northwestern University Emergency room.
México—Treatment, including multiple check-ins from a very nice female doctor, five medications and prescriptions for two medications they didn’t have on hand.
860 pesos about 90 bucks
U.S.A. —I don’t recall the exact treatment at Northwestern but there was blood work, a potassium shot, and intravenous fluids. The doctor was certain I was bulimic; I was not. He was nice about it, but its unnerving to have your doctor trying to wheedle a confession to a psychological disordered out of you when you’re delirious from fever.
The cost was around 1500 dollars; I think I was there about 5 hours. Fortunately, I had insurance. My out of pocket cost was aprox. 600 dollars.
The day after our hell-bent trip to Maternidad de Paris(tres chic), I visited La Tigra’s free clinic. They supplied me with the prescriptions I wasn’t able to get the night before and loaned me a nebulizer, all free of charge.
Felipe thinks it’s ridiculous to compare the U.S. and México s medical systems because the economies are completely different. Example: Minimum wage in Chicago 8.25 an HOUR, Minimum wage in Morelos 65 peso(about five bucks) A DAY, he argues. Not to mention the difference in services available at Midwestern and Maternidad de Paris. I argue( illogically) “Yeah, but we still pay $5.75 for a gallon of gas in México!”(I just like to throw that in when I have a chance.)
Still, I find it questionable that the charge for something as simple as entering the building should be so disparate: three dollars and seventy five cents…opposed to six hundred and fifty dollars. Really?
Am I an economics dolt, or do you agree it’s unreasonable to charge a person 650 dollars to lay in the floor for two hours?
P.S. Just so you don’t think I think everything about México Medical system is peachy, I did decide against the karate chop procedure suggested at my first visit to de Paris. Instead, I applied Edgar Cayce’s castor oil pack remedy , and the Depo-Provera(gasp!) they proscribed. I no longer suffer symptoms from the tumors.