Los Basueros

In 1990 I was part of a delegation to Guatemala to learn first-hand of human rights abuses and to hear the stories of the people. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

The east and north sides of the dump slope gently into a deep pit where the city’s garbage lies. Along the east side, away from the path of bulldozers, is a cluster of about thirty houses where the basueros, or dump people, live.

The houses were scrapped together with chunks of wood, tin and plastic, held together with baling wire. Cardboard or blankets served as doors. Most had a window, and some of those windows had a scrap of cloth hanging over the opening.

A few houses had potted plants, flowers, or a small yard fenced to contain chickens or a pig. One woman grew corn and had a mango tree.

To live with such hope, such grace, on the edge of the Guatemala City dump twisted my brain like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Buzzards circled overhead as bulldozers roared across the pit, pushing the garbage and sludge toward the center of the dump. Children dodged the dozers and trudged up the hill and past us, dragging flats of cardboard loaded with plastic, tin, or food they’d salvaged.

Garbage trucks dumped their contents over the edge on the far side. The basueros working below ran at the last minute to avoid the shower of trash, then scrambled back again to begin searching the latest load.

Our guide had led us to the houses, single file, down a trail made slippery by recent rain. That same rain had turned the dirt floors in these houses to an inch of mud.

We stopped at a house, bright pink fabric in the window, and a woman stepped out. She was old, or perhaps her life had made her look much older than her years. She wore a loose, worn dress topped with an even more worn apron. She was barefoot. She waved us into her house, and our group of fifteen completely filled it.

The tiny single room served as living room, kitchen and bedroom to her family of seven. It was especially difficult there during the rainy season, she explained, because water ran through the house much of the time. On occasion a mud slide would carry a foot of mud into her home. It was a hard life as a basuero, she told us, but it was better than living on the streets.

She told us with pride that she had built this house herself and that her children were not hungry. Her family specialized in collecting tin which they carried into town two times weekly to sell as scrap.

We left her, complimenting her on her skills, and continued our walk down the soggy trail along the edge of the dump, pausing occasionally to hear someone’s story. Not many people were home – they were all in the bottom of the dump or dragging their finds to their homes. No time to talk.

The only others we were able to speak with were two men who looked to be in their fifties. They were building a casket of scrap wood. Just the day before, a three-year-old girl had been run over by one of the dozers. It wasn’t until we’d left that I wondered where the child would be buried.

White Privilege

Have you ever been stopped by the police or sheriff while walking or driving? I have. I was going a little too fast. Once, I made an illegal u-turn. Other than that, I’ve made it through over forty years of driving without being stopped.

And I have certainly never been stopped because I was female and white.

You know where this is leading.

Since the events in Ferguson MO, I have been – again – doing a lot of thinking and reading about race. How can we not?

But most of us don’t go very deep.

I was raised with what today is called “white privilege.” I don’t know what it was called back when I was being raised with it. It probably wasn’t yet called anything.

I didn’t know I had white privilege. It was easy to not know this because other than two families who had slightly darker skin than my family did, everyone in my neighborhood, everyone in my school, in fact, looked just like me. It was simply “normal” to have light skin, a dad with a good job, and a mom who was a housewife.

in high school, I got to know a few minorities. However, it wasn’t until after graduation that I understood that every single one of the black students lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks. It wasn’t until after graduation that I learned about the swimming pool in the basement of the high school that had been closed down because “the Colored” wanted to swim there, too.

So what does it mean to have white privilege?

For one, it means I don’t have to worry about being pulled over for some obscure reason when I’m driving. And if by some chance I am, I have no fear of being shot. Even if I question the officer’s motives in stopping me, said officer might get a bit testy, but I won’t have a gun pulled on me. I won’t get shot.

I know far too many young black men who have been pulled over – repeatedly – for daring to drive down our county roads. In broad daylight. At night, they’re pulled over and the office approaches, hand on gun. These are young men who live here. They must be sick of it. I would be.

White privilege means that if I chose to, I could purchase a rifle, sling it over my shoulder, and walk through the local grocery store.

I don’t know a single person who is not white who could pull that one off. In fact, just a few weeks ago, a young Black man was in Walmart. He picked up a pellet gun in the toy department. A customer saw him with the gun and dialed 9-1-1. He never had the chance to set the gun down before the police shot him. Can you imagine a young white man being shot for picking up a pellet gun? Can you imagine someone even dialing 9-1-1?

No once crosses the street because she is afraid I’ll grab her purse. And if I did grab that purse, it’s not likely I’d get shot while running away.

No one follows me through a department store, fearful I’ll be shoplifting. I had a white girlfriend in college who shoplifted and no one ever gave it a thought when she went into a store. My black friends were closely watched.

Over $400,000 has been collected to support the policeman who shot Michael Brown – before he’s even been charged with anything. And some of the donors have made such racist, hateful statements that it is shocking, even to me, one who has heard quite a bit.

I am not sure what we do about this except to speak out. Over and over, Black youth – and adults – are gunned down before they can even explain what they’re doing. Remember Renisha McBride? She was in a car accident and her cell phone was dead. She knocked on a door and when no one answered, turned around to leave. That’s when she was shot by the homeowner.

We all, whatever our race and whatever our privilege or lack of privilege may be, must speak against the madness of assuming that Black = dangerous. We need to all stand together on this. Letters to the editor. Attend rallies in each other’s neighborhoods. Cross the race barrier.

I marched for equality in the 1960s. It saddens me, sickens me, that I have to do it still today.

Dancing Woman

A few weeks ago I went to a writing group I occasionally attend. One of the prompts was a drawing of a woman with wings. She appeared to be dancing. Here’s what came from that prompt.

08 August 2014

She dances to a rhythm only she can hear.

When she first started dancing, nearly forty years ago, she had no wings.

But it was, and still is, often said that she dances as an angel might, her long skirts flowing and twirling.

She dances at home. She dances in the streets. She dances her way into church and she dances in the Safeway while choosing frozen peas.

I believe she dances through her dreams each night. I believe she dances her dreams each day.

About fifteen years ago, she found a lump. Rather, she found two. She eventually danced her way to the doctor’s office where she was referred to a specialist, and then danced her way there.

She paused in her dancing through the biopsy and danced up a storm when she was told the lumps were not cancerous. She danced as she told the doctor she’d live with the lumps.

But the lumps grew. And within a few months they’d sprouted tiny downy feathers. She danced her delight.

By the end of that year, the downy feathers had become tiny wings.

She danced to Chavella’s house to get her dresses altered to accommodate the wings.

Each year the wings have grown, and each year she gets her clothing altered to accommodate the size.

She says she will dance on her own grave.

Pieces of Lives

I wrote this in July 2000.

It was only 9 am, but my face glowed red in the desert heat. Sweat ran into my eyes. Arms were slathered in SPF 25 yet they’d turned pink. I’d drunk close to half a gallon of water in the hour I’d been out there. I’m part of a group who volunteers weekly to pick up trash that migrants heading to El Norte have left on ranchers’ lands. What I was finding, however, were pieces of lives.

Near a small campsite, I found two small plastic packs. One was black, a woman’s. It held a little food that had gone bad, part of a roll of toilet paper, and two maxi pads in their pink wrappers. I wondered how desperate a woman, or any person, must be to try crossing this desert on foot. How desperate would I have to be?

Newspapers report cut fences and land strewn with dirty diapers and water jugs, but what I’ve seen has not matched what I’ve read. To be sure, our group has found hundreds of water jugs which we cart off to recycle. But we’ve also found car batteries, an old sofa, a refrigerator, and a car bumper. We haven’t seen a single diaper in the weeks we’ve come out and haven’t seen any fences cut.

Reaching for my water again, I wondered only why there weren’t more abandoned containers. The heat had already convinced me to quit for the day, so I couldn’t conceive of spending days, even weeks, pushing through mesquite, walking dry washes, and evading La Migra. How is it that the desert heat has killed only sixteen of those who’ve passed through here in the last few months? If I’d been one of the migrants, it’s likely I’d be one of the dead.

Poverty can force a person to push scant belongings into a small pack, string a gallon of water on a rope, and say goodbye to friends and family. To head off into a land of thorns, venomous snakes, and terrible heat with no lakes or rivers. How must it look to those from the rain forests of the south?

in addition to all the dangers of the land, there are men with binoculars and rifles searching for those brave enough to cross the area by foot.

The money migrants pay for assistance in crossing guarantees nothing. In exchange for money, migrants get promises laced with lies; they get led through the desert without enough water or food; they get packed into cars and vans with poor brakes and tires. If spotted by the men with rifles, they are abandoned by the ones they’d paid to guide them. Some are left alone to die.

I looked at the small collection of things I’d decided, for reasons I don’t understand, to keep. I have a green ball cap from the 1996 Super Bowl; a yellow bandana; a blue toothbrush; thin white socks tucked neatly into a pair of tennis shoes; the identity card of man from southern Chihuahua; diarrhea medication. Pieces of lives

Camping

Camping! Time to take the Aliner to the lake.

Cinda came over and we popped her up easily. The inside was quite dusty, but then as we cleaned it out we found the camper had been leaking. Thankfully, no mold. We got the insides all cleaned out and were ready for the next part.

Keys. Well, the keys were on the key rack hanging inside the back door. But then the wall was sheet rocked, and I have no idea where the workers put the key rack. Or the keys. And I am not able to find out.

I called the neighborhood locksmith. Retired. No idea who else might give it a try. I called area trailer parts places and they referred me to Aliner. I wrote to Aliner on their secure website. They no longer make the lockset and referred me to a local RV Center. This could go round and round.

So we can’t lock the trailer up. Okay. We’ll live with that. Anything valuable gets locked in the car.

Next, the front, by the hitch, has a retractable wheel that can be lowered to move the trailer around. The wheel is removable and the retractable part is used to stabilize the trailer. There is a piece of metal used to join the two pieces. That metal tube was missing.

Trini, the amazing man who works for me sometimes, found a piece of metal – not the original piece – and made it work. Hooray!

Get the little triangular levelers to put under each corner? Check. Long mirrors to attach to the car so I can see around the Aliner? Check.

Put the tow bar in and move her into place! Woo!!!

Tow bar? Where’s the tow bar?

I last used it a few months ago to tow a junk trailer to the yard to fix up and use to haul things away from here (big trash, broken washing machine, etc.) Now, just where did the tow bar go after that? I cannot recall, nor can my partner. We both remembered seeing it certain places, and Trini and I have  looked everywhere. No tow bar.

Clearly it is somewhere. Make that Somewhere with a capital S. But exactly where is, at this point, a mystery.

So instead of camping tomorrow, Cinda and another friend are coming and we’re emptying the carport and getting rid of stuff.

Woo! Carport cleaning!

Addendum: tow bar was found during the carport cleaning. Camping soon!

Ambra and Mary

All I could see of Ambra was a pair of skinny white legs sticking out from under her VW bug. Mary the Dirty Goose was patrolling the grounds, strutting her stuff, her head slowly swaying side to side. She honked contentedly, quietly.

Ambra carefully loosened the nut of the oil pan. Perhaps if she hadn’t been so intent on her mission, so determined not to spill any oil, she might have seen it coming.

Mary’s head suddenly dropped to the ground, her beady eyes focused on an imagined intruder. With a proud honk, she charged forward and latched her beak onto one of those soft white legs just as Ambra twisted the nut loose from the oil pan.

I heard the thunk of Ambra’s head against metal, followed by ear-splitting screams and curses. I spun around to see Mary viciously clinging to a flailing leg as Ambra attempted to kick, thrash, and roll her way out from under the car. She finally emerged, her blond hair dripping oil

I was frozen, first with amazement, then with laughter, By the time I was able to make it across the yard to help, Ambra had grabbed Mary by her long white neck. This only made the goose more determined to hang onto her prey. Mary finally popped loose from Ambra’s leg, after which she flew (not by her own power) at least twenty feet through the air.

Sizing up the situation correctly, Mary took off at a full goose gallop, running and honking for her life. She was pursued by an oil-dripping crazy woman, screaming references to goose dinners and down quilts.

A Haiku and its Background Story

Neighbor’s dog runs free
I always call her Street Pup
Just found her body

Yes, this little haiku is a true story.

For months a cute little dog has been running around, never confined in her fenced yard. My partner asked a neighbor where she lived, found the house, and returned her there a few times, carefully closing the gate. Later the same day, the gate would be open and the pup would be out roaming.

Because we didn’t know her name, I began to call her Street Pup, and soon she responded to the name.

Street Pup would wait outside my door in the morning, impatient, wanting to tag along and play with my dog as I walked her. Chloe tolerated the pup, wrestled her, and was able to have fun although she was on a long leash.

Street Pup drank from my birdbath and stole food off the table when I ate outside. She was never late for a cookout.

Then a few weeks ago she stopped coming around. My heart sank a bit. I walked past her house in hopes she was in the yard, but no. No Street Pup.

Today I was walking Chloe through the desert near my home. There was a skeleton. Right size. Rounded muzzle. I knew.

To be sure, I walked closer and looked at the face and head. There was still fur there, and it was her, all right.

I was so very, very angry. Part of me wanted to come back, slide her remains onto a plastic bag and deliver them to the doorstep of her “owners.” But I knew they would not care, it would not matter.

I’m glad I knew Street Pup. I tried to find a home for her – she’d have been easy to pupnap. She came running when I called, let me hold her, leash her, walk her. I could easily have hustled her into my car and delivered her to a loving family, but sadly, I was unable to find a home for her. And no, I did not need another dog.

Street Pup. Gone but not forgotten.

Street Pup. ¡Presente!

Surprise in the Mesquite

She rose from the mesquite bushes as I approached the highway just north of the Mexican border. Short, dark-skinned, wearing a black skirt and sweater, thick socks and sandals. She was wrapped in a rebozo, a shawl, of black and purple. And tucked into that rebozo was a small child.

She held out her hand to me, a gesture of request. A plea.

I stopped. This was not a woman from the neighborhood out for a morning stroll.

In the more Castillian Spanish of southern Mexico, she asked for food. For her child. She’d been walking for days, she said, carrying the child, and hadn’t eaten. The only food she’d found she’d given to her daughter.

Though I knew she’d crossed the border illegally, what could I do? A young woman with a baby, in the desert. Asking for food.

I gave her the lunch I’d packed just a few minutes earlier, a few energy bars I kept in the car, and a bottle of water I had along. Then I handed her all my money less what I’d need to buy lunch at work that day. Buena suerte, I said to her as I eased away. Good luck.

This was nearly twenty years ago, and I still can’t get her out of my mind.

Money

The Money Goddess seems to be quite displeased with me. Wait. It cannot be a goddess. A woman would never do this to me. It must be the God of money.

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Does this guy even look friendly?

Two things happened. 

First, six weeks ago I applied for a line of credit loan at Bank of America for the purpose of replacing damaged exterior wood on both my house and guest house and repainting the houses. All was moving, slowly, snail’s pace, but each week I got a happy call saying my credit was good, this or that had been received, etc.

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Then on Monday I got told I couldn’t have the loan. And can you guess why? Because my house needs painting! And they will be happy to loan me the money (to paint it) once it’s painted!

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The old paint, above, and below, the color I’d chosen for my house.

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JEEZE!  Hello? That’s what the loan is for! And I had explained it all in detail when I applied for the friggin’ loan.

Strike one against banks in general and B of A in particular. Actually, after the financial meltdown, this is probably about strike twelve. Their ONLY saving grace right now is my new international credit card which I can use in Mexico and not have to pay the blasted 3% surcharge for being out of country.

Then today, more.

As background, you must know I started an account with B of A about thirty-five years ago. I got a mortgage through them, and when I bought my current house eleven years ago, I got its mortgage there. I also have an almost-paid-off car loan there. 

They have had a local branch, and for years there were even two local branches. In recent, cash-machine years, I’ve also been able to access my cash at two different location. That all changed a few months ago when B of A sold their local bank to Washington Federal. Now, to do business directly with my mortgage-holding bank or even get to one of their cash machines, I must drive for forty-five minutes. To maintain a local presence, I opened an account at National Bank which is much closer to me than Washington Federal, but to keep certain banking privileges, I have my social security check direct deposited at B of A.

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Just over a week ago I set up an on-line bill pay to move money from the now 45-minute-away B of A to National Bank, just up the road. I figured that would save me the drive, and each month I could just move money to my local bank.

I set up the account because I need the money now to pay a few bills, get some gas, and perhaps, as a bonus,  eat. There is barely a cent in my NBA account. Well, it took SIX days for the money to leave B of A, and it went … nowhere. It never arrived. Say, what??? Where in the world is my money?

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What I wanted (folks, I actually had to borrow some cash to take this photo).

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Where my money seems to have gone.

 

Meeting today with NBA and I found out they had switched bill-pay servers over the weekend, so there was no server with which to move my money. The same money B of A (finally) sent off on Monday. 

My money is in the ozone. No one appears to be quite certain what ozone it’s in, either. Where does money go when it is nowhere? Is there a secret nowhere zone out beyond Jupiter???

So, long call to B of A in the town forty-five minutes away – and I had just LEFT that town before my little conference at my local NBA! 

At the end of the lengthy phone call, which followed my lengthy meeting at NBA, I finally had spoken to someone who thinks he may, yes may, have accessed the correct ozone. I might be able to have my money in a few days.

May the Goddess of money make this work!

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Should have worked with her!

Chicharones

Some friends invited me and my partner to accompany them to visit a family in Sonora on Sunday. The friends don’t live very far across the line but have a rancho further south, which was the final destination.

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I thought we were just going to visit the ranch for awhile, but boy was I wrong. The purpose of the visit was to make chicharones and have lunch.

Raul has a collection of skulls.

Raul has a collection of skulls.

Chicharones are a fried pork rind. What we had was pork skin with chunks of meat attached to some of the pieces. Until last year, I had been a quasi-vegetarian. Chicharones were not on my list of favorite foods.

First, Maggie got out her huge copper pot. I’d seen pots like it for sale along the road in Sonora but never realized what they were for. Raul made the fire, and Maggie set the pot on top of the fire, adding a few scoops of water from the water barrel. The scoop was an old plastic Folgers container.

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Then the two of them began dumping the pork rinds into the pot. After about four bags of rinds, I thought they’d put them all in, but no. They added about the same amount again. They must have dumped about twenty-five to thirty pounds of pork into the copper pot.

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Then it all began to boil, and Raul started stirring the meat. Stirring thirty pounds of meat takes a large instrument! In this case, it was a paddle-shaped piece of wood about four feet long and four inches wide. All the men took turns stirring the pot. Even Em gave it a shot, but she soon settled in helping Maggie peel the garlic.

Alfredo the chicharonero.

Alfredo the chicharonero (chicharone maker).

Raul checks out the garlic as Em and Maggie peel away.

Raul checks out the garlic as Em and Maggie peel away.

While the men stirred the meat, we women-folk wandered about visiting the horse, Canela, and the two calves. Both calves were only a few months old, and the male was striking, with a heart-shaped white spot on his forehead.

Espiritu (Spirit) has a heart on his forehead.

Espiritu (Spirit) has a heart on his forehead.

Soon the water had boiled away, and the chicharones were cooking in their own fat. Maggie added jalapeños and garlic and a generous amount of salt. The chicharones cooked and the men stirred for several hours.

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Finally, they were done!

 

Maggie scooped pots full of chicharones and drained them in a colander. She must have ended up with a few gallons of pork fat.

Maggie is pressing the excess oil out of the meat.

Maggie is pressing the excess oil out of the meat.

Out came the tortillas, the fresh salsa cruda, some stuffed poblano chiles, beer, and soda. We dove in.

No photo of the burritos we made because I was too busy eating!

Beautiful ending to a beautiful day.

Beautiful ending to a beautiful day.