ChiroLike many people in his village, Chiro has a fine coffee-color complexion. If you ask me to be more specific, I would have say that it must be what they mean when they speak of coffee robusta.
Chiro is twenty-four and he loves it. He doesn't move; rather, he dances through his days.
What he loves most of all is when he gets through work on Saturday, at one in the afternoon, and we pay him for his week of laying bricks (we're building a small brick house) and he's out the door and gone, because there is a fiesta this evening, in his village of San Sebastian, and he is damn well going to be there, and he is going to dance the night away.
Fiestas usually start at ten or so at night, and go until three or four am. There are two bands, and they start setting up their speakers on either side of the town plaza in the late afternoon. My first year here I lived in San Sebastian near the town center. Late on Saturday afternoon, when I heard a highly amplified voice intoning "uno-dos-tres," I knew I was in for a night of trouble. 200 - 300 decibels of musica tropical.
I always thought that the fiestas in San Sebastian were merely designed to torture me with the thump-thump-thump of the bass at all hours --- but, in fact, a fiesta is where the fretwork of the village gets done. Everyone goes --- and even if the old folks don't dance, they are watching the others who do. The fiesta is the local courting ritual, house of business, and the place to visit --- where the village perpetuates its life and its customs. It's where those who are just coming of age meet, and dance together, then try to sneak off together without being seen.
Fortunately, in the years since I first arrived here, I have moved off into a quiet zone --- and now I can barely hear the music of Los Zonkies, or Los Tumbos, or Los Animales. I am safe, and out of it, but for Chiro, this is his world, and his life, for --- and I say this with all due regard for my health and well-being, and for your due regard for me --- Chiro is a man who has a wonderful sense of natural rhythm.
I saw this last week when I dragooned him into going to the public market so I could buy the makings for lunch. I stationed my wheelchair in the vegetable section, next to the beans and peppers, and sent him off to get the tortillas and goat-cheese. I watched him as he passed by the cassette stand which, in echo of the fiestas, runs the latest music at top volume.
It was of the Tito Puente variety, and I watched as Chiro came into the field of sound, and suddenly his feet were going every which-a-way, his body went a little to the left and a little to the right, his shoulders scooped up, and then down, in what we used to call a sashay.
His arms, out in front of him, were angling back and forth with the music. What he did was in such perfect keeping with the rhythm that it was as if a windstorm of sound from the speakers had caught him in its blast, forced his body to move with such agility that, indeed, he had become the music.
Then, suddenly, as quickly as it had begun, he glided out and beyond the musical forcefield, was again Chiro in his tee-shirt and jeans and chanclas, walking straight on to get the cheese and tortillas.
Chiro's story of growing up is one of those that would, north of the border, be tantamount to instant juvenile delinquency --- a life leading to drugs, Saturday night specials, jail and parole. But here, it doesn't seem to work out that way at all.
He never knew his father --- although he knows who he is (he's a taxi driver in San Sebastian). His mother abandoned him when he was three or four, and --- as is so common in this country --- a friend or, in his case, a relative took over his care and feeding. No social workers, no police reports, no court orders. Chiro was out of a home one day, and, the next, a neighbor lady took him in, and cared for him for the next ten years.
Chiro saw his father around and about, but there was no acknowledgment. Once, he told me, when he was twelve, and because he couldn't afford the uniforms and books for school, he asked for his father for help. When none was forthcoming, Chiro left school and started working.
I know, it sounds so terrible and wasteful, but communities like San Sebastian, as poor as they are, become large family support systems. Chiro started working in the fields. It was work, but it wasn't onerous --- the owner knew that he was twelve, and when you are that age, your output of work is less than it is going to be, say, when you are eighteen.
He went to work, and knew to keep working, and not go out knocking out street lights (there are no street lights in his neighborhood), or knocking over the local 7-11 (there are no 7-11s this far south) or stealing hub-caps (there are few cars in San Sebastian). He started bringing home money for his volunteer mother --- to pay her back for supporting him when he couldn't do it for himself.
When I hired him on to work for me, he was twenty, had left the fields of maize, and had been apprenticed as albaņiel --- a brick layer. He has grown to be a constant and able worker.
I've asked him before about his growing up, and he nods his head, as if it were nothing of much importance. He made it into adulthood; compared to others, his life isn't bad; and on weekends, there's a fine dance --- and he does another sashay to show me what his evening will be filled with.
What else could one could ask of life?--- Carlos Amantea