Shela from Tijuana and I have been WWOOFing here for several weeks.
Her name is Gail. She’s tall for a Mexican, average for an American, and she’s been here for sixteen years. For sixteen years—by choice!—living with the corruption of Sinaloa’s government, the slowness of everything, the heat, and the wet. I wondered how she makes any money off of it and she said, “Oh sweetheart I don’t. I have so much credit card debt back in the States.”
We went into town one Saturday to sell our wares and came away having spent almost all that we made on groceries, tools, buckets. She bought a jar of olives and called it a splurge. “We can share it,” she said to us.
The next week she had to pay her phone bill and taxes and we spent more than the remainder on wine, eggs, and discounted vegetable matter.
We sell our organic produce, dried and canned goods hecho en casa and buy the cheapest comestibles we safely can. We shopped at Sam’s Club, waiting in line behind old gringos with their bottles of Grey Goose. This must be what Marx meant by alienation to one’s own labor.
She wakes up before the sun every day and works with the dusty soil, coaxing it to produce beautiful zinnias and slow-growing carrots. The “greenhouses” she built with her illiterate gardener are really wood frames and cloth for the bugs, not glass for heat. There is too much heat here. She built casitas on the beach for gringos and narcos and politicians to rent, and they are beautiful. But if you look closely you see the humidity swelling and rusting and destroying constantly.
Her silver hair would hang down her back if ever it was untied. As it is, I’ve only seen her in holey t-shirts and men’s blue jeans. A baseball cap for the sun, bleached almost to white. Gail speaks with a wide-open mouth to display receding gums and long teeth. She is as brown as a white woman can get and her eyes, somewhere between blue and green, are wide always with panic.
It took some time to get used to her panic. Her refrain of “oh, SHIT” no longer startles me. I know it’s exaggerated, I know she chose to live this way. She makes mountains out of anthills. She calls herself a workaholic and she’s certainly mired herself in deep with work. I can’t tell if she’s happy. I suppose I’ve been happy sometimes when I, like her, feel tossed and turned and chewed up by life. There’s not a lot more satisfying than successfully tying up miles of loose ends. There are only loose ends to work with around here.
She has a good heart which I don’t understand. She loves the earth, loves it in her fingernails and smeared on her face. Gail talks about her past in terms of previous lives. “In one life when my son was a baby I had a daycare. It was so much fun, we all did potty training together, and the way the house was made it so they could go around through the kitchen, dining room, hallway, living room, past the front door in a circle on their little bikes. They loved racing around.”
In another past life she boarded horses, in one she raised dairy goats, in a life in Northern California she had fifteen employees and flowers paid all of their bills. In her most recent she worked at a battered women’s shelter. She said the worst cases were usually the police who abused their wives because they had power and access to information. Then she divorced and moved down here.
Our trips into town are always educational. It’s two hours driving in a van full of goods and signs and tables. We have to stop at the restaurant she built to fill our coolers with the organic salsas, jams, and fruit juices her kitchen workers process. The three of us sit in the front together with me in a small plastic chair wedged between the front seats. We leave at 4am, she’s always coming down from her wine binge so Shela and I never know whether to expect Mama Gail or the very rude stress gynoid who sometimes replaces her.
“My kids are always begging me to come back to Washington,” she tells us regularly, “but I couldn’t. There’s too much work to do here.”
Gail would love to have goats again. The dry brush and rocky terrain is perfect for goats, and she loves their personalities. But she told us that a neighbor once had a herd of one hundred, with watchdogs and everything. He left them to eat lunch one day with his daughters and when he came back he found his dogs, poisoned, and truck tracks headed towards the mountains. No goats. She told us about the crippled pony who lived in town the first few years she was here in Barras de Piaxtla. “That pony was a mascot. It could go wherever it wanted with its club foot. The dogs would bark but the town loved it.”
She has a sister in Nevada and one in Arizona. “My younger sister is even crazier than I am,” she told us, “she’s a ferrier and works in forges in the heat in Reno, her arms are covered in burn marks. I’m sure our parents thank god for Linda. I borrowed four thousand dollars from her this summer and now she tells me I’m an indentured servant until it’s paid off. She’s got a lot of home-improvement projects and things to do. Linda has the most boring life!”