Chapter Two – El Diablito

Standard

El Diablito: Pórtate bien cuatito si no te lleva el coloradito.

The Little Devil: Behave yourself so that the little red one doesn’t carry you off.

The next morning, Rose was greeted by her hostess, Feli. She was awake, but lying in bed until the very last minute that she needed to get up and get ready. She was offered the first use of the shower and stood under the moderate amount of water offered. In her preparatory literature, she and her fellow Spanish students had been cautioned to be modest in their use of the family’s resources – although it had not specifically mentioned water as a commodity. Rose also had a bottle of water, as she knew that even brushing one’s teeth with tap water could make her vulnerable to “Montezuma’s Revenge.” As it was, she had noticed that many Mexican homes now took advantage of water services, with weekly deliveries of filtered water.

She went into the kitchen, and had cereal and fruit and juice while she listened to Feli’s constant stream of conversation. Rose was not a morning person, and making conversation in a foreign language early in the morning was not her forte. She tried to listen actively and not just say “yes” or “no” whenever she heard a break or inflection that seemed to need a response. That was a strategy that sometimes got her into trouble. So, she got the general idea that a niece was coming to pick her up and to take her to the Instituto Baden-Powell by car. She then realized that she was expected to make it back home on her own for lunch. She promised herself to pay careful attention on the trip over. Usually, Rose did not pay attention to how she got somewhere when she was not the driver.

Ana, the niece – or neighbor? – arrived. Introductions were made, and Rose was ushered to a compact car of indiscriminate make and age. Her resolve to pay attention to landmarks was shaken as Ana went careening through the streets of Morelia, only stopping abruptly when forced to by oncoming traffic. Rose did not want to be rude, so she comforted herself with her back-up plans. Plan A was the use of a city map that had been provided by the school – surely she could read a map, hoping that Feli’s street was included. Plan B was to take a taxi, as she had from the bus station. Although she could not take taxis every day, it was not a big expense. Since she would be paying, perhaps she could make the driver slow down.

The Instituto Baden-Powell was an attractive narrow building painted a colonial orange-red (terra cotta?) trimmed with yellow. The sign hanging over the door was made of iron, fashioned especially for the building. The corner fountain across the street made a more reliable marker. At the moment, Rose had forgotten her concern about making it back home for lunch, but she was becoming aware that she would also be responsible for finding this place in the morning as well.

After she presented herself to the front office, introductions were made, and she was given a tour of the school. Its appearance from the outside was misleading. Behind its narrow frontage lay a warren of small rooms, designed for small group or private lessons. There were tape machines and even television monitors in some of the rooms, and an extensive library of resources available to the instructors in a sort of private teachers’ lounge area. Rose’s favorite area was the rooftop. There was a free-standing thatched classroom there, as well as several patio tables with umbrellas. She could see pairs of students and teachers conducting class in this open place, under the blue sky.

As promised in the brochure, there was a room with six or seven computers arranged on the wall, where students were taking turns accessing the internet and their e-mail. There was a pay phone, and telephone cards were sold at the office, along with stamps and other minor school supplies. As they passed this area again, Rose was ushered into a larger classroom with student desks placed in a circle with their backs to the wall. There, with other new students that were starting that Monday, she was given an assessment test to complete. She noticed that there were all sorts of people in the room – even a young couple attending with their children.

When she emerged from the testing, Rose decided to check her e-mail. She had been unable to use the telephone at her host home – this was one of the ground rules of staying there. Apparently, telephone charges were high in Mexico, so to avoid conflict with the family, students were expected to use outside phones to call home. She had several e-mail messages, including one from William, one from her sister, and another from her mother. Her father was not computer-friendly, so her sister did his communicating for him. Rose fired off a couple of responses, and then wrote an entry in her web log. She had begun this electronic journal before her trip and was planning on keeping a running commentary on her experiences in Mexico.

Rose’s level was determined to be beginner to intermediate, and she was given a schedule with four individual teachers, who would instruct her for four separate hours. Her first two classes would be from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. After that, she would have a two-hour break, and then take two more hours of classes from noon to 2:00 PM. Since she had been told that the walk back to Feli’s house would take 30 minutes, Rose was determined to stay downtown during her two-hour break – the better to explore and shop. She ventured carefully out for the first time and vowed not to go to far from the school for fear that she would get lost before she returned for her noon class.

As she made her way down the street, Rose was immediately accosted by a small boy. Identifying her as an American – for Rose had a hard time looking like anything but the whitest woman in the area – he immediately petitioned her for a handout. Rose had already experienced homeless street children on the streets of Mexican cities, and just shook her head to indicate that she wouldn’t give the boy any money. It was inconceivable that she did not have money, but after following her for a few blocks, he gave up.

Next, she came across a stray dog. Just as the boy had, this dog seemed instinctively to see the possibility for an easy mark. In fact, Rose had rescued most of her pet dogs from the dog pound – her current pooch, Serendipity, had been a mangy puppy hanging around her school. When an older teacher saw her petting the dog, she scolded, “Don’t touch that thing – you don’t know where it has been!” Rose looked at the teacher, picked up the puppy, and drove it to her house. Serendipity had been with her for 8 years.

She tossed a cookie to the stray dog. Unfortunately, this only resulted in encouraging the dog, which followed her all the way to the center of town. She would have to remind herself to be more hard-hearted, or else she would attract every animal in town! Rose loved Mexico, but it was often hard to reconcile this beautiful country – which had so many riches in culture and food – with the intense poverty that claimed many of its citizens. As a child, she had reacted in anger – not to the injustice, but to its very fact spoiling her love affair with the abundant tourist opportunities available south of the border. She was more mature now, but she still harbored resentment – this time for bearing witness to a fact of life that she personally could not change.

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