Sunday, 6 January 2008

Reflexive Ownership and other Mexican Customs


I have the greatest admiration for my next door neighbor. He is also our part-time gardener, handyman, laborer, plasterer, plumber, gas fitter, electrician, procurer of necessary services, healthcare consultant, and a full-time good friend. He shies away from drink, cigarettes, and even coffee. He has a gentle sense of humor, as well as very strong hands. The only complaint I have is about his animals. Or to be more precise, those animals that are not his, but just happen to reside with him.

It started when we first arrived, with the hens (no problem) and the rooster (big problem). This rooster is not an ordinary animal. No, it is huge, a freak of its species. I wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley without some form of defense. Actually, I wouldn’t want to meet it in a lighted alley without a large stick. This miracle of the animal world used to sit, every night, on the wall between our properties, 8 feet from one bedroom window, and attempt to compete with every other rooster within Todos Santos. Not content with screeching at the break of dawn, it would religiously chime the hours of the night, like a demented cuckoo clock, until it got a response. Then the battle would begin, ending only when the other side admitted defeat.

I talked to our neighbor about the animal in my limited Spanish (at the time), miming the act of placing my hands around its neck and pleasure at hearing its final cry. My neighbor smiled. He agreed. He hated it, wanted it to go. But it just happened to visit his place and his wife fed it. It wasn’t his. End of discussion.

We reassured ourselves with the possibility that it would tire of coming to his place, and if not, would soon die of a sore throat. After all, don’t large animals have shorter lives? In the meantime, we got used to the noise and sleeping with earplugs.

When we returned for the winter the next year, we were surprised to see not only that this rooster was still around, but it had been joined by two others. More discussions with the neighbor revealed his frustration with the new arrivals, but, since they weren’t his, what could he do?

This year it’s cats. My wife and I have a perfectly interlocking, Jack Spratt like approach to animals. I’m allergic to cats, and she to dogs, so we are immune to the demands of Todos Santos society that we adopt a flock or two of either. However, we have a clowder of cats in and out of our garden. The one positive thing is that we have no problem with mice. They can, however, tell that I don’t like them and, when they can, some sneak up to the house to mark their territory and show their disdain for me.

My neighbor despises them too. He screws up his nose and makes disparaging remarks about them. So it was a surprise to me when I came to his house to talk about plans for the next week and found several cats feeding on cat food next to his house. “They’re not mine”, he said, “My wife just puts food out for them”. It’s true that the cats are probably their own owners, and sponge off everyone in the neighborhood. But to join the ranks of the supporters, when you despise them?

I’m sure I’m experiencing several aspects of Mexican culture. The ingrained desire to never cross their "masters", which results in never saying no, accepting no responsibility for things that might displease, giving directions even when you don’t know the way, and saying you will come when you know you won’t or can’t. A dash of fatalism, blended with a full measure of a matriarchal society. And to top it all, I suspect my neighbor is having a little fun with me.

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