"The Passion Fruit Vine"
By Teresa A. Kendrick
nine years in Jalisco, my infatuation with the Mexico that visitors
experience had long since become the Mexico where I worked for a livingwhere
I filed taxes, met deadlines and had the oil changed in my car. Id
come to Mexico for a thirty-day visit in 1994 and stayed when a well-paying
position, tailor-made for my skills and interests, surfaced. I hadnt
thought about living in Mexico before I came and after nine years I
couldnt think about leaving.
In my seventh year I accepted the invitation to share the home of one
of the first people Id met, Isabel Fuente. When I met her, she
was designing and manufacturing a line of cotton clothing from a shop
just a few doors from the Nueva Posada Hotel in Ajijic. Every few weeks
she made the 90-minute drive to Rio Caliente Spa in Guadalajara, where
I worked, to sell her clothing to guests. After a year or so of polite
inquiries and patio chats, she invited me to her home in Ajijic. But
by the time I was able to accept her invitation, it was a weekend she
planned to be away. "Come anyway," shed said, "make
yourself at home." I did.
That was the beginning of a friendship that morphed at times into business
and social relationships. Her mastery of English allowed our friendship
to live and flourish in a way that could not have happened if the task
of a mutual language had fallen to me. We shared friends, worked on
projects together, and sometimes relaxed our reserve enough to reveal
our interior lives. I admired her original intelligence, her sense of
humor, her insights, her education, and her quick and delightful presence.
As the years passed, I learned to depend on her friendship.
That same year my older sister died suddenly at 47. A month before,
Id been diagnosed with a rare disease that dried out my eyes,
desiccated my skin and left me so tired that I needed long hours of
rest and pills to control the aches in my bones. Always able to summon
up energy and enthusiasm for my work and adventures, my transition to
someone stunned by grief and facing chronic ailments sent the needle
of my inner compass spinning. I was being forced that year to let go
of an old self and find that first step to a deeper experience of myself.
Like many significant events, the conversation with Isabel to live in
the part of her house once occupied by her daughter had unlikely beginnings.
Casually proposed over lunch one day, we soon agreed on my portion of
the expenses, the moving date, hatched plans to manage our pets, and
eventually found ourselves living under the same roof.
On the very first day we began a morning ritual of coffee and bread.
Dark, acidic coffee from Colima was brewed and bread was toasted in
the small oven mounted on the wall in the working part of her kitchen.
In the dining part of it, we sat at a table framed on three sides by
windows that gave views into her garden. Through these windows, we witnessed
the arrival of the day. Birds hopped in the trees and sang, air blew
across the fragrant woodwork, orchids, grafted to the trees, postured
and bloomed, and a passion fruit vine, called in Spanish, la maracuyá,
wound its way across the gardens massive rubber tree. It was in
this house, that I began the journey from the outside orbit of the foreigner
into the embrace of another Mexico.
"In the jungle, the garden likes to live in the house with us,"
said Isabel, as we crossed the terrace one morning to check on the orchids
that lived in the trees. "He is like a creature were always
trying to keep in his cage. We feed him and give him water, but if we
dont pay attention, he is in our beds!"
I laughed, imagining the garden as a wily "he", instead of
a pampered "she", an image derived from my stubborn gardens
in Texas that simpered and faltered and had to be coaxed along.
"Just look how the ants have been making new roads. In one month
they have made three new places. Imagine!"
The week before, Id stuffed cotton soaked with sugar water and
boric acid into the biggest of the anthills, hoping worker ants would
carry the solution to the queen.
"I think we can close the openings between the steps to divert
them at least," she mused.
Next, we inspected the wire netting shed twisted into cones around
the trunks of the palms that grew along one side of the kitchen.
"What are these for?"
"What does the netting do?"
"It stops them from walking up to the roof, but it doesnt
In the mornings, wed find twigs, droppings and other debris that
had fallen from the terraces roof onto the floor of the patio.
The rats had built a nest between the clay tiles, chewing holes in the
woven petate liner between the roof struts and the tiles. Every morning
she inspected their damage and fumed a little, working her mind to think
of another way to drive them out.
"One day I will discover how they are walking to the roof,"
she declared, and left for the west side of the house to check again
for branches leaning against the walls.
I sat down at the table on the terrace and looked at my calendar.
"What time are you going to the airport", I shouted.
"Eleven thirty," I heard her yell from behind a giant philodendron
that grew at the northwest corner of the house. More than a story high,
the massive plant had trunks six inches thick with leaves bigger than
"Is that what time were supposed to leave?"
"Eleven thirty," she shouted again, this time with some impatience.
It was not uncommon for us to miscommunicate, fumble important cues,
and end up looking blankly at one another for a beat or two. Occasionally
we labored with earnest explanations but for the most part, we did the
equivalent of a mental shrug and moved on.
Within the next 12 hours, Isabel would be landing in northern Spain.
She was embarking on an extended journey to visit her fathers
relatives in Aviles, Asturias. There were cousins to visit and the family
home to see. Shed been there years ago as a teenager when her
father was still alive but remembered very little of the trip. The cost
of the ticket had been steep and the weather cold and damp this time
of year, but when asked why she was going, she always said, "My
fathers story is a mystery to me. I think I should go."
Later that afternoon after the trip to the airport and hours of work
in my office I lay in the hammock while the dogs that patrolled the
garden nuzzled my hands. It had been a long time since Id spent
money to visit family. Friends yes, but family no. In my counseled and
analyzed generation, the mention of "family" brought groans
and litanies of infractions. Blood runs deeper, I thought, with some
people more than with others. And sometimes blood just runs cold.
April and May were hot, so hot in this altitude of 5200 feet that everyone
sought out the shade of their homes and gardens and waited with a kind
of strained patience. It seemed like everyone with land burned off the
brush, making the air hotter and charring the landscape black. The Aztecs
had done it, I read, believing that sending smoke into the sky encouraged
the Rain Gods to let go of the rain. Environmentalists ranted about
the idiocy of "slashing and burning" and the hopeless pollution
of the atmosphere. Tempers flared in the glaring heat and optimism for
even the most minor excursions flagged. Beer and tequila flowed but
rarely slaked anyones thirst. Baptisms and quinceañeras
all had an edge to them as families went through the motions in the
In May, I tried to dodge Isabels bad-tempered maid, Chuya, who
was even more disagreeable than usual. Id described her once to
a friend who pictured her wearing a breastplate and horned helmet, a
surprisingly apt caricature that I could never shake. She hated her
work and hadnt the good grace to keep it to herself. She bullied
everyone, including her children, and begrudged us our lives because
we earned money at our desks instead of by holding a broom. The poverty
of her spirit was something we learned to ignore.
In the middle of the month her husband became ill with kidney problems
and I began to loosen up about her temper. Week after week she asked
me for money to pay his bus fare to a doctor in Guadalajara, an hours
journey away. By the fifth week he was so sick his doctor admitted him
to the hospital for dialysis. Several tense weeks passed before he could
come home. On the Thursday following his return she asked me again for
money. Her sisters son, Miguel Angel, she told me, had been murdered
in Los Angeles. The twenty-seven year old dishwasher had finished up
his shift and walked right out into the middle of a gang war. He never
felt the bullet, "Gracias a Dios", she said. "He didnt
know anything, thank God", she said again, and with a flash I knew
he must have died hard. The story had been crafted for the mother, Chuyas
sister, who initiated the grim task of collecting enough pesos to bring
his body home. When I clucked my compassion to Chuya she shrugged and
said, "Pues, es la vida." "Well, thats life."
She took the 500 pesos I gave her and turned away, not thanking me.
Earning no more than $31 US dollars a week for half time work, people
of her class had no savings. Collecting money for emergencies was undertaken
by the women without shame.
May cranked on and I was worn out from the heat and from missing Isabels
company. I drank my coffee in the mornings with little satisfaction
and avoided Chuya who scowled and muttered and kicked at the dogs. On
the third Saturday of the month I met a man for drinks at a sports bar
just off the plaza. We sat down at an empty table and exchanged greetings
and the usual complaints about the heat. He ordered vodka. I asked for
a lemonade, not so much to be prim as to avoid the ache alcohol inspired
in my joints. We were casual acquaintances, introduced by other casual
acquaintances. No one knew exactly how many of us foreigners lived around
the Lake but educated guesses put the number around 5,000. Depending
on how active socially we were, we knew about half of them by sight.
Gibbs had been in Mexico longer than many of us. At the 12-year mark
hed told friends he was leaving this "damn country"
and I wanted to find out why. But after 10 minutes I regretted meeting
him. He was a world-class talker who swilled drinks between tirades
about contractors, officials, maids, lawyers, gardeners, shopkeepers,
cops, other Americans, other Canadians, those fucking "Brits",
Texans and the local king of the dogpound. "I want to go back to
a country thats finished," he croaked after an hour of ranting,
drunk on alcohol and rage. Having heard enough I stood and announced
my departure. A look of complete and utter surprise came over him as
I took my leave.
"Whatd I say? Whatd I say," he asked, plaintive
as a child, as I made my way into the street.
Night had finally arrived and with it, blessedly cool air. I knew why
the ancients threw major toots when the rains came. The relief crawled
out from under your brain and made you go wild. I saw my car where Id
left it but kept walking. God, the nights are fabulous, I thought, and
headed west into one of the first neighborhoods Id known in Ajijic.
About nine blocks later I saw the tree that marked six corners,
a noisy neighborhood where pork skins were fried in massive copper cauldrons
on the sidewalk and locals hollered at one another to move their vehicles
throughout the day. Traffic was hopeless at the "corners"
as cars were allowed to circulate in both directions on the pinched
lanes. At night hired fiesta halls boomed music, couples groped one
another away from the streetlights, a ramshackle gym harbored troublemakers,
and a few bitter looking men hung around on the side streets and drank.
Peeved at the fellow in the bar, I looked for a doorway with a stoop
and sat down. I had nothing else to do but go home and watch idiot television
programs from my satellite dish. I left briefly to buy a canned soda
and returned to sit in the doorway, protected a little by its deep recess,
and waited to be distracted by someone elses world.
It didnt take long.
Two flower vendors, women in their fifties, walked by with empty buckets,
chatting companionably in the cool air. A new Dodge Ram truck with huge
rounded bumpers and four teenagers in the front boomed by, shaking the
street with the noise from its speakers. Gang wannabes with hairnets
pulled low over their foreheads and colossal pants hanging off their
rumps strolled by practicing their tough faces and grunting parts of
slogans to one another. A woman in her thirties ushered her brood of
five children home after some errand that must have involved all of
them. By now the moon, nearly full, lighted the sky overhead. The couples
groping one another moved further into the shadows, out of the views
of passersby. Two men in the distance were swaying and laughing, sappy
on tequila, and stopping now and then to cry, urinate, and pound each
others backs. I counted two bathroom stops apiece for each man
and noticed that one man moved with a particularly exaggerated swagger.
Within 30 minutes from the moment I first saw them, theyd advanced
far enough to embrace the giant tree that marked the neighborhood. I
leaned forward and thought I recognized my friend Carmens husband,
Rigoberto, the less drunk of the two. Now within earshot I could hear
the drunker man singing. His boozy baritone mumbled the José
Alfredo Jimenez cantina standard, "Ella."
"I got tired of begging her.
I got tired of telling her.
That without her,
Id die of sorrow.
She wouldnt listen.
If her lips opened
they were to tell me,
ya no te quiero." I dont love you anymore.
Uh, oh, love on the rocks with salt and a twist of lime in the wound.
The crooner said something to Rigo who promptly punched him and sent
him face down on the roots of the tree. Rigo rubbed his fist and then
recovered after a fashion by passing wind loudly and staggering off.
The other man turned over and managed to place one hand over the other
to pull himself up the tree and into a standing position. As he twisted
around something gave way at his knee. His shoe and part of one leg
stood up inside his trousers for a moment and then fell away from the
rest of him, skittering over the roots of the tree and into the gutter.
Even I, fully sober, had trouble deciphering this event until the man
wailed, "Ya no me quieres, tambien?" You dont love me,
either? And then he started laughing, the way heartbreak and tequila
can make you laugh. Like a maniac.
And I laughed with him, long and hard and for a moment we shared an
insane, improbable glee. Wobbly with laughter I left him there, knowing
a relative would come at dawn to haul him home. The heat had finally
broken and I was on my way home.
Tales from the Maracuyá
© Teresa A. Kendrick August 2003
You can buy Teresa's book on Amazon.com
Mexico's Lake Chapala and Ajijic
The Insiders Guide to the Northshore for International Travelers
Part 2, "Isabels
- More World Journeys
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