Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Living with Neighbors in Chacala

Hector and his son Hector Adrian
I am sure I have made lots of social mistakes since I came to Chacala. It's hard to be a good neighbor here in Chacala. It's a different culture and a different language, and things can get tricky. Especially if you assume that your assumptions about what's going on around you are correct.

People in Chacala are often so polite, that sometimes it's hard to realize when you have been rude, or culturally inappropriate. I have been lucky in that, at least sometimes, folks in Chacala have found the courage to tell me when I have done something that's not okay.

For example, one day, a few years ago, when Tony, Marta's previous little boy was a baby, I said to Marta how beautiful Tony was. It turned out he got sick that night. Marta believed it was because I complimented him without touching the top of his head. If you don't touch the top of the baby's head, the "evil eye" will find the baby (by following your complimentary words) and make the baby ill. So I have been careful. Just smile at the baby. But, I am really glad someone told me about that. After I was told, I asked someone else about it, and they confirmed it that it's a common belief here.

I think if you do or say something contradictory to the culture or religion here, it is assumed you are doing it on purpose. Many people in Chacala are only familiar with their own culture, right here in Chacala. Just like most gringos think the way things are done in the US/Canada/Europe is the ONLY way to do things.

Sometimes what Chacalaeans see on the TV soaps and other programs widens their views of the world. But usually, I think, they view the soaps (called novellas here) are seen as fantasy land, or science fiction. Nothing real.

People in Chacala are often incredulous when I say I am not a Catholic, or a Pentecostal, or Evangelical. Most people can't believe you aren't at least some kind of Christian. They often appear to be mystified. Or they stay something like, "But you are so nice". As if only Catholics are nice, and every one else is an evil heathen. I am exaggerating a little, but not much.

Another thing about living in Chacala is that it that appears to be very scary for people here if it appears that the "power's-that-be" might being coming after you. There is no higher authority to appeal to usually. And it can get pretty bad if someone in authority decides to come after you. Especially if you don't have the protection of a more powerful friend. Or lots of money to pay whoever off. So, when someone deliberately tries to cause problems for a person with the authorities (whatever kind), people don't forget. It is very frightening for them and they usual feel (and probably are) powerless to protect themselves. And they hold a serious grudges.

I can't guess what the motivation might be when someone new to Chacala, particularly a gringo, deliberately tries to make problems for a neighbor. Seems a little short-sighted. People are very dependent on each other here. Maybe causing neighbors grief on purpose comes from youth and ignorance. Or maybe it's never having lived in a small town before. Or maybe some newcomers don't realize that there are no secrets in small towns.

Probably the principal that what comes around goes around applies in every culture. I think that's why some people try to follow the Golden Rule. (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you). Everytime you treat a person with disrespect (especially in Mexico), that person doesn't forget. Not for a long time. And neither does his family or his friends. Getting along with your neighbors is really important everywhere, but especially in a small town. Everyone can see how you handle yourself. They see how you treat people, and if they can trust you. If you are rude and disrespectful, pretty soon no one will deal with you, except to make money, maybe. And there are construction crews here that won't work for some people. Because of how they treat them.

None of the above is meant to infer I don't make lots of social errors here. But I am trying to understand how things work . And what people are thinking, and how they are reacting to me.

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