Friday, December 01, 2006

Small Town Life in Chacala

Slow as my mind works sometimes, I’m not surprised that it took me this long to Finally realize how many geographical similarities there are between my life in Chacala and my life from age 22 thru 47 in the rural U.S.. Life in Chacala is a life in a very small cluster of homes, with a few amenities, like school thru the 8th grade, a church, and some small tiendas. And a hardware store. About 90 houses where people live year-around and another 25 or so places that are either empty or used as vacation places for people who live as close as Las Varas and as far as Michaocan and Guadalajara.

In the U.S. I lived about 12 miles from a small town, of about 1,000 people, almost all of whom were descendants or family members of descendants of German settlers who came to that area in the 1880’s, when the trains opened up the land for ranching. Sometimes it seemed as though everyone was related, just like Chacala. There were a cluster of about 30 families who lived within easy walking distance of each other, in a small valley with fertile farming land and several year-round streams.

We lived separately, in private homes, but the kids could play together easily, and for years we had a school for the kids aged 5-12. A kind of basic life, with daily struggles to keep the water system going, no electricity except solar and battery power, few vehicles that never ran well, cows and goats for milk, extensive gardens, alfalfa fields for hay for the milks cows and for the two work horses. A nice plain simple life, revolving around family and neighbors and the seasons of farming and gardening. Lots of time for individual projects and artistic pursuits, and other, less admirable activities. It took about a half hour to drive to the nearest town. And much longer in the winter. Snow drifts, icy roads into the canyon, etc. And it was about an half and a half to the nearest real city.

Chacala is kind of the same setup. Small neighborhood with lots of social interaction between the kids and the adults, Large families living and working in close proximity. Basic services like water and sewage needing constant maintenance. Unreliable electric service during the rainy season. Dirt roads. Animals like chickens and dogs running around. Las Varas, which has about 13,000 (but you’d never know it), seems much closer, and it’s a nicer drive. Beautiful countryside, as compared to wheat fields of Eastern Washington. And P.V. is about and hour and a half away if you are driving your own vehicle.

In Chacala there is lots of contact with neighbors all day long. Lots of people saying hi. People calling up from the road or coming up for whatever reason. People are usually outside and it’s easy to make contact if you are looking for someone. It’s nothing like life in most parts of middle class US where you’re likely to find empty streets and big empty lawns, blank garage doors, and no front porches. Or in many Mexican towns, where every house has tall walls along the street, with the only access a wooden or metal gate for people and their vehicles. I like it that everyone in Chacala says hello as they pass, and there’s lots of visiting, and hanging around talking about this and that. Where everybody knows you name. Or at least some people do.

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