Sunday, September 19, 2010

Día de Independencia

Update on Inter-not: The green light is still blinking. Someone called us to let us know they were installing a new port as we spoke and that we would be hooked up in less than 24 hours. 24 hours came and went. The light was still blinking. Dan called TelMex again and talked to a supervisor who said that in fact there was no port, and we would probably have to wait until someone canceled their service or died before we got service. Time to rejuvenate the antenna contraption!

Día de Independencia:
Dan and I dragged our sleepy selves out of bed at 3:50 AM. It was Sept. 15th, the first day of the bi-centennial celebration of Mexican Independence from Spain.  The city had been swept to the point of spotlessness, and red, white and green banners hung over all the streets and around the gazebo in the Plaza Hidalgo. We had 10 minutes to throw on some clothes and walk to the plaza  where the Paseo de Gallo (Rooster walk) was due to begin. I told Dan, "Don't worry... nothing here ever starts on time."

As we headed down Calle Obregon, our neighbors were already sitting out on their porch waiting. Dan called out "Buenas Noches!"  They laughed and told him it was actually Buenas Días even though it was still pitch black and we had to strain to see the irregularities waiting for us in the street..

4 AM Sept 15th Paseo de Gallo
Other people were out on the corners, waiting in pajamas and bathrobes. As we rounded the corner into the plaza, the parade emerged out of the waiting crowd with trumpets and drums breaking the early morning silence. Right on time! We joined the back of the parade and headed back down Calle Obregon in the direction we had come. Periodically, someone shot off rockets that blazed into the dark sky and then exploded with a boom that rattled the windows of the houses. No one would sleep through this.The parade wound it's way through town, back to the plaza and then went on to the nearby towns of La Mora and Las Delicias to wake all those folks as well.

Apparently, many years ago, some of men in Banámichi decided it would be nice to take a walk early in the morning on the day before Día de Independencia to celebrate. Later this evolved into waking up the citizenry and inviting everyone to breakfast. At first it was men only, and then the womenfolk began to beg their husbands to go along to see what was happening. So gradually, everyone began to go and it became a local custom and an annual civic event.

The breakfast consists of menudo, a greasy concoction of hominy and tripe that is reputed to be a hangover cure. This seems to be a recipe that separates the Mexicans from us gringos - The Mexicans love the stuff, and most gringos I know are a bit iffy about it. We didn't try it.

After awhile, we peeled off the back of the parade and went home to sit on the roof for awhile to soak up the early morning cool and gaze at the Milky Way out over the river flats. A gentle breeze picked up that was almost chilly. I noticed the descent of the peace and contentment I always feel looking out at the church steeple and the mountains  in the distance Slowly we each succumbed to the hour and drifted back to bed snooze a  bit longer. We left the early celebrations and late night fiestas to the Mexicans who all in all are a hardier lot than we are.

On the evening of Sept 15th, people once again gathered in the plaza to celebrate "El Grito" (the shout) - the call for independence. In 1810, in the early hours of Sept. 16th, Father Hidalgo rang the bells of his little church in the small town of Dolores, Guanajuato to call everyone together. He spoke to them of Spanish oppression and at the end, they shouted "Long Live Independence!!"  This was the beginning of the 10 year war for independence, and this pivotal moment is celebrated every year when the Presidente offers the cry of independence in the plaza at 11 PM. 

The next day (Sept. 16th) we arrived early at Los Arcos Hotel to take our places across the street in the shade for the civic parade. Lynn passed out red, white and green Mexican flags to people nearby. An elderly woman with white hair and a bent back hobbled up to the corner where we were sitting. We offered her a seat and some coffee which she at first politely refused and finally hesitantly accepted. Meanwhile, A cowboy in matching blue boots and shirt rode up and down the street on his horse, transporting costumed little girls to the start of the parade.

Our local government
Finally with the now-familiar sound of drums and trumpets, the government contingent rounded the corner. El Presidente (the mayor) Adolfo Lopez, his wife Elvira beside him, was supporting the Mexican flag. All of the other city officers and staff followed behind him.They made a handsome picture, and I felt a flash of pride in my adopted home. Our friend Vicky waved to us as she went by.

Children in costum
Next came all the school groups! Sometimes I think of Banámichi as a town of elderly people, but this was a great reminder of how many children and young people live in the area. Some of the children were in costume, variously depicting independence history, regional costumes, the Mexican flag and so on. From the littlest to the biggest, they marched in formation with group leaders yelling "Alto,  ya!" (Stop, NOW!) And "Advanzar, ya!"(Go forward, NOW!)

Hooray for Santa Elena gold and silver mine
Even the Santa Elena mine had a representative contingent, who were in a joyous mood. They had just recently poured their first gold bar. Their helium balloons were everywhere, and rose into the sky as children watched them in wonder. Finally came the floats and more costumes, and then it was suddenly over with the passing of the city police car.

Unhappy corn gir
Everyone headed for Plaza Hidalgo where there was a jumping castle for the kids, food and drink vendors, and a gathering crowd. After a seemingly eternal wait, various age groups and school groups performed regional dances of Mexico.  The unhappy teen-age Corn Girl won the costume contest, after which she seemed to cheer up. It is easy to imagine her mom forcing the costume on her reluctant self, and like teenagers everywhere I could almost hear her say, "But mom, I will die of embarrassment!" She nearly did during the parade when a stray dog ran up to her and sniffed the corn husks that made up her prom-like dress.

Little peasant with sandwich
Folklorico dancer
The concluding entertainment were a group of young folklorico dancers, the boys handsome in their black and white charro outfits and the girls in their long, ribbon decorated dresses. There was no embarrassment here as the dresses whirled and flew in a blur of color with the exuberant movement of the dancers.

That evening there was to be another fiesta and dance. The weekend also included a rodeo and a horse race - regional activities in the ranching country of Sonora.

To an aging and sometimes cynical gringa, it was uplifting to see how much reverence the Mexican people have for their history, and how much pride in their Mexico. As an American, it is so easy to forget the realities of other countries - that people there feel the same pride in their heritage that we do for ours. We are not the center of the universe as we imagine ourselves to be. Particularly now, with the immigration debate in the US at a fever pitch of stridency  and animosity, it seems easy for a segment of our population to demonize the Mexicans and imagine that they are the one-dimensional enemy who wants to sneak into our country and upset our neatly stacked applecart. In reality, most Mexicans prefer Mexico - it is home and everything that is familiar to them and they only leave under the worst imaginable economic conditions. All they want to do is feed their families and then return home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


The Rio Sonora in flood. The picture has nothing to do with the blog post but it is cool because this does not happen very often.
I used to be a Luddite, but now I am completely hooked on the internet. What an astonishing thing it is. Just think - an entire universe of information sitting right here in my office – and in your office, and your neighbor’s and her neighbor’s - it’s everywhere! I use it constantly…the recipe for a rack of lamb, how to make organic pesticide, a crochet pattern for a baby blanket, where to buy chai tea, who is General Álvaro Obregón, to buy shade cloth, to research an inexpensive support for pea plants, to look up the side effects of a new medication, to make conference calls on Skype and where is that restaurant anyway?

You get the idea…I’m totally helpless without it. I’ll bet you are too. So try to imagine yourself without connectivity. No e-mail, no phone, no information, no nada. Are you freaking out yet? Clearly when we got to Banámichi we had to get hooked up fast.

At first we used to go over to the Posada del Río Sonora to hook up for an hour or so a day. But this was inconvenient: pack up the computer, drive or walk the 4 blocks over there, hook up. Most of the time the connection was very slow—heavy sighs of frustration. Then pack everything up and go back home. An hour later Dan would be antsy again. “I need to go over and check my e-mail and look up how to get better internet service.”

Once when the Posada was closed, we sat on the front step and tried to get service. No dice. But then we discovered that there was something called Internet Gratis – a free service of the “city” of Banámichi. How forward looking! How progressive! How slow…and with insufficient oomph to handle Skype calls. We suffered with this system for a couple of months until suddenly one day it inexplicably died, never to be revived.

The antenna was our friend
A phone line with internet service was $40 a month. We thought this was too much for only using it only part time. Our friend Bill said we could use his service but we wanted to do it from the convenience of home. So Dan did massive amounts of research – in Tucson. Soon we had an antenna on the roof which picked up other nearby internet signals, Bill’s included. But said signal was too weak. Dan bought another gizmo to send out a stronger signal from Bill’s. So Bill’s network was broadcast out across the Banámichi airwaves, picked up on our roof, and sent downstairs to our computers.

Amazingly, this Rube Goldberg contraption actually worked. Until the power went out, that is. Then it took hours of incomprehensible fiddling to get it back up. Finally, Dan got it stabilized and it worked really well, if a bit slowly.

One day recently we were visiting Bill, and I commented on what a wonderful system it was, how stable, how reliable. I jinxed it, because that same night, after the thunderstorm described in the previous post, it went down, and never has worked all that well again.

The street without a name
Meanwhile a few months ago, Dan decided it was time to bite the bullet and get the Telmex service for $40 a month. So off he went to Hermosillo to set it up. In the middle of the day I got a call from him: “What is the name of the cross street by our house?” He was trying to tell Telmex where our house is as it has no house number.  I ran outside to look. No sign. I followed the street up to  Constitución, the main street through town. No sign there either. So Dan told them Calle Alegría, but that crosses our street several blocks south of our house.

Dan came back late that afternoon with a phone under his arm and a smile on his face and told me that Telmex had promised installation service in 24-72 hours. The time came and went. No technician appeared. It was time to return to Tucson.

After several weeks, the technician finally showed up and Tom let him in the house to hook everything up. When I arrived, there it was! The telephone worked fine, but no internet. After nearly a week, I had our friend Beto call them. I carefully listened to  understand his polite Spanish. Again they told us 24-72 hours. Again the time came and went and the little green light on the modem still was flashing.

A couple of months later, one day the phone simply stopped working. After several calls using the cell phone, Dan found out that they turned off the service because we had not paid our bill. What bill? We never got one! We had been wondering how and when the thing would turn up.

Thinking maybe it was a good idea to give them better directions to the house, we started asking around for the name of the mystery street. The woman in the Tecate Beer Depósito on the corner had no idea. No one else seemed to know either. Finally an elderly toothless man sitting on an ancient kitchen chair in the shade at the corner declared it was Calle Galo Treviño. Indeed. Galo Treviño. Who or what is Galo Treviño? Another internet project that couldn’t be done.

Dan and friend escaping the heat in the Hermosillo Walmart
Dan decided to go back to the main office in Hermosillo to straighten everything out. So in the heat of summer we dragged ourselves 2 ½ hours south to what has to be the furnace of northern Mexico. Dan came back to the car smiling. “Oh, they were so nice. Everything is taken care of. We’ll have internet service in 24-72 hours!” Lynn and I cracked up.

So Dan called them the next day. We both speak some Spanish, but on the phone it is especially difficult to understand, and people speak so rapidly. After about 30 minutes, he hung up and poured himself a celebratory scotch on the rocks. 24-72 hours!! Hope springs eternal...

After that time passed Dan started to call them every day. Always polite, he just asks them what the progress had been. Finally he ascertained that Banámichi did not have an extra port to plug us into. We have been getting occasional reassuring calls that they are working on it. I got one of these about an hour ago, but the green light is still blinking.

I have great faith that one day soon, this will all be resolved. Carlos Slim, where are you when we need you??