Molly told me a disturbing story. I was back in St. Louis and my house in the jungle was being renovated when a young European couple moved into the unfinished construction and camped in my house for months until Luis Felipe got wind of it and chased them away. The young woman had even given birth on the concrete built-in base for my bed. I was horrified imagining the bloody birth in my own bedroom, and the risk the woman had endured giving birth in the middle of a dusty, dirty construction site. Squatters are not uncommon in that part of the country, I learned. If they stay long enough they can lay legal claim to the property, according to Luis Felipe. For the first time I realized how vulnerable my house and I would be. Molly told me to hire a caretaker and suggested Eliseo, a young Mayan laborer who worked part-time for one of the other homeowners. All the other caretakers spoke highly of him.
Eliseo and his family lived next door to me in a stick house with a palapa roof that had once been a garage owned by his part-time boss. He could keep an eye on my house when I was away and work for me when I was living in it. The day he came to my house to meet me, his wife, Sebastiana was with him, though at first I didn’t know why she was there. Eliseo was handsome, with a captivating smile and an easy, calm manner. We connected immediately. Sebastiana, small and shy, stood behind her husband as he and I talked. Neither one of them spoke English, though Eliseo was fluent in Spanish; Sebastiana knew only Nahuatl, her native Mayan tongue. With gestures and facial expressions and the little I understood in Spanish, Eliseo explained that he and his wife were a team. He would take care of the pool and the yard and Sebastiana would clean inside the house. They would split the salary of $4.00 for a half-day’s work, three days a week. I couldn’t imagine paying them so little and talked to Molly about it later, wanting to up their salary to $5.00. She warned me against giving them more than the $4.00 he asked as it would upset the other homeowners if I did.
This was my first experience with the unfair treatment that lower classes in Mexico received, expected and accepted. Mayans are at the bottom of the social structure and are held in contempt by Mexicans and others. In spite of their illustrious ancient past as developers of the science of astronomy, calendar systems, hyroglyphic writing, and the building of elaborate pyramids and other structures all without the use of metal tools, modern day Mayans are treated as blacks have historically been treated in the US, with open abuse and hostility, discrediting and suppressing their abilities. But I was sure from our first meeting that Eliseo, Sebastiana and I would do well together, with or without language. From that day forward I did whatever I could for them, though that turned out to be nothing in comparison for what they did for me.
Eliseo saved my life.