Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Family from Another View

San Miguel is the only town on the island of Cozumel, located off the shore of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.  Like much of Mexico, the land is nearly barren, growing primarily scrub bushes, and wandering off the main roadway that circles the south end of the island will put a tourist into thick brush and will coat him with the dust that is everywhere.

Here and there impoverished families live out in this bush, though most of the residents live in San Miguel itself, and primarily they exist by selling their goods to the tourists that come, whether to stay at a local resort or by way of a short visit from the cruise boats that come in weekly, to sit in the sun or to scuba dive.  If not in sales, the locals are serving in a restaurant or manning the many boating operations housed there.

On Sundays, their day of rest, they gather along the beaches that run from downtown to the hotel zone on the north end, and on Sunday evenings many gather as families in the town square to listen to a local band.  The group is mostly brass and percussion with an excellent female soloist. They play popular Mexican music, and most of the locals dance.  From time to time brave tourists join in, and the young male locals are cruising for dance partners among them.  Good dancers are successful in attracting partners, but if not, the visitors tend to stray away.

The children are beautiful and well-behaved, the family a cornerstone of the Mayan culture as you can see from the photo above.  Normally the kids are running about playing with each other, often inter-mingling with the tourists, while the parents sit and visit quietly, perhaps eating delicious ice cream (coconut is a favorite), or sometimes dancing.

Among the many dancers, one particular couple stands out.  They are in their 80s and walk slowly from the short stone wall that surrounds the square to the middle of the uneven dance floor, where he holds up his left hand for her to grasp, slips his right hand behind her back while she puts her left hand on his upper arm - and they glide away.  For song after song their dignity stands out amongst all the dancers.  And every Sunday night they come back for more.

It's also a great place for the young men to hang out with their girlfriends, who are wearing high heels and bright red lipstick to contrast against their skin.  There's a lot of hand-holding and swaying back and forth if not dancing, and often they look dreamily into each other's eyes.

When the band is done, the families like the one pictured will probably hop on their moped to speed away, the young child propped between dad's legs in front and mom sitting sidesaddle behind him.  Sometimes the baby is sitting on mom's sidesaddle lap.  As dangerous as it is, accidents are rare.

By day everyone returns to their work.  One young mother has marked her turf at a corner of the same square where the dancing goes on, and daily is offering bracelets, belts and sashes for sale, at the same time tending to her two youngsters, one in a sling on her back and the other now old enough to navigate from an unseen leash, always within range of his mother.  She gently approaches the tourists, with a shy smile on her face when she holds up her goods, her two children obediently quiet at all times.

It's an ultimately simple family life with many of the same symptoms of the hometown where you grew up 50-some years ago.  Disregard the poverty and the workstyle and it's just like home.

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