Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Pyramids at Teotichuacan

Mario Perez has been driving taxis since he was fourteen. The chauffeur assigned responsibility for the safety of Bill’s consulting team, Mario works eighteen- and twenty-hour days. As he cannot afford a car of his own, he must take some other form of transport to and from work, which means his day starts at 4 AM and ends after 11 PM. He never complains. Such hours are just a fact of life.

I met Mario in May 2000 on a whirlwind trip to Mexico City. This trip included a day spent with my husband Bill at work—attending meetings, touring site facilities, meeting fellow consultants and team members, a day alone spent touring the awesome National Museum of Anthropology, and two days of compressed sightseeing in which we visited various ancient sections of the city, shrines, pyramids, and a day trip to the distant mountain city of Taxco. But over-riding the experience of such wondrous and memorable sights was getting to know the Perez family.

Mario’s broad face beamed next to Bill’s from the other side of the custom’s checkpoint when I arrived at 11:30 PM Wednesday night. Although I’d never seen Mario before, there was no missing the delight that emanated from that wide smile. Bill had described it often enough. I was to bask in the warmth of that smile during the next two days.

By Friday, I felt confident enough of the understanding couched in that smile to babble away in my dreadful Spanish, certain that Mario understood everything I was saying. As he explained the details of the trips he had planned for us that weekend, however, I struggled to grasp its outline—the grandchildren, eight-year old Giovanni and nine-year old Stefania, who would join us on Saturday as we toured the city; his wife, Margarita, who would accompany us to Taxco on Sunday.

On Saturday, Mario arrived early with his two grandchildren and set off with us for the pyramids of Teotihuacan. He dropped us off in front of the pyramids and assigning us care of his grandchildren, drove to the parking lot to wait for us. His legs were giving him trouble and there would be a lot of walking.

We were well into our adventure when, while climbing the pyramids at Teotihuacan, Stefania got her outfit dirty. Just a smudge, mind you, but she was preoccupied with this dirt. I helped her wet a paper towel and we tried to remove the smudge but without much success. I retain a vivid image of this little girl as she rubbed at her shorts with a dampened piece of paper towel. I tried to ease her worry by saying that it was only dirt and would come out in the wash, but this didn't comfort her. She was wearing her best outfit and her mother had told her to keep it clean. Her parents probably sacrificed so that she'd be well dressed for this event, and I felt badly for her.

As Stefania and I worked at the dirt on her shorts, Bill disappeared into the heart of the museum with Giovanni. Worried about losing them, I gave Stefania my handkerchief and suggested she use that. Still busily rubbing as we entered the room where a huge model of Teotichuacan stretched below us, Stefania somehow lost hold of the handkerchief. It fluttered through a space in the glass floor over which we walked. It landed neatly on top of a temple roof and covered its steps. No amount of stretching could retrieve it.

Other tourists who had purchased ornate spears from the vendors at the pyramids, attempted to lift the handkerchief for us without success. It doesn't matter, I said, taking Stefania by the hand. Let's go find Bill and Giovanni. But Stefania wasn't to be deterred. She insisted we stay until the hankie had been rescued. Finally a guard, who sat beside an open tomb where the skeletons of five ritually slain maidens lay exposed, took a hooked stick and sauntered toward the spot where the hankie languished-- its retrieval apparently just another fairly routine event in the life of that museum guard.


tinker said...

What a touching story, Beryl, and so well-told... I can almost see everyone involved in the handkerchief rescue operations, especially.

Pris said...

Very good post!!

I see in the sidebar that your husband was in for a CAT scan. Is everything okay?

christine said...

I went to Taxco once, and climbed the mountain to the temple, an arduous climb over huge boulders.

Teotihuacan is beyond words. Funny,though how the hankie and the little girl became much more immediate for you. I can tell you must be a real people person.

Sweet photo of the children.