It's time for a leisurely stroll on this beautiful night in Merida. The full moon lights up the the white trim on the houses and quiet finally settles into this bustling city we call home. The street lights shine dimly along the uneven sidewalks as we head towards the Santiago market. The ice cream shop is open and children play on the swings and slides. Families gather in the park to enjoy the evening coolness. Elderly women and men sit outside the front doors of their homes with chairs facing each other. They chat and enjoy the cool breeze along with greeting us and other neighbors. Some lounge in their living rooms, you can hear the sound of a television coming through the open windows. We are headed to view our future home at night. We have not looked in on the house that we are building during the evening. This will be a first. We will not enter, but enjoy viewing it from across the street.
They are asleep. A dim light shines toward the back of the house. We see brightly colored hammocks swaying in the breeze that flows from the front of the house all the way to the back. This is their home, not yet ours.
For four months they have been digging out huge boulders and removing top soil so that the pool and the house extension can be built. The boulders they haul are huge, sometimes a full foot around. They are extremely heavy and yet these little tiny fellows, not weighing probably more than 100 pounds, are able to haul them out of the ground. They stack them by size and then will use them for the foundation along with cement. The trees that they removed were cut into movable pieces and the small branches they saved for fires on which they cook their daily meals. Nothing is wasted. All reusable stone is saved for the foundation. Topsoil is saved for when the gardens will be installed. A small outdoor tub is used for bathing and the water comes from a faucet that they have managed to connect to the cistern. I am amazed by their frugality and their resourcefulness.
The skills they have are learned from others, not some school teacher or textbook. The foundations that they build look like pieces of art. The stones beautifully assembled similar to a jigsaw puzzle and then cemented into place. Their eye for piecing together the walls is amazing. Their professionalism unquestionable.
I am awed by how gracious, caring and formal they are. If I walk on the property they immediately grab their shirts and want to put them on. The culture is one of modesty. I cover my eyes, say "No hay problema, hay calor". and walk through. I greet them always and on my way out thank each and everyone of the workers personally. I am so grateful to them. They give up so much of their lives just to make a meager living and support their families. Yet, they appear to be happy. They joke and laugh as they work. Theirs is a well oiled team. There are no fancy bulldozers or equipment. Just them, their shovels and picks. Pieces of wood are used to pry up and remove rocks. Wheel barrels are run back and forth piled high with stones and dirt. Ramps are made from pieces of wood left on the property. Leftover large plastic containers provide support for thin pieces of wood for a few benches. During their breaks they eat and rest on the floor. One reads a newspaper, others chat during their lunch hour and some sleep. Lunch is around one when the temperature rises to an unbearable level. Work is best done early in the day before the temperature becomes searing. There is no shade in the areas where they work outside. Some work inside, removing the plaster from the walls so the channels can be made for the electrical and plumbing.
I wish I spoke their language, I would love to know about their families. I hope they are happy at home, that their children and wives understand how difficult their lives are during their laborious week. I feel so distant from them and yet I adore them. How can such a simple and hard life be carried out with so much elegance and grace? Maybe I am romanticizing and yet they appear to be incredibly happy while they are doing such hard labor.
At some point in time they will move on to another job, another site. I don't want to mourn that day yet. Other workers will appear to do finishing work, things that take much longer. But these men who endeared themselves to me, will not fade from my memory. They are special.
-Ann Marie Brown