For the past few weeks, I have been working via email with a student who is pursuing her Masters degree in Epidemiology. I review papers, do translations, and help her coordinate international research opportunities. We met once in person for five minutes. Two weeks ago she invited me to travel with her to her home in Silao, Mexico. Her letter was two days out and the last thing that I wanted to do was to spend the weekend traveling on buses and hanging out with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I had just moved into my new apartment after a long week at work and I wanted to sleep and get to know Mexico City. I said yes because I knew I’d regret not going. Rubí and I spent all Saturday in transit and arrived in a city called Irapuato around 8:45 pm where her dad and sister were waiting to pick us up. My only images of Irapuato are dark sheets of rain and prostitutes lining the muddy streets. We got home just in time to see Floyd Mayweather begin to beat up the Mexican hometown hero Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on the TV.
Besides a dangerous incident that occurred while I was running one of the mornings, the weekend passed like a dream. We spent the first day walking around Guanajuato, a cobblestone city nestled in and wrapped around mountains that’s so ethereal it seems like it shouldn’t exist. The architecture is entirely colonial and the tunnels snaking below the roads in the center of town keep many central streets entirely pedestrian. Don Quixote statues appeared on almost every corner with Sancho Panza eternally squat and enduring. It seemed like all of the stores and cafés were out of some Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, buildings with huge stone entrances and airy plazas inside. Rubí told me numerous site-specific legents, and they all involved a beautiful woman, duplicity, and murder. However, the sightseeing which we continued in Leon, Queretaro, and Silao, was second only to the people I was staying with.
Most of our time was spent at the “ranch,” the tiny family home of Rubí’s grandparents on her mother’s side, was just outside Silao. The house was small, and the yard was full of animals and muddy animal waste. I was proudly told that the tiny adobe house which kept warm in the cold and cold in the warmth was the only such building left in the village. This was where the extended family came to cook, eat, and be together. I spent hours sitting with cousins, aunts, neighbors, friends, and second cousins stuffing myself with homemade móle and tamales. It’s easy to make friends when you’re eating. I even got a special phone call from one family member long after I had left. It was Alondra, the 6 year-old who I sat with sifting flour and making Atóle. She lived at the ranch with her mom and grandparents and took Rubí and I on tours of the village. I let her use the better sifter because she was very convincing, only to be rewarded by abuse for being slow.
I returned to Mexico City with my backpack stuffed with tamales and sweets. I was even clean-shaven after Rubí’s dad forced me to take one of the new razors he had bought, along with the sunglasses that I had complimented him for. I will subsequently be more judicious about little comments I make. The kindness and generosity of the people I met was humbling, and I hope to pay it forward some day.