We were invited to a birthday party for a four year old boy, a son of some friends of our former landlords. We went along with another couple who are renting the same downstairs apartment that we lived in last fall. The boy’s extended family live in a small village about a half-hour’s drive west of San Miguel. The entire village was moved to higher ground years ago when they dammed the river to make a reservoir . As we drove out there we could tell that the recent rains had only lightly colored the hills with fresh green. What is supposed to be a drenching, daily thunderstorm this time of year has so far only materialized as infrequent showers. The reservoir is of no use to them because they don’t have the water rights and the money isn’t there to put in the pipes and pumps.
We turned down a dirt road by the town’s shuttered clinic which is staffed only on weekends, and pulled up alongside the Aunt’s house. Boniface and her sister and brother came out to greet us, “Boni” gave us the welcome of special guests by offering her cheek for kisses. We entered the property briefly to meet their burro and some chickens ambling in a tidy little courtyard. The brother brought out a small stone sculpture of a dog he had made and gave it to our friend. It was a special order for someone back in San Miguel that she was enlisted to deliver. The hound was a sad-eyed mutt but sensitively carved and we passed it around with compliments to the artist.
The party took place up the road a little further at a modest house with a wonderful view towards the Presa de Allende (the reservoir) and San Miguel behind. We met the entire family of aunts, sisters and grandparents. We also met the honored guest, the serious faced little four year old who was to have his “cumpleanos” celebrated that afternoon. Tables and chairs appeared from inside and we gathered around for an early supper of tomato-y chicken soup and crisp tortillas.
The grandfather was an unending source of merriment for us as we listened to one story after another emerge from him accompanied by his smiles and laughter, all directed at us through piercing, playful eyes. Stefanie and I tried to follow the Spanish with our growing (still brutally limited) language skills. With key bits of help from our translating friends, we were able to mostly follow. And certainly the spirit of joy in the story-telling was not lost on us.
After “tres leches” birthday cake (a fantastically moist Mexican concoction) and “Happy Birthday to You” (in English, which really tickled our hosts), we headed out into the campo to see their bean and maize plots. Listening to our friends talk about the dry weather and seeing the obvious concern on their faces, it was apparent that the maize crop, which had been planted a second time this year, was again hanging in the balance. We headed down a dry canyon and up onto the far side where the maize plot sat, small shoots inching up tentatively from the dry, rocky earth. Spread out in front of the field was a spectacular landscape. Below us was the lake in which stood the ruins of an old hacienda’s grain storage tower. The old pueblo’s church was there too, but it held to dry land and at the water’s edge.
Beyond we could see San Miguel up against the side of higher mountains and all around lay the rolling desert foothills, glowing in late-afternoon sun. The grandfather, in fine mid-sixties form, entertained us by whipping rocks into the far distance with his rope-style slingshot. He talked about having rock fights in the past with others on distant ridges and about how he could rangle cattle back onto the trails with a well-aimed pellet. The guys all had to have a go at the handmade sling. I let two rocks fly and I think I felt something pop in my shoulder on the second.
The grandfather regained the sling and let go on one last rock, sending it high into the sky. Someone yelled “Make it rain!” and we all laughed. Returning to the village, Boniface recalled years when the dry arroyos would fill with the runoff from abundant rainfall. This year is different as they are made to sit in their new town high above the reservoir, to watch the skies and wait.