My long-broken elbow makes me a sort of unconscious ambassador.
For several decades since the bike accident, I have appeared to be giving the Windsor wave as I walk. This open handed posture is used to compensate for not being able to straighten out at the elbow and to achieve some balance not to win friends and influence people. In New York where eye contact is rare, I would only once in a while get a wave back. Here, in tiny Panajachel, my mild affliction has long triggered an abundance of smiles and greetings from Mayan neighbors. It is only recently, that I understand enough and can speak that I have begun to get the depth and wit of these people.
For example, the other day I was, as usual, quaffing shrimp in dreamy Vietnamese coconut milk at ToBE and had been invited to sit at one of the owners’ tables. We were listening in to a Mayan woman, who was offering advice over dinner. I was winking back at the shrimp that were poking out of luscious broth when I heard the advisor mention “Dollarization.”
“What do you mean by ‘Dollarization?'” I asked in my astonished and feeble Spanish. The advisor said that Guatemala informally used the dollar for decades and then she picked up the thread of her conversation. After she left, I enthused about this arcane reference with my host.
“The first time I met the advisor she mentioned “Maya Cosmovision” during a budget meeting,” said the owner.
Further uptown, my Maya Quiche friend Rosa (of Patanatic) is sharing 20 of her children with me. We are now planning a big trip by minivan north to Totonicipan –where many of the families migrated from during the war. So in preparation, Rosa thought I should have a black/red/white guipel of my own to show that I too was a “daughter of Totonicapan.” Once she tailored that to me, she got really creative and invited me to appear when the Gringas arrived in late February. On the day in question, all the local ladies from the co-operative showed up in our Quipel. Most wore a solid red belt and all had some version of a black and white Ikat skirt (corte.) Rosa’s mother loaned me one for the day.. The fabric is double folded waist to ankle and about as long as a sheet; that is why it hangs so beautifully –as if starched. They wrapped it loosely around me so that the open crease could adjusted and lined up with a pleat (on either side of the hips.) Then they tightened the belt around to give me a tidy waist. They even found my (giant) size in the little slippers that they wear and did my hair in braids with a ribbon tying them together. I believe that the Gringas were properly surprised by the “ringer” in the welcoming dance.
I was so happy with how I looked that I wore the traje back in to town to show off. On the way in, I see “Indian Sarah” coming up the road. (Remember, “Indian Sarah” has been wearing full traje for thirty years and speaks English with a Bronx accent.) So, I motion “Look at me,” sweeping my crooked arm down from my shoulders to my toes. And, when she finally comes astride me, she looks me up and down very slowly and says in her gravelly voice. “Enjoy.”