|Jul/Aug 2011 Travel|
Photo by David Graham
Please turn the lights off when you leave the room, Jose requested of us. But we forgot every time, only to be gently reminded by him again. His English was halting and accented, but correct. The owner of the hostel was a gringo, a Canadian transplant. Must've fled the chaotic yuppie life of urban north America, we surmised. Jose was there, every night, doing the graveyard shift. He was there to let us in, at nine p.m. one night and one a.m. the next, on Christmas Eve. It was Christmas Eve in a Catholic country,so we stepped out to attend Midnight Mass, hoping for a picture-perfect syncretic celebration of the birth of Christ in the Catholic and Mayan Yucatecan tradition of Merida. All the Churches were closed. So, no Christmas Mass, but the zocalo across from the main cathedral was teeming with locals and tourists alike, swaying to reggae music pouring out of the many bars dotting its periphery.
So, yeah, Jose had to let us in a little past midnight. We stayed in the next evening, hoping to work a "chat with a local," chalking up easy-to-recall memories of "Oh, the the Yucatecans are very friendly," to dole out at dinner conversations with friends back in the ATL.
Jose the receptionist soon morphed into Jose the Yucatecan, and then Jose a once-med student who renounced medical school in favor of engineering to stay close to his parents. Jose the engineer traveled far and wide—to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and El Salvador. And Louisiana. He attended school in Louisiana. We never asked him why his family returned to Mexico. He learned about hard work and honesty in the U.S., he told us. A thwack on his buttocks from his teacher in middle school still ricochets. He works three jobs now to put his grown kids through law school: the graveyard shift at the Peregrino, as plant supervisor in the morning, and then as a production engineer for a few hours later in the day. "I enjoy it," he tells us,in his soft voice. "It's good."
The toilet flush in our room won't work, but I don't tell Jose. He is an engineer who has traveled far and wide and now works three jobs to put his kids through law school in Mexico.