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Survival techniques and raw country wisdom

Chucha — Maria de Jesus — Anzaldo was a small wiry woman of about 60 when I first met her in the 1960s.

She spent a good part of her day sitting under an arbor formed by rough-barked, python-sized copa de oro vines, smoking cheap puros and El Farol cigarettes and keeping close watch over the rocky burro trail that skirted the edge of Lake Chapala.

Up the hill from her house ran a raw dry-season road that originated in the town of Chapala. It was a narrow dirt road, frequently blocked in both the rainy and the dry season by derrumbes (minor landslides). This pleased Chucha considerably. The buses, lurching and snarling their way to and from Chapala would pause while the drivers and their assistants got out to try to move boulders and other mountainside debris. This gave Chucha the opportunity to hobble with near-childlike nimbleness uphill with a platter of vegetables and fruits she raised and sweets she made to hawk to waiting bus riders. She also dispensed medicinal herbs and cooked charales and whitefish. Some of her neighbors said Chucha helped her business by climbing the mountainside above the bus route at night to loosen rocks so they would fall and block the road.

Whenever a bus would cough to a stop, Chucha would cock her head and put down her smoke. “Listen. That road must be blocked again. Those poor people jailed in that thing will be hungry so early in the morning.” She would snatch up her filled charola — made of a hammered-out gallon oil can — and trot up the path, waving her reed cane, calling “Oye, oye, poor passengers. I have mangos, platanos, guayabas and pitayas. You haven’t had your almuerzo yet, have you, neighbors? This driver’s gotten you up so early and you’ve got a long way to go. Look at that boulder. Better have a few charales, good friends. You won’t get out of this mess soon.”

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