Thursday, May 2, 2013

Booze and the campo

As much as I have tried to understand the lifestyles of the folks who live in the small towns surrounding the ranch—by visiting with them, giving them rides to San Miguel and talking with them, attending fiestas and religious occasions and doing small favors, among other gestures—life there often remains as incomprehensible as a Chinese soap opera.

The most recent episode took place this weekend and sent our gardener Félix to the emergency room of the general hospital with cuts and bruises on his scalp, left temple and eye, and on his right hand. According to him, he was at a wedding where some guy jumped on Félix' teenage nephew. When he  tried to break it up, the aggressor—who was wearing a set of brass knuckles—threw Félix on the ground and beat the daylights out of him.

Attacking someone at a wedding? With brass knuckles? Why did the other guests apparently stand by while Félix was on the ground as if they were watching a cockfight? What the hell kind of wedding is this?

Sadly, this was a fairly common fiesta in the Mexican campo. During the three-and-a-half years we've lived here we've heard of shootings and stabbings during soccer games, and brawls large and small during town fiestas and other festivities.
Down at the fiesta. 

We've been to some of those events and can attest that alcohol, if not a fuel is certainly an accelerant to some of these encounters, which typically erupt when someone's macho-ness is called into question in some way.

Town fiestas—including religious celebrations that start out with a morning mass and much pomp and religiosity—inevitably start sliding off the rails by midday when cases upon cases of beer appear from nowhere. By sunset the noise level drops noticeably as a lot of people leave and those left behind are well nigh plastered.

At Félix' own wedding party on a Saturday we left at around three o'clock after we noticed that an increasing number of the guests had lost their ability to focus or speak clearly. Félix didn't come to work the next Monday.

Sometimes I believe Félix has adopted me as a surrogate father or confessor, as when he tells me sad tales of alcoholism in his own family and in the town where he lives. His own dad, he has told me, was a down-on-the-gutter drunk who quit drinking mainly because he was too old and broke to continue. I suppose that's as good a reason to quit as any.

So a few times I have imparted on Félix the basic Alcoholic Anonymous pep talk, if you can call it that, about the symptoms of the disease and the fact it is often inherited. He nods somberly, thanks me and apparently stays of the wagon for several weeks, I suspect if nothing else for fear of losing his job.

I asked Félix if he was drunk during the fighting incident and he said he had only one beer, which became two when I asked him how he was feeling the next day. I suspect it might have been more like four or five.

Both Stew and I hope that if Félix has a problem with alcohol he's able to deal with it soon. Living with a wife and two kids in a one-room house with no indoor plumbing, amid a tribe of unemployed kin would be, as some would say, enough to drive anyone to drink.

Except that from personal experience we know that whatever problems Félix has, booze will only make them ten times worse.


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