Chismear (verb, meaning “to gossip”). A few days ago Janet (pronounced Yah-nette) and Dolores, her mom, and I are sitting around the table in the courtyard, gossiping about village life. Dolores had just come back from a family funeral; the brother of her deceased father in law, age 94, had just passed, and it was a time for mourning and for catching up on the talk about town. The hot feature of the day was news of a 14 year old boy who was a classmate of the Chavez’ youngest son, Omar, who had just married at 20 year old woman. The woman had moved in with the boy’s family, as is the custom for newlyweds. When Omar asked the boy at school, “what were you thinking,” the youngster replied that he was in love. To make money, he intended to drop out of school and become a tuk-tuk driver, ferrying about passengers to and from the crucero or to the market or the torilleria for 10 pesos a ride in the 3-wheeler moto-taxi. So, there we are sitting around the table, engaging in chismiendo — gossiping — about this turn of events in Teotitlan, a town of 8,000, where news of anything unusual or an impropriety travels fast. Of course, everyone at the funeral (a two-day affair, including a mass and open house with lots of food, beer and mezcal) couldn’t resist the commentary of what a 14 year old boy was doing with a 20 year old woman and why the boy’s mother didn’t put her foot down. We got a lot of mileage out of that one! The next day, another sort of tragedy happened that was far worse, and the chismiendo became one of social commentary and revisiting the values of family and behavior. A young father had been at a Saturday wedding, had too much to drink, and with his 5-year old daughter in the car, crossed over the center line going 80 km per hr, and hit a truck twice the size of his car in a head on collision. The mother was at home with her 7 week old son. The child was airlifted to the hospital in Oaxaca with a severed spinal chord and head injuries, heavily sedated to keep her from moving until the doctors could figure out what to do next. Chismiendo continued all week between families and friends, the transgressions of the father who could not remember the accident, what would happen, who was at fault most — the father or the one in the big truck who also may have crossed the center line, and what life would be like for this child if she survived. Eric’s cousin, Pedro, is a neurological surgeon and is was he who did the successful 6 hour operation several days later. The child has movement in her legs and arms and with physical therapy will regain mobility, which is the great news. As we sat around the table, talking about this, revisiting numerous times the details of the accident, the impact on the future of this family, of drinking excessively during the multitude of fiestas and celebrations around life cycle events that are continuous in the village, we explored how the reviewing of events imparts an important way of reemphasizing the values, norms and mores of the culture — that family is core, that parents must always be thinking about the well-being and safety of their children first, that drinking and driving responsibly is essential and that family and friends must also take responsibility, too, for the behavior of those who put their lives and those of their children in jeopardy. The accident was a tragic reminder of what can happen when people don’t pay attention to the consquences of their behavior.
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