Fiona St ClairMarch, April, and May, before the rains arrive, are the hot months in Yucatan. The temperature hovers around 100 and occasionally edges up to 105 and more. The skies are cloudless, grasses stop growing and then dry to an even brown, and the thick stone walls of the old buildings finally absorb the heat, making nighttime temperatures almost as hot as day. And if you drive an airconditionerless ’92 Ford pickup, the hot wind coming in the open windows irrevocably snarls your hair, blows grit into your face, and does nothing for the small streams of sweat cascading down your face.
You turn the radio up a bit to hear the music over the sounds of downtown traffic. The smells of the pig farm, the market, and dusty, narrow streets enter the open window.
At the end of the day, as you strip for your shower, you notice that your left arm is yet one shade darker still and that salt stains pattern your clothes like delicate watermarks.
The bodies of the men who work with me shine with sweat as they work in the hot sun. Some labor bare-chested, while others simply roll their shirts up to expose their brown bellies. On the hottest days, some of the younger men wear a hat or bind a cloth around their heads, but the older men strip down to their shorts and move with a slightly slower rhythm. Two young men unload cement from the truck. One, straddling the bags, lifts two onto the back of his friend, who takes off at a trot into the site.
A radio blares in the corner, and a plank stretched between overturned buckets holds the remnants of the midday meal. The construction dust swirls with their movements, and by the end of the day, all are coated in the gray-white powder.
At five, I step outside to offer privacy, and a line forms to sluice off the dust and sweat under a garden hose. Clean clothes for the trip home emerge from backpacks. Hace calor, no? Un poco (It´s hot, no? A little.). And we grin. We look forward to being home. To the ritual washing away of the day’s dust and sweat, to dinner, to the quiet sway of a hammock in the dark, to the night sounds coming in through an open window.
In the First World, we have been taught to fear sun, dirt, smells, noise, calluses, and, above all, sweat. We deodorize, sanitize, and soften our bodies and our hands and highlight, condition, gel, and spray our hair. We close our windows to chill and filter and perfume the air we breathe. We want our world to smell of White Linen or Pine or Citrus. We invest in earphones, earplugs, and white noise tapes. In blinds and shades for the windows, in sunglasses for our eyes, in sunscreen for our skin. We buy wickable fabrics and vie for white collar jobs.
We grow fat, worry about our weight, and set ourselves to dieting, running a treadmill or lifting weights in a shiny, air conditioned gym.
And at the end of the day, we cannot sleep and turn restlessly, cell phone charging on the nightstand. We have forgotten.
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