Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lomas Bonitas

The colonia of Lomas Bonitas sits high above the valley, nestled against the mountain, with a panoramic view of the Bahia de Todos Santos. The mountains on the north side jut up from the Pacific Ocean, pulling back and east, before they crash back to the sea on the south side of the coast, revealing a long and somewhat narrow agricultural valley. On a clear day, the steep point at the southern end of the bay is clearly etched against the hard blue sky. To the north, the straight, dark lines of Ensenada’s streets’ pave the valley floor, leading to a cruise ship that dwarfs the port. Immediately below the village lay the well- ordered fields of corn, broccoli, onions, something that looks like anise. Baja comes in only two colours, brown and blue, and from Lomas Bonitas, it is clear that even the fields of broccoli, covered in a powdery loam, are really just another shade of tan, a khaki, but still brown. The crystalline blue of the Pacific mirrored in the sun-filled sky and the hard brown earth, a desert without water and only rock, wash out to white oblivion in photos, with perhaps a silhouette blocking out the blazing sun.

The drive up to Lomas Bonitas from the valley floor isn’t long, but it is best taken slowly. The roads are pock-marked and pitted from the occasional heavy rains and the inevitable spinouts that result. The road wraps around the back of the mountain and turns, insisting on an impossible trajectory straight up, passing through Las Flores and its two-storied weather-beaten church, and finally arriving at the crest of the mountain, an almost cliff ledge overlooking the valley and sea below. This is Lomas Bonitas.

Andrew and I are with Abram, a big, soft man with silver hair, black wrap-around sunglasses, and large paw-like hands. He has stopped his jeep and gets out in front of a small property, less than ten meters squared. In front of the jeep sits a small concrete slab, to the left of the slab is a long, narrow shelter with a clothes line and a small garden in front. The dwelling is made from the wooden flats used for shipping boxes of produce, which are nailed together and stacked so as to provide slatted walls. Blue tarps are stretched over a center beam and tied down, forming a roof. At the other end of the clothes line stands a small, partially open toilet. Along the side of the property is a small garden with a flower plant and some cactus, a common food in Mexico. Another small potted plant is nailed next to the doorway. Abram, who speaks almost no English, introduces us to a solid, dark woman from Oaxaca Sebastiana who is half my height. She and her two children, Rosio and Jidel, invite us into their small house.

Her sister is in today as well, visiting, and she and her four boys gather up three crates, placing them in the centre of the room and draping clothes over them to form chairs for us. Sebastiana, Rosio and Jidel sit on their bed. The inside of their house is clean and tidy. They have no furniture. The bed is a piece of plywood set on cinderblocks with a blanket over the top. Cinderblocks and plywood also form a makeshift table that doubles as a kitchen counter. In one corner, a third make-shift table forms the kitchen, with an old, portable two burner stove running off a small gas tank. Plywood and cardboard line the walls on the inside of the house, providing protection from the constant wind. Nails in the plywood hold a pot, a potato peeler, a ceramic mug. Next to the door, an empty soda bottle cut in half, is nailed to the wall, serving as a toothbrush and soap holder. The floor is hard packed dirt.

Sebastiana’s husband has died recently in an accident. They had bought the land, planning to build a house, send their children to school, provide for them a better life than theirs of working on the farms below. Now that he’s dead, she is trying to provide this dream for her children. She refuses to let them go off to work with her in the fields, even though Rosio is 13 and in most families she would be expected to help support the family. Instead, she puts most of her meager income toward paying about $200 a year for her children’s education, leaving very little for luxuries, like a bed or other furniture.

In the second week of June, a small house, with a floor, windows, and a shingled roof will be built for Sebastiana, Rosio and Jidel on the concrete slab in front of the jeep. The children are all smiles, in part for the house, in part because Andrew is taking their picture and they love the attention and the encouragement to perform. The Rosio and I chat about school; she enjoys all her subjects although at times the work is difficult. In a year and a bit, she will be starting secondary school, which is not free, as primary school is in Mexico. But Sebastiana is smiling, certain that God will provide, as he always has.

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