Chocolate and Caramel Ch. 02byqhml1©
We arrived in Mexico, to a small town about forty miles from Mexico City. Culture shock doesn't begin to describe it.
I knew I was in a different world when I asked where the quality control equipment was stored, and they took me around back, to where it was still sitting in the shipping crates, in the weather, Some of it was ruined.
There was also a twenty acre pasture. Very few of our workers had cars. It was bikes, scooters and motorcycles, burros and horses, or they simply walked.
One of the hardest concepts for the workers to grasp was punctuality. They treated shift starts as more of a suggestion than a rule. I finally called the workers in in small groups, explained our goals in detail, gave them a weeks grace to get used to it, and started enforcing the attendance policy. After I fired the first three, the rest fell in line. I rehired the three after six months and never had another problem.
Another culture clash was the lunch period. At home, we worked a straight eight hours, taking twenty minutes for lunch, never stopping the machines.
Here, it was a fight to limit it to one hour. These people didn't carry sandwiches in a cooler or lunch bag, lunch was something of a production for them.
Don't get me wrong, they were excellent workers, loyal, intelligent, quick to understand. We were paying what amounted to twice what anyone else in the area was, so we got the cream of the crop. There were two more manufacturing facilities in town, a shirt factory and a knitting mill, and there was a little resentment. They actually had to raise wages to keep their people.
It took six months to get production up to speed. We tended to work a lot of overtime during that phase, something the workers weren't that keen about. I found that surprising.
"We work to live, hefe," explained Carlos, one of the lead men, "we don't live to work."
Interesting concept, to an American.
The two primary roads through town were all right, especially the one to Mexico City. All the secondary roads were unpaved, ranging from smooth gravel to goat paths. I had my trusty Cherokee brought down, along with a motorcycle, a 750cc Triumph I had bought just before we left.
A smaller Honda or Yamaha would have been better, but I had always liked British bikes. It was my main form of transportation.
Josh loved it in Mexico. Being a child, he assimilated and picked up the language much faster than I did. He also made friends a lot easier, kids are kids wherever you are, and nobody noted the color of his skin. In fact, if it weren't for his hair, he looked like a local with his light brown skin.
He attended a school set up just for us, a few dozen kids ranging from kindergarten to high school seniors. They were set up in two rooms and the classes were mixed, kindergarten through sixth in one room, seventh through twelfth in the other. It was further divided by teachers, three to a room. The company paid for everything. Despite the conditions, the standard of learning was high.
We lived in a little enclave for awhile, but a house became available that I fell in love with.
An old plantation house, left over from when large farms dotted the area. The land was long gone, but the house and grounds were still well taken care of.
A low, rambling house with wide verandas, set up like a square U, living room, dining room, and kitchen in the middle, bedrooms in the wings. Red tile roof set off by fresh coats of whitewash.
There was a barn, ten acres of pasture, and a large field for a garden if we wished.
It also came with a maid, a cook, and a groundskeeper, all one family living separately in a three bedroom bungalow.
I got the house, rent and wages included, for less than my house payment at home. I had gotten a ten thousand dollar a year raise for coming, and was banking half my pay with plenty left over.
I let Gail and Gram live in my house rent free.
What can I sat about the food? I loved it. Always a sucker for spicy food, Mrs. Rodriguez started out mild for Josh and I, but when I tasted what she cooked for her family I threatened to fire her if she didn't do the same for us. She just smiled and tried to set my mouth on fire. You couldn't make it too hot for Josh.
I insisted they eat with us for the evening meal, it gave us a family atmosphere that we appreciated. Very reticent at first, soon they were just as vocal as any family could be. Josh called them aunt as uncle as a sign of respect, and they loved it. Serafina, their seventeen year old daughter, was our maid. Engaged to be married, she was saving her money. Since I paid her, I knew she didn't make much money as a maid, so I got her a job at the plant when she turned eighteen. Mrs. Rodriguez brought her widowed sister in to replace her.
She took it as personal affront that I was single, and soon I got to noticing nieces and friends of nieces would show up for the Sunday meals. Her idea of throwing hints would be to point out their attributes.
"Look at her hips, 'Berto, just made for throwing babies. And look at her breasts, high, firm, they'll fill with milk easily. Comes from an old family, good stock, that one."
They were an earthy people. Despite her best efforts and the obvious signs of interest from the girls, I remained single. I was still gun shy.
This was before cell phones, so we wrote letters and made once monthly phone calls to Gram, Gail, and my family.
Gail wrote me long letters sometimes. Mostly she avoided it, but occasionally she would mention Shondra. She married Marcus, and was expecting a child. Oddly, it didn't bother me as much as it would have once, where I was made the whole thing seem unreal. I could see her in some of Josh's features now and then, and I would remember.
We were happy once, or at least I was, but upon reflection I wondered if she ever was truly satisfied. I think being raised without regular parents, especially a father figure, didn't allow her to develop male role models, and that asshole Marvin[sensei]introduced her to sex way too early. Whatever, it wasn't my problem anymore.
The thing I missed most about home was my dojo. There just wasn't anything local. I had all my equipment, and still worked out four times a week, but it wasn't the same.
I started teaching Josh at four, and now at age eight, if he tested, he would probably be a brown belt equivalent in the Japanese style, a green belt in the Chinese style.
We had neighbors, and we were 'rich gringos' to most of them. That made the kids buddy up to Josh, because we had the best snacks. Tia Rodriguez kept a close eye on them, making sure nobody overindulged. She grumbled a little, but she was from a large family, third of fourteen, and had eight herself, so she liked a lot of people around. A lot of their snacks she made herself.
I ended up teaching about six boys and four girls the basics twice a week. The boys grumbled about the girls at first, but soon acclimated. Josh was my assistant instructor.
I tried to teach them respect, and constraint, something that I still sometimes lacked personally. One thing I learned, the more advanced you are, the more peaceful you seemed to be. You just get to the point where you don't have to prove anything to anybody, including yourself. I wasn't quite there yet, but I was working on it.
We had some new equipment flown in from Brazil, and they sent an engineer to help us set it up.
Roberto was a small man, about five five and one forty[I still thought in pounds and inches]but very knowledgeable and a good guy. I had him stay with me so he didn't have to commute all the way from Mexico City.
He watched me teach my Saturday class. They had been at it for twelve weeks, and were progressing nicely. I had bought material, and Tia Rodriguez and her sister sewed up some uniforms for them. I wanted to stress that they belonged to something, something special. They would proudly wear their uniforms to practice, then change and give them to us at the end of the session. Tia would wash them and have them fresh for next practice. We were the only ones with a washing machine.
I was qualified to teach, so I contacted my old master, and he sent me the paperwork to make it official. It only cost a small fee, and I was able to teach to second degree black belt level.
I was still teaching a mix of both styles, but I made sure they had the skills they needed for the Chinese version.
Roberto smiled as he watched, and asked what style, I explained the mixture.
"Ah" he said, "I'm the same. I have a belt in the Brazilian style of jui jutsu, and I also do lucha libre wrestling, a descendant of catch fighting. Basically it's wrestling an opponent into submission. The Mexicans have their own version, it's very popular on television."
Indeed it was. Twice a week, Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons. Josh loved it, and had his favorites. I'm pretty sure he was cursing in Spanish one night at the screen.
It wasn't just him. Popular fighters had almost rock star status, and it was nothing for supporters to fall out over them in the cantinas.
Every town of any size had its' own gym, where would be heroes trained and wrestled where they could. Bullrings, town halls, school gyms, wherever there was enough room. They didn't make much, but if fueled their dreams, and enough made it to the big time to keep them going.
We talked about fighting styles for almost two hours, before we broke and got ready to leave. We were going into Mexico City, spending the night. I had already made the reservations.
I hadn't had a serious relationship with anyone yet, so about once a month I left Josh in the capable hands of Tio Rodriguez and went into Mexico City. It had a thriving night life, with lots of clubs, and yes, I pretty much got laid as often as I wanted.
We hit the rooms, got dressed, ate at a nice restaurant, hit the clubs and went hunting.
The dances were a bit different down here, but if you can learn how to do martial arts it's pretty easy to learn to dance.
Serafina and her cousins taught me a lot while her husband and their dates would laugh at me until they couldn't stand it anymore, then they would jump in and help. I wasn't outstanding, but I was better than average.
We danced until three, hooking up with two Latin beauties who were into foreigners. We were walking distance to our hotel, so we strolled, arms linked, laughing and having a good time.
They came out of nowhere, five guys who didn't have party clothes on. They ranged in front of us, blocking the way.
"You gotta pay a toll, gringo. Give me your wallet and we might let you live."
I looked over at Roberto. He had a little smile on his face, doing a little weave and bounce while he looked at them. The girls had gotten behind us.
Roberto held up his hands.
"Please, amigos. It's a beautiful night, the moon is full. We have two lovelies with us. It's a night for loving, not fighting."
He was still holding up his hands, still doing that little weave.
"Give us your money, you stupid foreigners, before we hurt you."
I smiled at the leader.
"You got a gun, knives, clubs, anything at all?"
It stopped him for a minute. Then he went into a cussing fit, calling us idiots and the girls whores. I had had enough.
"Shut up, get out of our way, and no one will be hurt. Try to stop us and we'll walk over your unconscious bodies. You got about ten seconds."
He opened his mouth and I punched it shut. He went down, out like a light. I heard something that sounded like a sigh, and Roberto had his man on the ground. I looked at the remaining three.
"We're gonna start walking now."
I deliberately put my foot down on the leaders' balls. Even unconscious he tried to cover up. I walked over him, and by the time I had we were looking at a clear sidewalk.
We passed a policeman on the next corner, and I told him there were two drunks behind us, passed out. He got on his radio. Drunks were bad for the tourist trade. Roberto just grinned.
Women have a distinct reaction to violence, especially if it done over them. Our girls were wild, screaming and clawing while they drained us dry. We had a nice brunch, put them in a cab, and exchanged numbers, knowing we would probably never hook up again.
Roberto and I sparred a few times. He was quick, and took me down a few times, but I did just as well. If it ever developed into something serious it would be a hell of a row.
He also talked me into going to the local lucha libre gym to watch them practice. It was fun, but I didn't see a lot of martial arts skills in the bunch. I kept my face bland, the last thing I wanted to do was insult them.
Roberto and the gym owner were in a discussion about the minute variations of the wrestling styles. Roberto obviously thought Brazil was better, because of the jui jitsu influence. It was amicable, though, they just agreed to disagree.
There was one guy there who was bigger than the rest, easily over six feet, probably weighing two twenty or better. He had a little skill, but came off as arrogant. He saw me watching.
"So, gringo, are you impressed?"
I kept my smile neutral.
"Yes. It's always fun to watch new styles."
I think he wanted me to be a bit more awed.
"Think you'd like to try it, karate man?"
"No, I'm just here with a friend, watching. Thanks anyway."
His friends were watching now. It made him puff up a bit more. I was bored, having seen this scenario play out a hundred times.
"So, gringo. Scared, huh?"
I just smiled.
The other wrestlers laughed, knowing it wasn't true. He went red. then went into a torrent of abuse I could just barely follow. Apparently he questioned my heritage, hinting that I wasn't even human, being descended from goats and pigs. I let him rant, still smiling. When he finally ran out of steam he glared at me.
"So, you are too cowardly to defend your honor?"
I knew I shouldn't do it, but I needled him a little.
I don't mind fighting, if it's against men of honor. Anything else is beneath my notice. Why? Do you know a man of honor?"
I was watching his body language. It was like he wrote a long note, saying when he was going to swing. Shifting my weight, I let the fist go by, harmlessly. I should have left it alone, but I couldn't help patting his cheek as he went by. The whole gym knew if I had hit him instead, he would have been out like a light.
He snapped and was about to rush me, when his friends and the owner got between us.
The owner wanted to know what happened. The guy said I had shown disrespect to his place.
"This true?" he asked the group. No one would give him a straight answer.
I tried to diffuse the situation by apologizing to the owner, saying I meant me disrespect to his place, it was just a misunderstanding due to language differences.
The guy was pretty shrewd, and knew while I had apologized to him, I hadn't to the wrestler.
"Ah. A misunderstanding. No harm then. Thank you for stopping by. Come again, anytime."
Roberto laughed about it later while we were having a beer.
"Why didn't you kick his ass?"
"I didn't need to."
"Amigo, amigo. You still don't understand the way we Latins think. He feels you threatened his manhood. He won't forget anytime soon. Free advice, don't go down any dark alleys late at night for awhile."
He stayed three more weeks and we sparred daily. I was soaking up his knowledge like a sponge. I took him to the airport and wished him well. I never saw him again.
I took Josh home for a three week vacation. My mom, Gail, Gram, all were at the airport. The tears started when they saw us. We were hugged until our ribs felt bruised.
We stayed at our old house, Gail split a bedroom with Gram, I took the smaller bedroom, and Josh slept on the couch.
Things were not going smoothly for Gail. He boyfriend of four years suddenly dumped her for a white girl. It hurt her pretty bad. She had lost her job at the hospital and was working at a rest home for almost half what she had been making.
"I need to get away, Bobby, start over. But I don't have the money. Plus, Gram is slowing down, somebody needs to watch over her."
I thought about it for awhile as I visited old friends and family. Then I made a few phone calls. I had seen one of Gails' resumes lying on her dresser, and I sent it off.
Except for short visits we had been gone for almost three years. Things were slowly changing. I saw several mixed couples at restaurants and movies, and very few even paid attention.
Without telling Josh, I bought an almost new 125cc Yamaha and had it shipped home. It was to be a surprise for his eleventh birthday.
Shondra spent some time with him, but they were strangers now. Both seemed relieved when they parted.
Shondra didn't look so good. I saw her once, when she picked up Josh the first time.
She had probably gained thirty pounds. It didn't look good on her.
"Still working on advancing your black belt?"
She laughed a bitter laugh.
"I haven't practiced martial arts in two years."
"Why? You loved it as much as I did."
"When Marvin went...away, I couldn't find another dojo I liked. I worked out with friends for awhile, but just stopped. It brought back memories I didn't like."
She had married Marcus. She showed me a picture of them with their child, a little girl. He was always large in school, but he must weigh better than three fifty now. Gail told me they weren't getting along well.
Just before she left she put her hand on my arm.
"I know I already said it, Bobby, but I'm sorry. I should have been a better wife to you. I was always insecure, figuring sooner or later you would realize you were married to a nigger, and dump me for a white girl. I should have had more faith in you."
I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing, just wishing her well in her new life.
A few days before we were to leave Gail came in holding a letter.
"You did this, didn't you?"
I knew what she was talking about and didn't bother trying to deny it.
"Yeah. The contract for our plant nurse was running out, and she made it clear she was going home. It'll be good for you Gail. Good money, a free place to live, a chance to broaden your horizons. And it'll look good on your resume."
"What about Gram?"
"Simple. We take her with us. She told me Marcus hardly ever lets her see her granddaughter, so she really has no reason to stay."
It took two days to convince her. Josh finally talked her into it, on a trial basis.
So when we got back home, Tia Rodriguez had two more members of her family. She and Gram hit it off right away. I knew it would be all right when I came home one day and Gram was in the kitchen, learning how to make tres leche[three milk]cake.
She quickly was adopted by my students, after they learned how to pronounce Gram.
Gail thrived, jumping into the job with gusto.
Soon she was volunteering at the town clinic twice a week for four hours. The company let her do it with pay, since many of the clinic patients were our workers and their families.
She surprised me about two months after she got there by coming to my room late one night. Her bedroom was directly across from mine, on the other side of the house.
"Bobby, I need to ask you something. Something hard, at least for me. Can I?"
I wondered where this could be going so I nodded my head.
"I know why you make those trips to Mexico City. I understand, believe me. A guy can get away with it, a woman can't."
I got some idea where this was headed.
"I'm thirty two, Bobby. I have needs, and no way to take care of them. I want you to help. Before you say anything, I'm not in love with you, and you're not in love with me. This is a temporary solution. I can handle that if you can."