Pariah

Translated by Marvin Najarro 

I remember, as a child, when after selling ice creams at the market on weekends, I returned home at two o’clock in the afternoon, (at 12:30 a.m. on weekdays, because I had to go to school at 1 o’clock) and set out with my friends, each of us with a bag, to collect trash from house to house to go dump it at the ravine; we were paid 25 cents for a bag.

Carrying an ice bucket on my shoulder, I ran behind the buses begging the drivers to allow me on to sell my ice creams, I would get on and off the busses while still in motion, because the drivers never stopped them at all.

Every day we had to run and hide from the market collector, because he wanted to throw our ice creams in the trash, we were a nuisance in the alley market.

We met at 3 o’clock a.m. in the corner of Las Galaxias bar to set out for La Fresera, a farm that was on the surroundings of the village of Zorzoyá, in San Lucas Sacatepéquez, we walked 20 kilometers one way and 20 back amid the green bottle mountains. There, in the farm, we worked as day laborers and worked from sunrise to sunset picking strawberries. I was 8 years old at that time.

One day my mother said that it would be a good idea to go and sell “pupusas” (stuffed corn cakes), ice creams and atole, and so we did. My dad and my mom and the two older daughters, everyone carrying an ice bucket; we sold everything on credit to collect the money at the end of the month. Those cherry trees and the groves were the witness of our physical fatigue, and of our illusion.

When the end of the month arrived and I didn’t have the money to pay for the monthly tuition, I used to go to the convenience store on the corner of the central boulevard and the Euphrates Street where I asked for a double liter of Coca Cola on credit. While I offered the ice creams in the market, I also made the tickets and went from stall to stall to offer, to the market vendors, the numbers for the raffle of a double liter of soda, sometimes for ten cents and others for twenty five a piece. I spent 2.50 quetzales and I made a profit of 2.50, and when I was lucky, Q5.00 quetzales.

For the Christmas season I made Christmas decorations with cellophane, manila and crepe paper which I asked on credit at Juan’s general store, another market seller. I made them at night after finishing the home chores, and the next day in the morning I took them to the market to sell them for fifty cents, or one quetzal a piece, in this way I was scraping the money together to pay for for my tuition, the uniform, for shoes and school supplies. I used to reproduce the Christmas ornaments designs I watched on TV commercials.

In the evening hours we used to go to the military detachment to sell pupusas of chicharrón (pork stuffed corn cakes) and atole, we walked five kilometers one way and five back. More than once I worked as a bricklayer’s assistant, and also as a cobbler’s assistant. 

When my father was a bus driver and had no assistant, he took me with him to work as a bus fare collector, and also as the one loading 100 pounds bulks up to the bus grill. And I clung to the bus door swinging and shouting, Terrazas, Ciudad Peronia, La Fuente! That was in my teen years.

When I was a student teacher, at five o’clock in the morning I went to borrow five quetzales from my aunts or the neighbors, for the bus fare, and to buy oranges in the La Placita market, which at the recess time I sold peeled, with “pepita” (the powder that results from roasting and mashing up the squash seeds) and salt. At 9 o’clock in the evening I went to pay back the money they had lent me.

I spent my childhood and adolescence with one piece of clothing and a pair of shoes. I wore a bra until my tits were already underripe. And the sanitary pads until we had money to buy them. The deodorant and toothpaste were twice a year luxuries. We used lemon as a deodorant, and salt and ash to brush our teeth.

We slept, the four offspring, in a wobbly metal bed, a poncho from Totonicapán and a sheet from Tierra Fría covered us from the morning dew that dripped from the tin roof. A piece of cloth, like a room divider, separated us from my parents’ room, from the living room and the kitchen, which were part of a single room in that house of my childhood.

The windows were of cardboard -boxes that were given to us in the market when it hadn’t been built yet and the vendors put their merchandise on sacks laid out on the ground. The floor was of tepetate where chickens, goats, ducks, dogs, and from time to time, the pigs, walked around.

When I emigrated, on my first day of work I fell down the basement steps of a Jewish mansion, I got entangled with the vacuum cleaner cord, I have never seen something like that in my life. I awoke lying on the ground, soaked with chlorine which spilled out the container I was carrying  when I fell and stained my clothes, a piece of clothing we had bought with a great effort in a second hand store, because I arrived in the United States with which y  had on. I was lying there at the end of the carpeted steps, surrounded by the blurred images of people who spoke to me and I did not understand what they said, I did not understand the greeting in English let alone speak it. Thus was my welcome to the work of domestic service.

I don’t forget the many times that the market collector chased us to throw our ice creams, or the countless occasions I ran behind the buses, and the many times I fell trying to earn my living. I don’t forget the many times that I was discriminated against: for being black, for pariah, slum dweller, and market vendor. I don’t forget the smell of the garbage I carried on my little girl’s shoulders on the way to the ravine. Neither the so many times when the fatigue overcame us half way in the mountain on the way to La Fresera, or the insults of the foreman, or the labor exploitation to which the farm owner subjected us. I don’t forget the many times that he didn’t pay us the measure’s full weight.

I don’t forget the afternoons on the way to the military detachment, amid the vegetable gardens and the white moss of the cypresses along the wide path, the back pain due to the weight of the atole, the fried plantains, the pupusas of chicharrón, the chocobananos (bananas covered with chocolate) and the ice creams.

I don’t forget the times I asked for credit so as to eat, or the times I knocked on other people’s doors at dawn to borrow money to go to school. 

I don’t forget the frustration, the tiredness, the pain, the anger, the bitterness, the misery, the exclusion that I lived through.

I don’t forget the broken dreams, the doors slammed on my face; I don’t forget the many times they shouted dirty black at me, because of my skin color. Neither the so many times the rainfall water penetrated the sole of my shoes. Neither the patched socks, nor the growling stomach, our deprivation; I don’t forget it. 

As I don’t forget those who being pariahs like me bought the raffle tickets for the double-liter of Coca Cola, or the vendors of the convenience store who gave them to me on credit. Neither the market vendors who hid the ice buckets when the collector looked for us. Neither the private soldiers who bought the food from us in the detachment and accompanied us at night on the wide path to watch that nothing happened to us.  

I don’t forget where I come from; I do not forget what I’m made of. Why should I deny that I am a pariah? Why should I deny my memory and forget those pariahs who lend me a hand so I could study and leave the market alley? The bus drivers who allowed me to get in and sell my ice creams and the day laborers of La Fresera who bought what we were selling. Why should I brag now that I am a writer and a poet? Why should I now forget those who saw me when I was completely invisible to society?     

Why should I now brazenly attach labels that don’t belong to me, the name and the guiding light of others? In the invisibility of misery and exclusion, there is also life, dreams, struggles, and solidarity. And that’s where I belong.

And when I say pariah, I reaffirm my millenarian heritage, my memory and my identity. I reaffirm that I am a market vendor. Why should I deny the dignity of the excluded of all times? To them go my writings, my life and my poetry. The rest is bullshit.

In another article, I will tell you why I am not red, revolutionary, or feminist.

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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado contacto@cronicasdeunainquilina.com

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