Translated by Katrina Hassan
The only times that Nía Chenta’s daughter Caya had ever heard the sound of horse hoofs over cobblestones, were the nights she would stay at the pharmacy owner’s house to keep her company while her kids were away in the capital. The pharmacy lady asked Nía Chenta as a favour to let Caya stay the night until her kids would come back. This is how Caya first heard the sound of water running through the PVC pipes, she saw her first toilet, bath and a refrigerator. She also saw the electric iron, TV, remote control and a hair dryer there for the first time.
The sound of town was very different from the sound of the village, where sounds got lost in the hills. In the village there was no running water or electricity. While the girls from town went to school, Caya had to go collect water from the spring that was 6 kilometres away from her home. She took two mules and ten containers. Each mule carried four containers and she carried back two, one on her head and the other on her waist. This all happened at 4:00 a. m., before sunrise. The corn had to be cooked and then ground by hand to make the tortillas for breakfast for her dad and brothers who worked as farmhands.
Meanwhile, Caya’s mom looked after her three younger siblings. There were newborn twins and her little sister that was three years old. Caya is 9 years older than her. Her mom taught her to make quesadillas, rice bread, marquesote and semitas, which she would sell in town to help buy salt, oil and gas, soap, batteries for the radio, sugar, and lime, the mineral used to boil the corn for tortillas. One of those times when she was selling her wares, she met the lady that owns the pharmacy. She suggested to Caya that she buy milk to make cream and cheeses. She offered to sell them in her pharmacy. Every time that Caya went to town she stayed and helped the lady clean her house. In exchange the lady would pay her with money, and other days in used clothes or shoes she could give to her brothers. One day for her birthday the lady gave Caya a used sewing machine. She told her that she could buy scraps of fabric to make aprons, cloth bags and mend people’s clothes. The pharmacy lady told Caya she could sew at her house because there was no electricity at hers. This is how Nía Chenta’s daughter Caya, learned her trade. The sewing helped her parents an awful lot, even though she hardly ever saw them. She was always cleaning the lady’s house, selling quesadillas, making cheese and cream and always sewing a lot on her sewing machine.
One night, when she stayed at the pharmacy lady’s house a tragedy occurred. One of the older sons came back from the capital and raped her. He covered her mouth so she wouldn’t scream and threatened to tell everyone in town that she offered herself to him. After all, he is a man, how could he resist? This is how Nia Chenta’s Caya got pregnant at twelve years old. When she explained it to her parents they didn’t believe her. The pharmacy lady didn’t believe her either. She couldn’t believe how she could do this, being a maid. How dare she even look at her sons! She threw it in Caya’s face that she had helped her out with clothes and shoes for her siblings and with the sewing machine. This is how she was repaid! Her parents kicked her out and said she brought shame upon the home and that she was a bad example for the younger sister. She was three months pregnant when she left home. She crossed the border at Ahuachapán, El Salvador over to Guatemala. In Japatagua she looked for a job in the shops, in houses asking door to door, and grain stores. She finally found a job as a cleaner at a cafeteria.
She doesn’t remember how many times the owner of the cafeteria took advantage of her. He threatened to kick her to the curb if she talked to his wife. She gave birth to her daughter there at work. In two months, when she felt strong enough to walk, she left the place with her daughter in her arms and hitched a ride to the capital with the passing truck drivers. She hitch hiked all the way to the Mexican border. She learned about ungratefulness this way. Without money, the only way to pay was with her body. No one would offer to take them without some sort of exchange. This was the way she crossed through all of Mexico. This is how she arrived in the USA after crossing the border through Sonora and Arizona. This was 25 years ago.
Caya heats up water in a small saucepan. The perfect amount for three cups of coffee. She cannot get used to instant coffee or those electric coffee makers. She likes her coffee made on the stovetop. She changed her name when she arrived. She now calls herself Maria. People call her Mary. She doesn’t want any memory of the family that kicked her out, or that name either. She has been working 22 years as a seamstress in a laundromat. She lives in an apartment that she shares with her daughter Nuria and her grandson Paco. Of all three only Paco has papers. He is a US born citizen and is in elementary school. Neither her daughter nor grandson know about why she emigrated. They don’t know anything about their mom/grandmother’s family. All they know is that their mom and grandmother is Salvadorian and that when she misses her country she makes quesadillas, rice bread and she accompanies these with stove top made coffee. Every day that passes she misses her country less and less.
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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado