Friday, January 27, 2012

The soundtrack to our lives in Copan Ruinas

So far, one of the most striking things about our home stay in Copan Ruinas is the soundtrack accompanying life in our little family compound.
Right now, the family next door - two adult daughters of Esmeralda, our host, with children of their own - are listening to some techno-goth dance tracks, with the usual repetitive synth riffs, drum track and occasional lyrics contributed by a distorted voice urging us to “dance with the devil.
I’m in the main room in the house, at the dining table with my laptop. The light is a little harsh - two bare energy-saving bulbs in an overhead fixture. The front door is open, and, for no obvious reason, a neighbour’s dog offers enthusiastic barks as trucks grumbling up the cobblestone street contributing bass, while kids call out to each other. Behind me, in the kitchen, Esmeralda is talking to Rosita, whose 21st birthday fiesta we attended, and a young guy who might or not be her boyfriend, while a three-year-old girl, with shoes that flash light when she walks, asks questions. I have yet to figure out how she is connected to anyone here. Aaron, the baby next door, is crying.
There are crickets, or some sort of insect, adding a steady treble. The gate to the compound swings open, with a rusty screech, and voices murmur outside, snatches of conversation I can’t comprehend. From farther away, kids’ shouts carry to the house.
It’s nice now, homey. It’s seven in the evening, and we had a couple of beers after class in ViaVia, joined by Percy from Cranbrook who is also in the Isbalanque Spanish School and came with us on a tour to a coffee finca this morning. So did Peggy Victoria. What are the odds that four people from B.C. would meet in a language school in Copan Ruinas.
The finca visit was interesting - a tour of the drying area, usually on a concrete pad in the sun, or in a giant wood and coffee-husk fired dryer if it’s cloudy. It’s a co-op, in the hills above town, and not your usual tour. We walked across a stream on a squared-off tree trunk and slide through barbed wire fences to see the coffee plants and the fields. A family was chopping weeds in one field, a woman, two children about seven and nine, and a weathered man who, when we drew closer, had only one hand but wielded his hoe deftly.
But back to the sounds. They are not always so benign.
Last night, Jody was fighting a cold and I was tired from the heat and the realization, after a four-hour lesson, that learning Spanish was going to be a big job. (Yes, I should have realized that earlier.) We trudged up the hill to the house, and crashed for a while, then ate huevos rancheros. They were really good - a poached egg with salsa, beans, local cheese with crema, which is a staple, and tortillas.
Then I just wanted somewhere to read, or do homework, or sit. There isn’t really anywhere like that.
So I collapsed on the bed in our little room. And all around, there were sounds. Outside our window - right outside our window - is an outdoor sink. It’s abut four feet by five feet, cement, and three feet deep. At one end, there’s a shallow concrete part, with ridges, that seems to be used for scrubbing clothes and washing dishes and multiple other purposes.
And for some two hours, the water was running into the tank, a steady waterfall about two feet from our open window.
That was the base for the soundtrack. On the street in front, a futbol game - or war, I couldn’t tell - kept a gang of boys shouting and hooting. Unmuffled motorcycles roared past, and trucks and the three-wheeled taxis that serve this hilly town. Dogs barked and, more pleasantly, so did geckos. Our other window is two feet from the house on the other side, where another daughter lives, and a lively, loud conversation continued there. In the kitchen - right outside our bedroom door - Esmeralda and a stream of visitors talked loudly, occasionally dropping their voices as someone thought about us, but only for a moment.
Once we turned out the lights, the water stopped running and the voices fell. But the motorcycles still roared by occasionally, and a grouchy dog barked at phantoms.
None of this is, I hope, complaining. But we lived in Victoria as two people in small space set back from the road, with three adjacent houses where people lived quiet lives. Most of the year, our windows were closed.
Now we’re in a three-house compound where people of all ages come and go, the doors and windows are all open and the street is part of the living space. Lives are lived loudly and publicly. There seems to be little sense of the need for silence - if the techno is too loud from the neighbouring house, or the children too noisy in the street, the solution is to turn up the cartoons the tired three-year-old is watching on the television.
Conclusions? We aren’t in Victoria anymore, and don’t over-romanticize the joys of communal living in a hot climate.

1 comment:

RossK said...


Just wrote a bit of riff on Canada's new Human League of Nations, the Handsome Furs....They have travelled deep into postSoviet Europe and have noted that, there, Techno is the sound of the Revolution.

Really, really enjoying your reportage...