email a friend iconprinter friendly iconA People Apart
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"How's it going with the dancing?" Lorena asked.

"The lead Pharisee fell and broke his leg," Fidencia said.

They were speaking in Spanish, which Fidencia learned in the Rarámuri elementary school, several hours' walk from the cave where she was born, during the years before she married Lorena's father, Catarino Olivas Mancinas. He is a miner's descendant, from a non-Tarahumara family that goes back a long way in the Sierra Madre. The house he keeps adding on to is among the nicest in Guagüeyvo: extra sleeping rooms with mattresses for the adult children and grandchildren who also live here, plus concrete floors, and a porch with pried-out automobile bench seats for sofas. There's a small solar panel too, which illuminates a couple of buzzing yellow lamps after dark; a road to Guagüeyvo was finally built three years ago, its dirt surface just wide enough for the delivery of electrical poles, but the poles aren't functional yet. Fidencia has been told electricity will come soon. When it does, Lorena will bring her a refrigerator.

This was something to contemplate, this refrigerator. I knew precisely what it would look like: black and shiny. It belongs to Lorena, and at present it's in her kitchen in San Rafael, where there are a couple of paved streets, and most of the houses have electric hookups and flush toilets. It had been a year since Lorena and Fidencia had last seen each other, and although their reunion had been reserved—Fidencia lumbering toward her daughter and nodding and accepting a light embrace—Fidencia now stayed close by Lorena's side as the two of them patted out tortillas and tossed them on the stove. The corn for the tortillas was from the previous season's harvest. Fidencia had collected dried blue kernels that morning, soaked the corn in water from the storage tank outside, cranked the corn through the hand grinder on the porch, and smashed the grindings into meal on the stone metate, the one she brought from the family cave, the kind her grandmother had used, and her great-great-great-grandmother also. Then Fidencia had gone outside again, to haul in an armload from the woodpile and start a fire in the iron stove.

The tortillas were thick and tasted delicious. Fidencia had pulled a chicken from the coop that morning and beheaded it and de-feathered it and dismembered it with a knife before dropping it into the pot, so there was the aroma of simmering caldo, meat and vegetable soup. She was wearing a flowery rose-colored skirt, a bright blue sweatshirt, and a bandanna tied under her chin. Her arms looked as strong as a weight lifter's. ("You know how I get rid of being tired when I'm at work?" Lorena asked me later. "I say to myself, My mother is more tired than I am.") I had heard one of the Jesuits remark that the expanding network of truck-navigable roads was causing the Tarahumara to lose their walking and running endurance over long distances, and now with my mouth full of tortilla in the golden light of the stove fire, I found myself envisioning electricity in Guagüeyvo as a pileup of metallic chabochi objects with cords sticking out—push-button grinders, digital clocks, hair dryers, the new black refrigerator, TVs broadcasting telenovelas between commercials for mascara and laundry soap. I asked Fidencia how she would react, should somebody bring all these items into her home, and she stopped looking at her daughter long enough to take me in for a moment, gravely but kindly, as though she were trying to figure out whether I could possibly be as stupid as I appeared.

"That would be very good," she said.

When I glanced at Lorena, she was trying, with Tarahumara dignity, not to laugh.

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