17 jun. 2010

"Caridad Tah Otzil's deceit" - A contemporary Mayan tale

I have been meaning to publish this story in my blog for a very long time. This wonderful account of Yucatecan life was originally written in Yucatec Maya by my good friend Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim. In kíik X-Pati (my big sister Pati) is the director of the Casa de Cultura Popolnaj "Máximo Huchin", that seats on the third largest city of the state of Yucatan, Tizimín. She completed her degree in Linguistics and Literature at the Faculty of Anthropological Sciences in Mérida around the same time I was beginning my studies there. We have been very good friends ever since.

        X-Pati is now a full-time lecturer at the Universidad de Oriente in Valladolid, second largest city of the state of Yucatan. At the university she teaches a range of courses including "Yucatecan Literature of the 20th Century", "Colonial Maya Literature", and "Contemporary Maya Poetry". She continues her tireless job of providing a room for maaya t'aano'ob (Mayan voices), old and new, to express their own views of the world, especially through the publication of the magazine K'aaylay, "The Song of Memory".

        It is in this monthly magazine that X-Pati published originally this Mayan modern tale, and you can check the original version out here.
The reason why it took me so long to finally decide to publish this English translation of her story is that I was trying to get hold first of the English translator to get authorisation from her to re-publish it. The translator is Anne Whiteside, faculty member of the City College of San Francisco. Unfortunately I couldn't find a way to communicate with her so I hope that if she reads this later she would be be OK with this. This English version was originally published on her own blog "Anne's dispatches from Valladolid".

I truly hope that you'll enjoy this story, as much as I do.
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Caridad Tah Otzil’s deceit

by Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim


"The time will come for going out begging; such is the fate of the old and poor"

Doña Caridad [1] the Mayera [2] is grandmother to everyone on “huaya” road. She’s more than eighty years old and practically bald, due to advanced age. What little hair she has left is black on account of all the “pich” birds she ate in her childhood, birds which she herself would hunt, skillfully, with a slingshot, having always had great aim for everything. Everything.

Up until a few months ago, Doña Caridad would go begging during the week, dressed as a poor mestiza: tattered and faded hipil, threadbare shawl, and barefoot; but Sunday afternoons, she’d get dressed up like a jeweled lady, with powder and rouge on her face, and lotion on her neck, and she’d head to the town square to catch an open-air concert. At night, on her way home, she’d stop off at “God’s Blessing” corner store to get a shot of anisette.

“–For warming my bones- Utia’al u chokokintik in baakel ” she’d say, sipping the liqueur.

Doña Caridad had eight children, two boys and six girls, seven of whom were married, and now has forty-two grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren.

“But having children is no guarantee they’ll help you in your old age- Chéen ba’ale’ u yaantal u paalal máake’ ma’ u k’áat u ya’al wa yaan u yáantikecho’ob ken nojochmáakech,” the old woman exclaims.

One of Doña’s sons, Plácido, turned out to be a real bum, too lazy even to look for a wife. At noon, when his mother gets home from begging, she shakes the lazybones' hammock, and he mumbles, half awake:

“Is it getting light or getting dark?”

The neighbors, put out by how the slacker sponges off his mother, have tried several times to punish him. They know the old woman feeds him with the money she makes from begging, so one day they got together to plan a trick on him.

“Doña Caridad,” called one of them, ever-so-nicely, “here’s a little food for you. There’s no meat in it, but the broth is full of vitamins.”

Savoring the delicious broth in advance, the old woman puts the pot over the fire and wakes the loafer to give him his share. But to their bitter surprise, they find not soup but brown watery rinse water from scrubbing a wood table.

Weekdays, when she returns from begging, Doña Caridad is swarmed by her grandchildren, who come running from the neighborhood to rummage through her bag. They fish out crusts of food and eat them as if they were the most exquisite treats. And they’ll grab her cane to play horse.

“Hey, gimme back my cane!- ¡Ey, suute’ex in xóolte’!” she cries, as the little ones run helter skelter.

“You little devils, leave my bag alone!- ¡Mejen kisne’ex, p’aate’ex in páaw!” she yells, jumping in the fight like one of the kids.

She bickers with her dogs, too -has always had lots of them, all malixes (muts), to whom she gives strange names: one who goes wild in heat is “Tart”; another, soskil (Bristle) for the way his hair stands straight up; another xníich' (Smiley) for showing his teeth; there’s “tasteless beans” a timid dog who doesn’t bark; “Froth” a mutt-Pekinese mix; and k’aasfino (neither fish nor fowl).

But since she doesn’t have the means to feed all these animals, the dogs steal food from the neighborhood. A few months ago, fed up with all the thieving, someone threw poisoned meat at the dogs. By morning, several dogs were dead. At first, they seemed to be sleeping, but as their sleep dragged on, the dogs reminded Doña Caridad of her son, Placido, and she scolded them, saying:

“I’ve had it with you lazybones. Pick yourselves up! the sun’s already high- Ma’ in k’áat u yaabak in waalo’ob jooykepo’ob, ¡líik’ene’ex!, ts’o’ok u chúunk’intaj.

But, poking their sleeping bodies with her cane, she found them stiff.

“Ay my poor dogs, who did this to you, who did this to me?- ¡Ay, in óotsil peek’o’ob, máax tu béetajte’ex loob, máax tu béetikten loob, ay!, she cried inconsolably. One of the dogs pulled through, however, and soon the house was again filled with animals.

Yes, full she was, the old lady, of animals and years. The day she turned 70, she got out of her hammock, took down the machete from the house beam, cut a broom handle as tall as her legs and, trying out a few steps, announced:

“U chowakil in k’ab, in wook che’, in xóolte’, in wéet xíimbal, u nu’ukul in meyaj. “Extension of my hand, my wooden leg, my cane, my walking companion, my instrument!”

Then with a deep sigh, she proclaimed:

Ts’o’ok u k’uchul u k’iinil u jóok’ol máak u k’áat máatan, bey u beelil tuláakal óotsil máak. The time has come to go out begging; such is the fate of the old and poor.”

From then on she developed a peculiar relationship with that cane, as though it were a person: she’d speak to it tenderly, accuse it, insult it, toss it out then retrieve it, but it was always by her side.

“It’s mine, all mine- doesn’t run off like that dead husband of mine, who kept disappearing on me ‘til the day he up and died.”

The old woman, who never liked her name, Charity, liked her last names- Tah (very) and Otzil (poor) - even less, which is why when she was young, she preferred being called “Caro” (expensive). But now, as a beggar, she uses her name every time she puts out her hand, imploring in Spanish which she rarely uses:

–¡Una santa caridad, por el amor de Dios! Blessed charity, for the love of God!

In return for some change, she’ll thank people this way:

–Que Dios te lo pague, chulita. May God repay you, precious.

But to those who give nothing, she’ll say in Maya:

¡Xts’u’ut kiis! You’re even too stingy to fart-

Her most generous donors are patrons in the bars. Afternoons, Doña Caridad visits all the bars in town, one by one. Even the poorest drunks will take pity on her, paying their respects to the old lady:

–¡Here you are, Chichí (Grandma)!” – and in front of his buddies, one will give her a bill, emptying his pockets though it means not a penny left for his family.

When the time comes for a town’s patron saint festival, Doña Caridad goes on a pilgrimage. She begins her collecting as she climbs onto the bus; the driver won’t charge her. Starting at the back of the car, she’ll move up the aisle, asking for donations ‘til she gets to the driver.

Once she’s in town, she’ll take shelter under the colonnade of the Municipal Palace, after first stepping into a cool dark church to light a candle to the patron saint and to ask for protection. On leaving the church, she’ll look for a shady spot and set to work. People give her all kinds of things. From her spot, she can contemplate the plaza, watching the passersby and dozing off from time to time without letting go of her bag. Afternoons, she changes places: she’ll go to the bullring, taking in the show as she begs. At night, she goes to the dances- she wouldn’t miss one!

“Kex chéen in wich ku yóok’otnak - Even if it’s just my eyes that do the dancing” she says wistfully.

On her return, Doña Caridad allows herself no days off. She puts her small earnings away in a horcon (a hole in a wooden post of the house). “Utia’al le k’iine’ ken k’abéetchajke, For a rainy day”, she says, hiding the bundle from her son Placido, and from the grandchildren, and she takes to the streets again.

Nowadays, with over 80 years to her credit, Doña Caridad plies the street no more. Each morning, her grandchildren take her out front and set her on a stone, and as people pass by, the old woman calls to them, reaching out her hand. If they approach, she’ll take up their hands and read them their future:

Tu’ux ken a jeets’ a k’abe’ te kun taaltech ya’abkach utsil ba’al: tu ts’íik a k’abe’: plata, tu no’ojil a k’abe’: oro. - Wherever you put your hand, you’ll find profit: in the left one, silver, in the right one, gold,” she’ll say.

And in recognition of this good news, people will give her "little change", because, as the old saying goes, the words of the elderly, be they blessings or curses, come true.
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Chichi’: abuela, anciana.
Chulita: palabra de afecto: preciosa, linda, buena persona.
Horcón: uno de los pilares de madera de las casas de paja.
Huaya: árbol y fruto del wayum.
K’abax: sancocho, cocido a la ligera.
K’aasfino: voz híbrida: semifino.
Malix: corriente, vulgar.
Mayera: hablante del maya.
Mestiza: quien porta el traje regional yucateco de forma cotidiana.
Pich’: pájaro zanate.
Soskil: fibra de henequén.
Xníich’: sonriente.

[1] Charity
[2] Maya-speaker

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BREVE NOTA EN ESPAÑOL: El cuento anterior fue escrito por la autora maya Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim y publicado por primera ocasión en la revista K'aaylay, El Canto de la Memoria, no. 23. La traducción es de la profesora estadounidense Anne Whiteside, quien la publicó primero en su blog "Anne's Dispatches from Valladolid". Todos los derechos de autor van hacia estas dos personas. Espero disfruten del relato, al igual que yo.

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