There’s a house I walk by on my way to the Friday market. It sits on a double or triple lot but is not prime real estate because it also sits directly across the street from railroad tracks.
The front is adorned not by the sturdy or ornate gates of other houses on nearby streets, but by a chain-link fence that stands forlornly and crookedly behind a sidewalk of broken concrete.
The house itself is little more than a 12 by 12 foot square of cement blocks, with a metal roof that appears to be both unattached and falling in. There are no discernible windows, and a small addition on the back has at least one wall of plastic.
The yard is filled with piles of what appear to be discarded toys and other items in need of repair. The grass is weed filled and uncut, which initially obscures the fact that native plants are growing wild throughout the yard. A closer inspection reveals that some have been dug up and sit above ground, with the roots wrapped in plastic.
Sometimes I see a child or two sitting on a wooden push-cart like those that vendors use on more heavily traveled streets.
The market I head to is close by, on the other side of the railroad tracks – a long line of open stalls with fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken trimmed to order, cheeses that are almost exclusively white, makeshift lunch stalls, and tables of brightly colored fingernail polishes, jewelry, and small plastic toys.
I often pick up ears of corn, mangos in season, or a cellophane bag of fried bananas, but always I am headed to the stall at the very end.
There’s a woman there who brings plants in the trunk and back seat of a rusted car and sets them on the ground to sell, along with unknown quantities of dirt that she’s bagged herself in plastic sacks. She holds plants up for me to see and directs me to smell some and taste the leaves of others.
Somehow we manage to bridge an almost complete language gap that lets me leave with at least one new plant that I’ve learned needs sun and infrequent watering and will keep away the mosquitoes.
As I leave she often gives me an extra little plant or a few seeds and always tells me that I’m teaching her English. I tell her that she’s teaching me Spanish.
But I can’t help thinking that we’re both learning something more.
Jeanne is a transplanted Illinoisian who arrived in Guadalajara hoping for siestas. She was sad to discover that siestas are a thing of the past, but is still finding lots to love about Mexico.