The Alternative Epilogue
"What will you take with you?" - José
When written as a novel, the ethnographer's tale often ends in defeat. Their intentions are frustrated, and their attempts to confront parties that have wronged them end up in resigned departure. "I lost, and I never saw them again." And everything returns to how it was, with all its ugly discrimination and intellectual condescension.
The visiting professorship in Providence gave me glance of my life through an academic career. The full-time salary did help lighten my loans. I did much of the professor's charge: presenting a conference paper, continuing my research, attending the meetings, writing an article, advising my students, and teaching six courses.
I should suppose that my opponents have won. The Altepetl schoolteachers so irked at my presence on campus had, around 2008, threatened to detain and incarcerate any foreigner, anthropologist or otherwise, to set foot in that village. Skin color was an easy criterion. Elsewhere, this would count as hate crime.
I continued applying for other full-time positions. My various degrees in biology, religion, and anthropology made my résumé a three-legged water buffalo: curious to look at, but could it pull a plow? Many institutions turned away. I did have some phone and video conference interviews, and even four candidacy visits, but the fact that I remain in New England should indicate their success.
But I cannot admit defeat because, though I end this tale, I have only begun my work.
Since the events of this account, I have revisited Tlamachiliz and Dãndéhé. I have also shifted my interest from the Nahua to the Otomí, specifically in Hníní. As had many before, I have begun my own apprenticeship in Hníní, to work further in ancient ways.
After my full-time professorship was terminated--my first such termination notice--I remained with the school as an adjunct instructor, with part-time status. I lost all benefits, and I was earning from a third to a half of my former salary. But with the demotion came the time to finish this account.
One such visitation was for a week in June of 2008. Albín rented me the bed in the long house, where he, his wife, and the boy Memo were then sleeping. As so commonly among indigenous communities throughout Mexico, their original shack had become just the kitchen.
I received a vignette of the academic career so that I, with informed glimpse, could choose whether to continue. I now understand how destiny depends on choice. I have raised the obsidian knife from Teotihuacan. I have never felt more bound and yet more free. I am alive.
The first night was hard. Damn bugs. To keep them off my skin, I had to wear my shirt, jeans, and socks, in an air already muggy enough. They attacked everything else: my arms, my face, even the knee exposed through the tear in my trouser. I had a near miss with Chagas disease after a bite from a kissing bug. I first tried to wrap my arms, one in a t-shirt and the other in the thin blanket provided. Then they would heat, so I stripped them, exposing them anew to the mosquitoes. I did this until I was scarcely conscious. Then I would wrap my arms again in the blanket, heating them again. How long would this night last? The shut doors stifled the indoor ventilation. So I sweated in the stagnant, stuffy air as I shooed the mosquitoes. Having eaten eggs didn't help. I felt nauseated. It hadn't rained for all the week of my return. Something must be done.
Many wish of dreams like those I have recounted. Find wonder in every day! It will return to you in the nights.
June 21, 2008. It was only today that, in the short bus, I encountered the Carnaval altar at the north end of the road cutting through Hníní. I was whizzing past a pair of batwings made from beleaguered red canvas stretched across a trapezoidal frame of crude branches, leaning arrogantly against the roadside barbwire fence as if its owner were already climbing out from his infernal abode. They stood by an altar table, its frame from dirty branches and its surface from split bamboo.
As Albín and Memo were surfing among telenovelas, I excused myself to go walk. I returned to the village entrance and the altar of devils. My blood was racing as I approached it, its twisted horns and grotesque masks strewn upon and beneath the table. Black wings lay beside the red pair that had captured my chilled blink. I was not afraid.
I have bachelor's degrees in natural sciences, a master's in humanities, and a doctorate in social sciences. But none of them could give me this lesson from humble Mexican villagers: life has purpose.
More striking still was the white cross standing across the road from the demonic altar. The dark itself has its role in the cosmic condition, and one must resemble it in order to control it. To harness the dark and the light, I cannot fear to stand betwixt. I stood between the cross and the altar. As I outstretched my arms toward each, I became a nexus of the sacred duality which generates and empowers the Mesoamerican cosmos. And by the end of this meditation, I crossed myself contritely before the white cross, to prevent my inundation from the chthonic energies I'd been drawing.
I lay the foundation for a green path, one that reclaims the holiness of the earth and dares to harness its potential. I partook of cult with ancestral roots, reaped from a garden of gods and spirits, and studied from the masters who coursed with them. I wrote this story to tell how I felt their archaic power. Let us finish snubbing native theology and start learning from it, and let us do the same of its adherents. The Aztecs called the spring Xopan, 'upon the budding green.' Let us wake to the dawn of this green time. We will learn the maize children's many names. And we will make them dance.
It was a quiet walk back to the community, aside from the occasional "Nté!" afternoon greeting. A gust picked up as I turned from the road toward the house. A whiff of dust spiraled along the road before the auditorium. A cool approached. As I climbed the slope toward the house, thunder began to grumble, and the sky darkened. I had just enough time to bathe in the spring well as the thunders were intensifying, heralding a terrific storm. I returned to the house still soaking, but at least before came the electric fingers, clutching at the iron clouds and rolling them between palms of thunder. A blackout ensued across the village.
As if by normal consequence. Mm-hmm.