I walked right into this one.
It was the Tuesday after Easter and Felicia, our maid, showed up to clean our sunny studio apartment which we rented for our short stay in Chapala, Mexico.
Easter is a BIG deal here in Latin America. If one is looking for topics of conversation with locals, it’s always safe to ask about family, church holidays, and the weather.
“Did you have a good Easter?” I asked.
Felicia’s blank look took me by surprise.
“You know, there’s Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, then Easter. Did you have a good Easter?”
“No,” she said. “I had to work. I work every Sunday. All day. I take the bus to Guadalajara and clean this lady’s house.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Even Easter?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes. I have to work, I have no choice. My husband is sick.”
Oh boy. Emotionally, I didn’t want to be here. I tried to have a light, friendly conversation on a safe topic and here I am, right in the middle of it. Many times the husbands of these working class people have back problems from the manual labor they do. I just assumed that was the issue, but I couldn’t retreat from the conversation now. Should I just pretend I didn’t hear her response or that I didn’t understand her Spanish? Or maybe I should be rude, turn my head and not continue our chat.
But you know that’s just not me. I had to move forward now that I was here, and the only way out was through.
“Oh… problems with his back?” I returned. “How old is he?”
“No. No problems with his back. He’s 45 years old and has been sick since he was 37. He has seizures. Do you know about Epilepsy?”
I wasn’t really expecting this. Yes, I was familiar with epilepsy and seizures but the people I knew had the disease contained with medication.
“He can’t work because he never knows when he’s going to have an attack. He falls, hits his head. He doesn’t remember things. He takes 9 pills every day for this, but nothing works.”
Now it was my turn to look at her blankly. I really didn’t know what to say.
Felicia continued. “He has no more upper teeth or lower teeth because the falls knocked them out. And the left side of his tongue is gone because he bit it off.”
I had no more words to say. I had no answers. Not even suggestions.
“That’s life,” she said as she went back to mopping the floor.