humira 1 Alma Rosa and her parents on a Monday morning.ariel ojeda

Life in the Sierra in remote Chihuahua

Alma Rose and her family don't really know Mexico, and it doesn't know them

It’s four in the morning in Humirá, a town in the municipality of Bocoyna, in the land of the Tarahumara, also known as the Rarámuri.

Her parents sleep, but 12-year-old Alma Rose has just got up and is lighting a fire in the stove, a chore she learned at the age of six.

It’s a good time of the year in Humirá, in the Sierra Madre of the state of Chihuahua, because it has rained a lot in the last few months and the crops of corn, beans and peaches have been healthy. So there’s a good supply of food on hand; instead of the dry-season fare of just tortillas and beans, morning and night, there are eggs and sausages for breakfast.

Half an hour after Alma Rose gets up, her parents join her. Manuel Mario and Teresa have never seen a city; they’ve never been to any place bigger than Creel, a town of 5,000 three hours away — that’s three hours on foot, because that’s how you measure distance in the Sierra.

As for a city such as Chihuahua, the capital, well anyone who goes there comes back crazy because of so many people and so much noise.

The family, which also includes Alma Rosa’s brother Luis Angel, 10, eats breakfast together in their wooden house; it has a dirt floor, a kitchen with just a couple of old cabinets, a table and a battery-operated radio that is their only contact with the rest of the world and México, a country which they don’t really know.

Public officials have never visited their village, says Teresa, nor have state legislators. But every three years they receive visits from candidates for mayor, but they never return.

They’ve never seen a congressman, let alone a governor. So no one knows that when it doesn’t rain the people of Humirá have to walk two hours to the nearest spring to fetch water. Nor do they know that pregnant women must walk four hours so they can give birth in the nearest clinic.

“When the candidates come to visit they make notes about everything, but I think they all lose their notebooks because we’re still waiting for láminas, water tanks, cement for the floors and everything else they promised,” says Teresa, laughing.

Breakfast over, Alma Rosa has readied herself for the walk to school, where she will board until the following Friday. She carries a pack in which she has peaches that she will sell in order to have money to last through the week.

“I want her to be a teacher, but she wants to be a doctor and then return to help the people,” says Teresa. “We taught her about the land, the corn and the beans, the animals, but she has to learn other things,” says Manuel Mario.

Today, Luis Angel will walk an hour to his own school; his sister sets out with a friend on her own two-hour walk on a sometimes rough and hilly trail, often steep and slippery. She walks it wearing her huaraches and a thin skirt, the same clothes she wears in winter when the temperature can drop to 15 below 0.

Ten kilometers later, they arrive in Gonogochi. The school is not unlike her home. It’s a single room without windows, but it does have a cement floor, which was installed two years ago. And they now have beds in the dormitories, another recent improvement.

Attendance is good since the commision for indigenous peoples began subsidizing the kitchen, and the menu changed from cold beans, bread and powdered milk to hot meals, and eggs, fruit and fresh milk.

But about 40 students, a third of the enrolment, haven’t shown up this Monday morning because rains have damaged the roads and there’s work to be had repairing the potholes; they need the money.

In the school, six teachers give classes using their laptops, which they bring fully charged because the electricity often goes out.

This is a telesecundaria, a distance education school that employs a satellite link to pick up a television signal. Only two years ago a lightning strike damaged the satellite receiver, and a request for a new one from the Education Secretariat was never fulfilled.

So it’s a telesecundaria without the tele, just another of life’s challenges for the Tarahumara people of Humirá.

Source: Luis Alfonso Fierro in El Universal (sp)

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