A whole different set of characters shows up at my door here. Not a single Avon lady with catalog, no Girl Scout with cookies, no ice cream truck, no college students with petitions for NYPIRG or political candidates, no Street Coordinators for cancer or heart associations, no kids asking to play with my kids. On rare occasion, a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon has stopped by, as in the U.S., but for the most part, this is a drama with a different cast.
First, as my front door about 60 feet from the street, anyone who arrives rings the bell at the gate and waits for me to walk out to greet them. Those who don't see the little brass bell hanging from the gate post clap loudly several times, as is the custom here. (No shouting "Hey, anybody home?") Of course my dogs bark with excitement when someone stops in front of our house, so that really alerts me. No one enters a private yard without an invitation.
Here's a list of typical visitors that stop by our little house in our little barrio on the outskirts of San Nicolas:
Green Grocers. The horse-drawn vegetable wagon passes by with Miguel and Oscar from the countryside, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, with seasonal produce, e.g., lettuces, onions, tomatoes, oranges, squashes, apples, eggs, bananas, and even the occasional free-range chicken. Oscar knows I prefer the potatoes "sin ojos ni narices," i.e., without eyes or noses. And Miguel hand carries the produce to my door. If it rains, they take the day off. They accept credit, which can be very handy.
Couriers. Mail is so untrustworthy that companies send their monthly bills by special couriers, or "cadets," who arrive on a bright, noisy motorcycle, much to the dogs' obvious delight. At times I have hired a courier to pay my bills, bring me roast chickens, pizza, ice cream, and office supplies from town. Once the local pharmacist, Daniela, kindly brought me the prescription herself since a courier was not available, and I needed the antihistamine to keep my foot from swelling up like a balloon after stepping into an ant hill (with those little tiny red ants that sting like the dickens!).
Mailman. Shows up maybe once or twice a month. No one leaves letters in the mailbox for pick up of course! The date stamps show weeks of delay even for domestic mail; it can be months of delay for international mail. Some stuff never arrives (and I'm told by locals that postal employees frequently steal and just leave boxes of undelivered mail piling up in offices).
The "Cobradora." The neighborhood association has hired Ana Luisa to collect the dues for street maintenance and the night guard. She usually shows up on a Sunday afternoon with the bill, her young son (whose English gets better every time) in tow. She also sells Mary Kay, and left me a catalogue at my request, but I have yet to buy anything. She never mentions it. I worry about her as everyone pays in cash, and we are talking about hundreds of pesos, and she assures me that Sunday afternoons are quite safe. Plus she comes by car, not on foot.
"Paper boy." It's a grown woman, Dolores, and this is her livelihood. She also manages a kiosk with magazines and newspapers on the main route near us. She honks for me to run out as she is intimidated by our agitated dogs (who have now been trained to resist jumping on people). She is one of the very few persons who complain about how hard life is here, although many others certainly could justify doing so. They just don't. I offered to coach her, but she never took me up on it.
"Pool guy." Okay, so I exaggerate, but it would be nice to have one! Maxi, a teenager, drops off the weekly jugs of chlorine for the pool, with his dad at the wheel of the truck. He's the only middle-class high school student I've met with the initiative to work weekends to earn money. We should clone him! He is energetic, cheerful, and no doubt a good student too. I wonder if they do this to help with the costs of their other son, left paraplegic after a car accident some years ago. They don't mention it. . . I just happened to find out by asking about siblings.
The Internet guy. After years of struggling with dial-up internet, we jumped at the chance to get high-speed via a private antenna, which Marcello installed and manages. He stops by when we have problems and to collect the monthly payment, always unannounced and usually during dinner time of course, despite repeated requests to come before 8 p.m. He has such a passion for what he is doing that he is still smiling at 9 p.m. Amazing.
The "Gardener." A glorified term not really applicable to Ismael, a mechanic who took up gardening when the factory laid him off, who comes to cut the grass once a week and keep the bamboo from taking over our back yard. He also prunes trees without the slightest knowledge of the subject, so our palm tree went headless for an entire year. I admire him because he manages to make it here under very trying circumstances, including distance, weather, and transportation, all in good humor. For a while he had to come by motorcycle, pulling his wagon of supplies behind him, including a succession of lawn mowers in various states of functioning. I begged him to repair or replace the one that belched black soot for his own health, and I've lent him money for that. Sometimes he brings Raul with him, a stooping older man who lovingly tends the flower beds, but unfortunately chronic illnesses keep him away most of the time. Whenever I start to think I have things hard, I just think of Ismael and immediately realize just how lucky I have been in this life. He took his first vacation in ages last week—which just meant staying home and relaxing!
Neighbors. Once a week or so, Manuela (now 14 years old) used to bike here with her little brother Agustín seated in front of her, plastic bag dangling from the handlebars. From the poor barrio on the other side of the highway and as skinny as rails, they always wanted food, which we always gave them, with candy and cookies for fun. They've come for years; I wonder why they have not stopped by this month. As for neighbors here--maybe every four months or so, when the phone is dead, my next-door neighbor Sylvia shows up at the door, not the gate, to ask if our phone service is also down, and then she sits down and enjoys coffee and conversation. (She is the only person besides R's daughter who can get past the dogs, apparently!) Marisol, a new neighbor who hails from Cordoba, drops by every other week or so to chat. I don't know the other women here in our small neighborhood of 50 houses; on the rare occasion that I see a woman in her yard or walking in the street, she shows no interest in saying hello. So I assume extreme privacy must be the norm and respect that.
Family and friends. Given that we live "so far from town" (7 kilometers), almost no one ever stops in unexpectedly. Oddly enough, most who visit us are under 30 years old. Roberto's daughter and boyfriend. Two local English-language teachers. The young German woman who brings organic veggies (and has started an Expat Club with me). Gonzalo and his girlfriend from Buenos Aires. Would-be Unitarian Universalists (this includes older folks) who make a point of traveling to San Nicolas to meet one of the two official UUs in this country.
I think that covers our list of visitors. If you want to stop by, please email or phone first—and I'll even bake some brownies!
P.S. For privacy, the gate and house in the photo are similar to mine, but are from another neighborhood.