New meaning to mañana

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Marvin West


The good government of Jocotepec, centralized at the west end of Lake Chapala in the great state of Jalisco, has given new meaning to the word “mañana.”

Too early on a Monday morning in mid-December 2007, a giant yellow machine on four very large, black tires got the undivided attention of residents along Rivera del Lago. It rolled slowly down the middle of our street, making a lot of unnecessary noise, digging a ditch five feet deep. Remarkable machine. It somehow dumped dirt on one side of the canyon and cobblestones on the other.

A community activist, blessedly bilingual, rose to the challenge, waved the operation to a standstill, asked pointed questions and came away shaking his head.

“We are getting a new water line. We get to pay for it.”

There was more and better information: The project would last only three days. Thursday was a spare. By Friday, all connections would be complete and the street would be restored. Better than original condition. You will be very happy-at a cost of only 800 pesos per doorway.

This being Mexico, we knew with absolute certainty that somebody was lying. On guard! Nothing this big had ever happened that fast. Beware of hidden charges. Look out for leaks.

To our surprise, the big yellow digger was gone in a week. Long sections of four-inch pipe were joined together. Home connections were completed for those with cash in hand.

It appeared restoration might take a little longer. Two guys with shovels shoveled a few clods of dirt, tired quickly and rested on shovel handles. They took smoke breaks. They paused for Pepsis. They went away for leisurely lunches. One afternoon they got lost and never found their way back.

The community activist saved the street in the third week. He phoned somebody in authority and a smaller yellow machine with a blade in front appeared two days later and began pushing dirt into the ditch. It smoked and burped and made loud noises but took fewer rest stops. It was much faster than the guys leaning on shovels.

Early in the fourth week, Rivera del Lago was reopened to traffic. Barely. Even daring drivers moved very slowly. Rough road was like a logging trail with piles of ornamental cobblestones off to the side.

Your street will be better than the original condition? No bumps. No problems. You will be very happy? Maybe mañana.

For most of the lovely people in and around our town, the word “mañana” has essentially the same meaning it does elsewhere in Mexico – not today, perhaps later, but without any hint of urgency. Schedules and timetables are never set in stone. There is always something a little loose about appointments. Instead of being definite, they are more like possibilities.

The gas truck usually comes before breakfast but it may show up after lunch. The welder who was going to repair the sagging wrought-iron gate said 10 o’clock. Could he have meant next week? The sign says the laundry opens at 9. It means some days. Perhaps.

The photo lab at the drugstore with a famous name ran out of 8 x 10 paper. Maybe mañana. After five tries over two weeks, we surrendered, sadly aware that company headquarters and boxes of print paper are just 40 miles away.

In partnership with the concept of sometime later but never sooner is the word “momento.” A hand signal, tips of the thumb and first finger close together, illustrates the idea. Won’t be long. Short delay. No more than a minute. You see it every time a Mexican motorist double-parks and blocks you in.

In fact, a Mexican momento is a tricky catch-all, a strange little net with many holes. It can mean anything, from just a short-short, a bit longer, to an indefinite delay. Arm yourself when dealing with momentos. Never leave home without your Spanish-English dictionary. Improve your vocabulary while you wait.

Some say the mañana philosophy is mostly a myth, a distorted perspective of Mexico developed by retired gringos still plagued by our type A dispositions. Could be. But it does seem that almost everything in our charming neighborhood moves deliberately, very slowly or not at all.

Example: We choose to pay our water bill annually, in advance. We went to the proper place with our small stack of pesos in hand. Gracias, said the secretary and treasurer of the water department, but could you please come back next month. We are not ready to write receipts. There is no carbon to make copies.

More than once I have been reminded that it takes patience to enjoy the Mexican pace. Of course Mexicans have clocks but time has a different meaning. Mexicans work to live, not live to work. The job will still be there.

Speaking of patience, people in our community rarely get in a hurry except at red lights. Life in Jocotepec rocks along to its own rhythm. It refuses to be rushed. If the electricity is off, eat the ice cream before it melts. If the telephone won’t work, try it tomorrow.

In our previous life, in Washington, D.C., there was a simple political saying: If you can’t get the damned Democrats to see it your way, take a look at theirs. Might it be possible to eventually adopt the Mexican point of view, to actually stop fretting about trivial things that are a bit late?

Our street is navigable, better now than in the rainy season. The new water line has been in service 13 months. Alas, the piles of cobblestones are still off to the side. Maybe mañana they will be back in place. But maybe not.

Published or Updated on: February 1, 2009 by Marvin West © 2009
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