The Saint of Kathmandu: And Other Tales of the Sacred in Distant Lands

By Sarah Levine | Go to book overview

[II]
LAS TRES MARÍAS
The Cult of the Virgin in Mexico

Due north of Cuernavaca rises a jagged mountain chain that divides the Valley of Morelos from the Valley of Mexico. Between stretches of dense forest, in which smoke from the banked fires of illegal charcoal makers curls above dark trees, extinct volcanoes jut high and bald into an azure sky. The inhabitants of Ojos de María, one of only a handful of villages in those inhospitable mountains, are mostly Nahuatl Indians who scratch out a livelihood raising goats for barbacoa stew and yucca plants for the mescal with which, on weekends, they hope to lure city people up their narrow rutted road. But when I first knew the place, the rustic restaurants lining the main street were attracting few customers even on the long holiday weekends with which Mexico is enviably endowed, and most households relied on remittances from el otro lado, the “other side.”

I started my work in Ojos de María in the cold season, when the rosy-cheeked village children rarely showed up at the school, with its ill-fitting doors and broken windowpanes, until the sun had worked its way round the bald volcano to the east and dispelled the dank midwinter mist. Meanwhile, their teachers would huddle round a brazier in the principal’s office. As I waited with them for freezing temperatures to edge upward and the children to come straggling in, I’d listen as they harped on their favorite topics: the inadequacy of their salaries, which, with inflation mirroring the country’s perennial economic crisis,

-43-

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