Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER

from the January 9, 2005 Newsletter issued from Komchén de Los Pájaros just outside Dzemul, Yucatán, MÉXICO
LINO'S METALWORK

Komchen is lucky to have a hired hand named Lino. Lino is one of the most level-headed, honest, dependable, inventive and talented people I know. Still in his 20s he's worked here for 14 years, so he knows more about keeping Komchen going than anyone.

Lino's salary here is not great so this week, when Komchen chores weren't pressing, he's been allowed to supplement his income by welding together metal grillwork for someone in town. His finished pieces are about 4 ft x 4 ft, with arched tops, and they are so substantial and fancily ornamented that they would look good on any Canal Street cathouse in New Orleans.

Lino worked about 30 hours on the two pieces and will sell them for about $220. Half of that $220 pays for the metal and half is his income. Therefore, Lino is making about $7.30 an hour, which is a remarkably good wage here. The problem is that such jobs are very few and far apart. He hasn't done any other such work since my arrival here in early November. When I consider his usual income in light of the basic costs of living here, really I don't see how he keeps his family afloat.

I'm beginning to realize that a remarkable percentage of men from Dzemul work in the US, legally and illegally, sending money to their families here. The general consensus here is that if the US should really seal its borders against undocumented laborers, it would be a complete economic disaster for Dzemul and untold numbers of other such towns. It would seriously cripple Mexico's economy.

Lino knows that in the US he could earn much more with his talents than here, yet he stays. Being so consistently level headed, I bet he's weighed the issues and recognized that there's value in his being here for his wife and children, value in living a simple life in a peaceful, friendly place like Dzemul, and value in being among friends and family. In fact, these things possess such high intrinsic value that when weighed against the strictly material advantages of going to the US, leaving here just doesn't "pay."

It's good to see someone recognizing the value of something that isn't advertised, isn't packed in plastic, isn't glitsy and high-powered.

Lino works all day beneath the strangler fig tree next to the big fishpond with its tinkling fountain and sometimes he breaks into a bright whistle that's a pure pleasure to hear.