The Centro merchants, restaurant workers, bus drivers and just about everyone else, called her, “Yaya”. I started noticing her in the streets of Merida in the 1990s. Actually, the radius of her world was made up of one square block – between Calles 57 & 59 and 58 & 60.
She was about 4 foot 6, bowlegged, snag-toothed and scruffy. She lived in a psychotic world that allowed no access. I would guess that she was schizophrenic.
Diminutive as she was, her strength was surprising. Her bowed legs never rested. At any given time, she owned up to six boxes. And no one could get near them. Inside I glimpsed Coca Cola bottles filled with water, tattered blankets, and not much else. She’d push them back and forth from one end of the Callejón del Congreso, to the other. And then she’d do it all over again. All day, every day.
I could not ask her name, nor learn her story because she was profoundly deaf and did not speak.
But she sometimes got a-hold of a whistle or a drum. Where from, who knows? But she loved to play them loudly – very loudly. I guess she could feel and enjoy the vibration.
In typical Merida fashion, the people who lived and worked near her home-plate provided Yaya with the basics. A shopkeeper gave her “employment.” Daily she handed out his flyers along her four streets. If anyone walked past without accepting one, she would sneak up behind and bop them on the head. I saw more than one person whip around and stare incredulously at Yaya. But she did not back down. She would not be intimidated – not on her own turf.
No one knew where she came from. No one ever claimed her as their own. Over the years, a few well-meaning souls tried to move her and her belongings to a safer spot, but she responded with shrill shrieks and flying fists. The government wanted to assist Yaya, as did a group of well-intentioned ladies who captured her whenever they could. They’d bathe her, brush her few teeth, wash and comb her hair and dress her in clean clothing.
Yaya somehow ended up as she did, and it didn’t look like she wanted any other life. A shop keeper in the pedestrian mall saw that she ate every day, and when she got ill, he bought her medicine. From time to time, other neighbors gave her clothes and blankets. She bathed and performed her bodily functions in secret spots. There must have been someone who laid out some soap & a towel, and left a water hose available to her.
I always felt sympathetic to Yaya’s wishes to be left alone. I imagine she was always deaf-mute. Where was her family and the medical community when she was a child? Where were they when she turned her back on a “normal”life – whatever that is? Living a solitary existence amid the crowds, Yaya knew where she wanted to be, and that is where she wanted to stay.
But she got older, and the years of hand-to-mouth living took their toll. It was hard to see Yaya as a contributing member of society – in the conventional sense. But I think she had something important to teach us. I can’t precisely say what, but I know that every time I’d spot her on the street, I would feel reminded to do the best I can with what I have.
About the time that the Palacio de Musica was built, someone moved Yaya along. To where, no one seems to know. But she’s gone. If she is still alive, I hope she’s found another place where she wants to be. If she has passed away, I hope her end was peaceful.
Yaya made me think about gratitude and about tolerance. She made me pause and consider, that if not for the grace of the Universe – there go I.
Photo credit: Yaya http://www.municipiosyucatan.com/wp/