I peered out the bus window at the tiny images of people winding their way up the hill to the terraced rice paddies. It was early morning. The climb was steep, and I knew that their work day would be long. It occurred to me that these people got more physical exercise just getting to work (a job which was also quite physical) than many Americans get all week. It’s not that people in my home country don’t work hard. They do. But these days, a lot of the literal and figurative “heavy lifting” is done by machine.
In a previous post, I listed Ten Ways Travel Can Save Your Soul. Number eleven would be that travel reminds me of the dignity and honor of work, especially of manual labor.
I get reminded of this several times every morning. In the colonial hill town of central Mexico where I live, cooking and water heating are done with gas. Trucks full of gas tanks barrel down the drivable streets, blaring their horns to announce delivery. The trouble is, most of the streets aren’t drivable. The vast majority of houses are located in small alleyways, which are far too steep and narrow for motorized vehicles. So how do the people who live in these alleyways get their gas? We are able to have hot water and cooked food thanks to the manly men who deliver the tanks on foot.
Gas men are hot! (Please note that when I say “gas men,” I am only referring to the professionals who deliver the tanks. There is nothing sexy about your typical man with gas. Quite the contrary!) They climb the steep hills of Guanajuato and bellow out the word “Gas!” with a degree of projection that would put Ethel Merman to shame. This alone is impressive. The elevation reaches nearly 7,000 feet and I am usually huffing and puffing, barely capable of conversation as I climb the hill to my house. These guys have serious lung power.
The first gas man usually passes through my neighborhood around 7:30 AM. No need for an alarm clock. Whenever you’re out of gas, they dutifully carry the empty tank (too heavy for me to lift) down the hill to the truck and then come back up the hill with a full (even heavier) tank. Hats off to them!
The most impressive instance I’ve seen of someone really rocking at a mundane job was the bus assistant in Guatemala. I was on a colorful, but rickety old school bus (a.k.a. the Chicken Bus) which was determinedly winding its way up the mountains on the foggy road to Nebaj. The driver and the assistant (whose main responsibility was collecting the bus fare) seemed bent on expediting the trip. Whenever a new passenger would get on, the assistant would run around behind the bus with their luggage. I could hear his fist pound on the bus, telling the driver it was okay to move on. Then a few minutes later he would suddenly drop down into the open doorway of the moving bus, apparently having secured the luggage on the roof and traversed the length of the bus while we were in motion. I had been watching him do this for about two hours when I noticed that he only had one arm!
My country recently celebrated “Labor Day”. (I know. The rest of you do that on the first of May, but someone in the US decided that honoring work at the same time as the rest of the world would make us Communists, so we do it in September.) I’m one of the lucky people who gets away with not having to work very hard a lot of the time. I salute the people who do!Published in