The botereros arrived at six a.m., in the dark, as they had been asked. Many of the dozen men brought their own botes – square buckets that previously held paint or adhesives, with a short board nailed along the edge of one side, for a handle. The early hour was necessary because it was a Sunday – and they needed to finish their work in time to go to mass.
In the dark they groused and complained, waiting for the maestro to give the word. But the maestro wasn’t ready; a lack of planning, perhaps, or maybe he hadn’t arrived as early in the morning as he had planned. The men joked, teasing each other with insulting, sly, and lewd jokes, getting louder and louder, letting the maestro know that they were ready to begin.
It was a big colado (usually pronounced “kolau”, to rhyme with cow). A colado is the cement roof on most brick houses. The concrete is poured into wooden frames over bricks that have been placed in the frames. The dozen men were doing the job that in the US would be done by a big cement truck. First they would mix the cement with sand and gravel, in the street. They made two big circles right there in front of our house. When the maestro gave the sign, they carried their botes full of water to the chosen circle, and a couple of them began to mix the diferent elements for the colado. When it was ready, each man approached the mixed concrete and filled his bote, then hurried over to the wall, and heaved his bote up to the one man who would handle each one for the duration of the pouring. He handed each bote to another man, who either handed it to a second man on the roof, or poured it in the right spot.
A colado is a pretty exciting event. It requires plenty of workers so that the concrete gets where it needs to go; and not through the long chute of a cement truck, either. The word gets out, and days before the colado is to happen, men stop by, asking when it will be, and they let the maestro know that they will come to help. Each man earns a set amount for the colado – here in El Pedernal, each worker earns 200 pesos (less than $20) for the job. It’s fun to watch, and, I think, fun for the men. It is not easy work, and each one gets to show off a little (or a lot). There is lots of laughter and good-natured (?) teasing. Even the town drunk worked on this colado. An unimaginable force of will got him to the job on time, and he worked the whole time; exhibiting an exaggerated politeness as he helped inside our yard.
Because we ran out of water. We had five barrels of water; two were obtained rather hastily the day before. The morning of the colado, the water arrived at the same time as usual, about 7:45 a.m. We had hoped that Durango, the man in charge of turning on the water, would turn it on a little early to speed through the pipes to our house so that we would have plenty. But that didn’t happen. The barrels were emptied rapidly, and then a teenaged boy and I filled buckets with an alarmingly weak trickle, and they were hauled off by Quin (sounds like Keen), our neighborhood drunk. He is usually to be found passed out on the street, or, if awake, with a bottle or two of straight alcohol. There’s no telling how much longer this guy will be around, but surely it is too late for him to stop drinking. He worked for the entire duration of the colado. When he received his 200 pesos at the end, he went straight to the window of the little store across the street, where, I surmise, he must have owed a debt. (Marielena doesn’t sell alcohol).
The whole job yesterday lasted over three hours, with a pause in the middle to mix another circle of concrete on the street. Today began with some strong winds, (they say Febrero Loco, Marzo Otro Poco; or, February crazy, and March a little more) (February noticeably arrived one day early) and Chon and I were asked to tend to the colado by dampening it with buckets of water. A good colado doesn’t develope cracks. This one (and the last one, too) was pronounced a success by Nacho, the maestro, and his chalan, Sabino.
The important moments of follow-up came. First, there was a general clean-up. Then came the moment of payment, and each worker received his 200-peso bill, carefully planned for and gathered beforehand. Then Chon, having previously supplied several large bottles of beer, provided a large bottle of mezcal (very strong agave alcohol – some people call it rat-killer), and bought a couple of kilos of carnitas from a passing pickup, for the men who remained. They had to use their fingers, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining.