Sunday, June 30, 2013

His name is Sancho and he dances on the sand (behind the scenes in a vineyard)

Next time you see a Mexican man at the grocery store hug him, then ask if he works in vineyards, if he doesn't apologize and go about your business, if he does buy him a beer and say "pinche Sancho".

The wine industry in Ontario and to a certain extant BC runs on Mexican migrant workers. These are men who spend 6-8 months out of the year in Canada and the rest of the time in Mexico. In Canada they live in big group houses, in Mexico in their respective Pueblos' they stay at home with their families, and they do have families, they all have families, often quite young families with recent new borns and more on the way. They are not the middle class Canadian kid who decides to spend a year working and traveling abroad, they are family men who often curse or bless Sancho depending on their mood.

Recently the Mexicans and I have been tucking vines, this is an exceedingly tedious task that seemingly never ends. We spend 12 hours a day, all day, taking the newly grown shoots and tucking them under wires so the tractors can easily move through the rows and spray pesticides without damaging the vines. The vines just keep growing and growing so we keep on tucking and tucking. Doing one block at a time we then have to go back to the start once we have finally finished:  Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling and then back to Merlot because it refuses to stop growing! It's outrageously boring and incredibly simple which allows for ample time to have impromptu Spanish and English lessons and cultural exchange.

If you look closely you can see the right side, which has been tucked, has considerably less errant shoots than the left side which has yet to be tucked. This row would have taken about an hour.

The conversations between me and the Mexicans started out with the most basic of descriptive sentences "te gusta cerveza?" "senorita caliente?" Contextually our conversations often made no sense and exclusively revolved around tequila, beer, attractive women, being tired and being hungry. As time has progressed my understanding of Spanish has improved and we have been able to express more complex thoughts with one another. The most perplexing and intriguing notion they have shared with me so far is the existence of Sancho and the strange attitude they take towards him. When I first heard of Sancho I tried to commiserate "Pinche Sancho" (curse Sancho!) but the response was not one I expected: "no, no Sancho est bueno." Esteban then went on to explain to me that Sancho looks after his family and takes care of his wife while he is away. If anything dirty poped into your head when you read the phrase "takes care of his wife" then you have a very accurate imagination. Sancho helps with chores and opening pickle jars while the men are off working the fields in Canada. Sancho also takes care of Esteban's and every other Mexican migrant worker' wife while the husbands are away. Sancho is a very busy man.

The relationship the men have with Sancho is a strange one. The Mexicans are both happy for and curse the role Sancho fills. No husband is pleased about his wife sleeping with another man, but they deal with it and a lot of the men have Sanchas here in Canada which helps soften the blow. No one seems to know who their wife's Sancho is and everyone seems pretty content to keep it that way; ignorance is bliss.

Sancho's primary role is pleasing other mens' wive's, chores and never being seen. As skilled as the families have become at keeping quiet about the arrangement with Sancho secrets have a way of bubbling up to the surface. Manuel once accidentally discovered his Sancho. Sancho disappears when the men return, not necessarily physically but the role of Sancho and all that goes with it must vanish, at least in the human social world. Unfortunately dogs rarely abide by accepted social behaviour, they poop on sidewalks for gods sake! Upon Manuels return back home his dog was acting unfriendly towards him. A few days passed and Mauels friend Pedro dropped by for a visit. The dog was suspiciously friendly towards Pedro. Now Pedro is dead!

That last part probably isn't true but I'm sure there was an awkward silence when everyone in the room realized what was going on.

Sancho is a bizarre facet of Mexican culture that seems to have arisen from work-away husbands trying to raise their family out of poverty. Some of the guys I work with have spent 8 months out of every year for the past 12 years working in Canada. The great distance and time that separates these men from their families has led to a secret care taker, one that tends to the needs of the family while father is gone. It is clear the life of a migrant worker isn't an easy one. While the work isn't always that hard it can be incredibly monotonous and the hours tend to be outrageously long for very little pay by Canadian standards*. One ends up having way too much time to think while in the vineyard, maybe it is all this thought that has lead to this confused but zen like acceptance of Sancho.

Now here is a picture of a young grape cluster:

* They do seem to be fairly wealthy by Mexican standards making roughly 10 times what they would make in Mexico