Orange House and Lonely Hill


This morning, first thing: I wake up, get ready, grab the camera. I walk up the hill and relish the work. It goes faster than I thought it would. I was prepared to work as hard as I had to in order to get back to the little girl from yesterday, the one I saw washing herself in the large rustic tin bucket. She was three or so. She had dirt on her face and while she waved goodbye to us from her little bathtub in front of the house, her house, painted bright orange, I was drawn in and wanted to stop. I felt too swept up in the motion of us searching for the best campsite to ask to stop. But I decided a rule: if you are drawn to photograph someone, you must do it. I knew I would remember not photographing her. But we returned after finding the neighboring campsite too expensive at $9. We were looking for free. I suggested earlier that we try it because although the building had an advertisement for camping painted on the wall, it looks like it was painted thirty years ago. The lack of windows, doors, and the state of the building itself makes me think there's no way anyone's living there.

We roll up. We see a sign, cardboard, with the prices to camp and ending with the phrase Your money is my health, written in Spanish. So there is someone here.

She appears, dressed simply in a blue striped shirt. A woman alone at a campsite on top of a lonelier hill with few plants with a beautiful and expansive view of the surrounding ocean, the houses built into the side of a cliff, and the cliffs around us.

We don't camp here.

Back at the first campsite with the little girl we choose a spot we think will be a little more sheltered from the wind, but it's not. It's not well- maintained but I can't fault the good natured lady whom we paid 100 pesos to in order to stay here for the night. I avoid a suspicious-looking toilet paper strewn spot tucked away privately between two columns of dirt shaped by the runoff of extreme rain. I forget this judgement call the next morning while wandering around scrubby bushes that provide little cover with a Huggies wipe in my hand, given to us in bulk by an outgoing German man we met in the lobby of the car repair headquarters where our van was getting work done.

Joel yells to me, "Don't go over there, Madison!" and I am brought back to reality.

So I am climbing the hill. My right heel has developed an ache from trotting around in skate shoes. I wore them yesterday morning in Tecate when we were forced to wait two hours in a park so we could return to the administrative offices and have a government official stamp our passports, and I decided to join the ladies there doing calisthenics using the machines built next to the playground.

I approach the orange house. I have a sudden anxiety because there's a man in the window that wasn't there the day before, and I fear that I'll be disappointed. That the girl will be gone. Just the shadow of my own disappointment scares me because it devolves into something else--or that something else is wearing disappointment as one of its many masks and I fear whatever it actually is.

The girl is here. She appears first in the doorway as I get closer. She runs outside with zest but is silent. The woman comes out to greet me and I'm suddenly at a loss for words even though I've spent the the whole walk rehearsing Spanish in my head. I say good morning and then go crashing into the conversation by, without preamble, asking to take her photo. She agrees, and before we start I tell her I have "a machine that makes copies." My only objective is to make her feel comfortable while being photographed, so I tell her I can give her a copy of the photo, and suggest she sit in a chair. She doesn't understand because I misspoke, or my body language suggested one thing while my words said another. So she places the girl in the chair and holds a boy, even younger than the girl, who has been tapping a toy on the door behind us while we talked. The man has not reappeared since he disappeared from the window.

The woman isn't comfortable looking at the camera, I think because she does not want to be photographed in her work clothes, and instead looks at the boy she holds in her arms.

The three of them are framed against the side of their house: an orange wall and a window with spotted curtains hanging. A baby's toy sits underneath the chair. The girl smiles and giggles, the boy is extremely grave, and the woman looks at him.

I tell them I'll come back, using more or less the right Spanish, after she asks about a copy of the photo. As I walk away, I realize I hardly looked in her eyes once, and I am exasperated because I had gotten so caught up in taking the right photo and speaking the right Spanish that I had forgotten the most powerful form of communication I know of.

I come back with with Aidan and Parker. Parker films and I reason that Aidan will make her think us more trustworthy because his Spanish is much, much better.

I tell her I have the photos, and the man comes out too to look at them. I don't know which photograph he is looking at when he begins to laugh quietly, but I'm looking at him and smiling huge because I think that I can guess which one. It's the one of the girl standing alone clutching the chair with a strange but profound expression. Her expressiveness is so acute that all you can do when you look at the picture is laugh.

There's another, the last one, of the boy and girl sitting in the chair together, looking at the woman out of the frame while the girl applies lip gloss.

I am not sure what the encounter brought to them and I will probably never know. But this is something that plays over and over in my head: years from now, the girl's family having that photo, thinking it lovely, puzzling for the briefest of moments over the seeming spontaneity of it, and never needing to know about me at all.