By Gina Dettmar
“Like this,” Tina says, guiding my fingers on the scissors. “How can I sew it if you don’t leave room for a hem?” I start again, leaving an ample if somewhat uneven edge around the template; this time my material passes the test of Tina’s sharp eyes and joins the growing pile beside her sewing machine. My eyes meander down the table to where other machines sing, the women laughing and chatting and reprimanding the children who climb about the office, all the while their fingers moving deftly over the fabric. Qué preciosa. Me encanta esta tela. Cookie break anyone? Three days later we reconvene and to my delight my mismatched patterns have turned into beautiful bags, each one slightly different in color and design and all priced between fifteen and twenty dollars, money that will go to the women’s families and back into the community.
“¡Más fuerza! ¡Más fuerza!” Cindy calls across the field, then redoubles with laughter as the ball I throw rolls to a halt in the grass at her feet. “I’m your lacrosse teacher,” she tells me a few minutes later as we stand with our backs to the fence whipping our arms back and forth, practicing a technique I learn is called cradling. “And you are my English teacher,” she adds with a grin, although her English is already much better than my lacrosse skills will ever be. “Race you to the ball,” she screams, and with a flick of her stick she and the ball go flying across the field, and it is all I can do to keep up.
“You love to swim, don’t you?” a little girl says, noting my wet hair as I walk down her street in the fading light. “I do,” I reply, sitting down on the bench beside her. “Sunset swims are the best.” “I like to swim too,” she tells me. “But I stay away from the beach now. Mantarrayas.” And she nods her head knowingly. “Oh, stingrays!” I say. “I saw one swimming below me just this evening. They can’t hurt you, can they?” She turns in the semidarkness to look with sympathy at the unsuspecting gringa at her side. “Oh, they hurt,” she says gravely. “They hurt a lot. And sometimes they kill you.” “They can kill you!” I cry. “Here?” I had no idea. “Oh, yes,” she tells me with a nod. I don’t know what to say next, so, changing the subject, I ask if maybe she likes to play lacrosse instead. “Oh, yes,” she says, “but lacrosse is dangerous too.” “Is it?” I ask, unaware. “You can end up in the hospital playing lacrosse.” “In the hospital!” I exclaim. “Oh, yes,” she says with a knowing nod.
I bid my new friend ado and continue home, the stars spreading overhead as the heat seeps out of the day. My favorite time here is after the sun sets, after the dust has settled a bit and the night noises begin, suggesting but never fully divulging what the darkness hides. There along the street is my casita aglow and my roommate waiting, but for a moment more I stand beneath the stars, engulfed in the crows and creeks and chirps of the night. The leaves mutter overhead; music drifts out from an open window. Ahh, sleepy Playa Potrero, I think. You have so much yet to teach me.