Mayan Ruins

I’ve read two books in the last month, and in both of them, characters time travelled. Right up there with how an enormous, people-filled steel bullet can fly 35,000 feet above the earth at 500 miles an hour, the twists created in a story line involving time travel gets my mind in an uncomfortable kink. _Life after Life_, a big 400+ book by Kate Atkinson, I gave up on. Read the last page and had no idea how that wrapped up the life of a woman who died time after time, tweaking history a bit each time she returned. _The Eyre Affair_ by Jasper Fforde was easier to follow and conversation with others afterwards helped me knit the bits together. With my gizzard full of time travel, I felt a twinge last Tuesday. Liam is studying the Mayan culture and has been assigned a team project: to build a Mayan Stelae – a carved pillar. On the front of these structures is a person and on the other sides are hieroglyphics describing the person. I provided the clay, the marble rolling pin, the carving tools, and ultimately, the Styrofoam center on which the carved slabs of clay would be anchored. And the authoritarian voice that kept two 10-year-old boys on task.

Somewhere around 1990, Bill and I, together with a few other friends, stayed on a live-a-board dive boat off the coast of Belize. After a week of three dives a day, we dried our gills and rented a large white people-mover van, and we struck out from Belize City and crossed the narrow country to the Guatemalan border in search of a Mayan ruin. I was a sheep in the flock, the last goose in the V… no idea where I was going, just going with the group. Often I think if my 5th grade social studies teacher had told me that I might actually go to some of the places I studied, I might have done more than memorize dates and places to pass the test.

The structure was clinging to a hillside with a ton of steps from top to bottom. I only remember the ruin as a backdrop to the grassy area in front of it where a guide prodded a spider out of its in-ground home. Right in front of me, a tarantula as big as my hand emerged from the blades of grass then seconds later, he grumpily returned to his hole.

The sight that is etched on my brain was from walking away from the ruin toward a shallow river. I saw women and children on the opposite shore and ankle deep in the water. It was a rather serious scene, not one of people enjoying the water in an American beach-sense. They looked busy. From the water’s edge on my side of the river, I could clearly see what they were doing. Laundry. I had stumbled upon Belizean Laundry Mavens, rubbing clothes on rocks to scrub them and then rinsing them in the river water. I hadn’t thought about this scene for years, until I became the adult responsible for overseeing the building of a Mayan Stelae. Today, this Laundry Maven will be more grateful than cheeky about the loads of clothes processed in the laundry room.

Last week, with this scene replaying from the depth of my memory banks, I was sure my over-seeing this project was serendipity. An opportunity to walk down memory lane to one of the coolest trips ever. From the Mayan book I checked out from the library, I see that we probably visited either Caracol. Or perhaps Xunantunich. And according to the book, there were probably walls in the area like the ones these two 10-year-olds were constructing. I wanted to tell them more about that trip, but I had collected no memories to impart. For I had only been one dazed sheep traveling in the herd.

With this theory of Mayan serendipity busted, another one struck me.

I’m the mom who owns and knows how to operate a hack saw! To pre-cut a big block of Styrofoam down to a workable size for the after school project.  It was all part of a divine plan that I take the lead on this one.  Not for my Mayan experience but for my experience trimming trees with a hack saw.