Friday, July 31, 2009

The Talking Watch Caper August 2009

"You know what I want to do?" asked Peggy, over a Sunday breakfast with friends.

"What?" I asked.

"I want to give every blind person around the lake a Talking Watch in Spanish. Even if it doesn't matter what time it is to some of the elderly Mexican people, they will hear a voice every time they push the button and they will know someone cares about them!"
"I can help you do that." I said.

Peggy is an 89 year old American woman who has lived here in Jocotepec, off and on, for over 30 years. She raised her children here, returned to the states, remarried, traveled with her husband, then they returned to Jocotepec to live many years ago. She is a very dear person.

"I can't get around very well anymore, you do the leg work and I'll buy the watches." Said Peggy. "Deal!" I said.

The first thing we had to figure out was how many blind people there might be tucked away in back rooms and hovels in some of these little pueblos along the lake. Then, where we would buy the watches. As luck would have it, it turns out the watch vendor at the Thursday tianguis (farmers market) in Jocotepec carries them! Wow, how cool is that, we don't have to import them. Win win win.

Hector said "If you buy all the watches from me I'll give them to you for 40 pesos each."
I quickly calculated $3.00 US, can't do much better than that!
Now to find the blind people. . .

Since Diabetes is an epidemic here in Mexico, we figured there would be no shortage of blind people. We were right, unfortunately.

I called Jean Dresslar from the Lake Chapala Society Talking Books Program as well as DIF (which is an acronym for Mexico's health and family services program), Centro Salud (the Mexican government health clinic) and a few people I knew who were involved with the community and everyone began compiling lists of blind people by towns. We agreed to distribute the watches in Jocotepec and others volunteered to do it in Chapala, Ajijic, and the Lake Chapala south shore.

Armed with several pages of smudgy pencil written names and POSSIBLE addresses, the best part of this whole thing began.

Peggy, her son Rob, and I set out one day with a big bag of watches, instructions, and Hector's business cards. Hector promised to repair and change batteries in the watches as needed.
The first address was finally located - no easy feat in a country that doesn't necessarily use street addresses. Took several minutes and the help of the mechanic next door to gain entry and meet José. José said he thought we were the local priest who comes every day to give him communion or his sister who comes twice a week on the bus from Guadalajara with groceries.

The house was clean and most of the furniture had been piled on the couch in the living room, I guess to keep him from falling as he shuffles around with his cane in the darkness.
I explained what we were doing in his house and handed the watch over to him. He reached up and took Peggy's face between his hands and muttered "Gracias." All of our eyes welled up and we were on our way to the next recipient with full hearts.

Maria lived alone in a one room pile of rubble and rocks. She had another little indoor/outdoor room with a sink and some neighborhood kids were washing her clothes for her.
Maria has only one foot and lives on a rank and stained bare mattress with her humble belongings stacked neatly on the other half of the mattress. She was a doll. She was full of personality and gratitude when we put her watch on for her. When we were ready to leave, she asked over and over when we would be coming back to visit her again. I will do that.

Another Maria, who lives in a room just off an interior garden, in San Cristóbal on the south shore, had vision better than some of the others, but qualified for our gift in other ways. She was a peach and we spent the better part of the afternoon with her getting a blow by blow description of her beautiful garden. We have returned to visit her and Larry brought her cuttings and plants from his garden. She is delightful. Here she is proudly showing off her new watch.

The next recipient was a young man who I ran into on the street. He lives here in Joco and walks around town with one arm draped over the shoulder of his sister. His eyes are milky gray orbs. He told me he had been living in the US and became sick with a virus that ultimately took his vision. He was broke and alone in the US and unable to work. His family here in Jocotepec saved their pesos until they had enough to get up to CA and bring him home. That's how it is here, that's why I love it here.

There were many more recipients, too many to list. One guy I stopped on the street had a huge basket of homemade candies that he brought with him on the bus from Guadalajara and he was peddling them door to door. He was blind as a bat and his very, very pregnant wife led the way. I brought them over to my house and gave them a watch. They gave me candies.

There was an ancient lady, not far from my house, who was sweeping her entryway with a broom made from a bound cluster of reeds at the end of a stick. After I explained the watch and strapped it on her wrist, she looked up at me and said "What's the catch?"

In the end, between us all, we distributed 84 watches!


  1. what a wonderful account of what folks like you can do with their time and now is the time it is and for Peggy and her great idea that made so many happy nows!

  2. Isn't that the truth. And, it's SO easy, just find a need and fill it. Henry J. Kaiser said that, and look how it worked out for him! Thanks, Sonja.