Lej ruk’ Me’s

(That title is funny in K’iche’… makes “cat” sound like a menú item)

I got home from my weekend trip to Xela last night, and settled down in the kitchen to write in my journal. It is warm in the kitchen, and pleasant despite the smell that smacks you across the face when you first enter. Within minutes, I was aware of a new noise: a persistent, rhythmic miowing sound. It sounded like a little kid imitating a cat.

“Did we get a cat?” I asked.

Only, since my K’iche’ is so darn eloquent, it translated to something like, “Does there exist cat?”

“Yes, yes.” Replied the sister-in-law (the one I unwittingly called “fat” upon introduction).  She walked over to the shiny new gas oven that seldom gets used and patted the side.


I put the cat out of my mind as the miowing noise continued.  A few minutes later, the sister-in-law’s 4-year-old daughter came in.  Her mom said something that involved the K’iche’ word for “cat” (me’s), and the little girl ran over to the oven. I had a bad feeling about this.

Maribel pulled out a tiny, very unhappy (and very bony) kitten from the back of the stove (please note: the kitten was not in the oven).  “Me’s!” she triumphantly exclaimed for my benefit.

“What’s the cat’s name?” I thought I asked. (Jas u’bi me’s?)

“Cat.” Was Maribel’s reply. (Gato.) Right-o.

It is the tiniest, boniest, most pathetic little creature I have seen in a long while.  I sat with it on my lap in front of the niq’b’al (cooking hearth- common in most Mayan households) and it finally stopped miowing.  On Thursday before I left for the weekend, we had discovered a mouse in the kitchen. Thus the cat. “Does the cat eat mice?” I thought I asked (Xatij ri ch’o ri me’s?). “No, it just arrived.” Was the reply.  Oh.

I put the kitten down when Lidia, the youngest daughter that I have unwittingly been calling the shit (see previous post: ch’ip vs. ch’i’p) came in.  “Can I make tortillas?” I asked; once again, in my eloquence it was more like “I make the tortilla?” (La kinb’an ri lej?) only… it’s an intransitive verb, so I don’t even know if that’s grammatically correct.*

Lidia and the sister-in-law coached me through the tortillando… I have to say, my tortillas weren’t that terrible! Some had holes in the middle, that I surrepticiously patched; others were a little small and thick; more than one had cracked edges. Once they were cooked, though, I couldn’t tell the difference.  The two women tossed them in the basket with their tortillas, to be consumed by the rest of the family.

The father came in.  “We got a cat!” He said. “We had a cat before, but the dog ate it, and it died.”

Oh boy.

Maribel carried the cat around like a baby, and the family laughed at her.  I caught Lidia saying that it was because I liked cats. Yep… the gringa’s crazy. I tried explaining that I have two cats at home, and that I miss them.

“Do you have mice?” Nan Tali’n (the mother) asked. “I used to!” I replied. “Does everyone in the United States have their cats?” Nan Tali’n asked. “Well… some people do.”

I learned during dinner conversation that the cat’s name is, in fact, “Manchas” (“Spot”). Gato is just how you say me’s in Spanish. Glad we clarified that one.

Manchas continued her rhythmic, persistent miow-miow-miow-miow-miow-miowing throughout dinner and well into the evening.  When I came in for breakfast this morning, she was still at it.  She won’t eat tortillas or cheese (the food offered by the family).  I’m worried.

*There is no object in the verb “b’an”… verb conjugation in K’iche’ goes like this: aspect + absolutive marker (in the case of a transitive verb, the object; in the case of an intransitive verb, the subject) + ergative marker (only if the verb is transitive) + root + phrase final marker (at the end of a clause).  So, with “b’an” its: incompletive aspect (k) + ergative marker (subject= in) + root (b’an), since it’s an intransitive verb within a clause.


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