This article is from the April 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Boiling Water Caper

by Bruce McGovern 

My sister_in_law in Mexico City runs water through a filter, then boils it for ten minutes to clean out the bacteria, before they drink it. She uses a large, five gallon pot to do this. She used to carry the pot to the filter behind the house, and it took quite a while to trickle full. I started buying Santa Maria brand of water to use in my room, and the gallon jugs are much heavier than milk jugs here in the States, so they are recycled for every imaginable use. So, she fills four or five of the old water jugs from the filter, and keeps them in the kitchen. When it is time to boil another batch, she dumps the jugs in the pot, and starts them slowly filling again while the pot heats up. After it is boiled, the first available man totes the hot pot of water across the kitchen, and sits it on a round piece of Masonite on the far cupboard. This gives a sort of coding so everyone knows where the good water is located, separate from any unboiled water. 

One day, this spring, Margarita and her sister started the pot boiling, and went out somewhere. Margarita reminded me to shut the pot off after it boiled a while. 

I had good intentions, really I did. But, it takes so long for the water to boil, that I decided to run down the street to the panaderia to buy three liters of milk, enough for one day. 

When I got to the panaderia, Angelica and her mom were just finishing unloading a van of sweet rolls, and bolillos. Angelica is eighteen, and a student at the university when it is not on strike. She is studying to be a civil engineer, hoping to design construction related to oil fields. She loves mathematics, but does not like chemistry. I found a copy of Burington's for fifty cents at a thrift shop, and took it to her last year, to her delight. Aware of the culture, I handed it to her dad, and explained that I found it for only five pesos, and thought of her right away. One does not give expensive gifts to young women in Mexico, and a new copy of Burington's in Mexico would be over a hundred dollars! 

Angelica and her mother are not beautiful like my nieces, but they certainly are happy women who laugh loud, and easily. It is hard not to laugh when they are present. Usually, Angelica has ‘dishwater blonde’ hair, but she had died it ‘horse_tail red.’ I made the mistake of making a joke about it. 

Anyway, after Angelica stopped sulking, the three of us had a lengthy conversation, Mexican style, which means you stop where you are, and have a great chat. In this case, we were leaning against the van in the street. We were laughing a lot, speaking English because Angelica has been teaching her mother to speak English, and Mom likes to practice when she can. 

After an hour or two, we remembered we had other things to do, so I went home, and they went back to work. I had completely forgotten my assigned task! 

When I got home, my wife was steaming, pun intended. She and her sister had seen me visiting with two women in the street, then found the water boiling all over the stove. 

Not usually one to take the defensive position, no matter how obvious the offense, I told my wife it was completely her fault. If she and her sister had joined us, I could have introduced my friends. And, I would have had time to run home, turn off the stove, and clean up the mess before they got there and discovered the error!