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SMALL BUNDLES

SMALL BUNDLES
SMALL BUNDLES

What he receives are gifts.

Enrique expects the worst. Riding trains through the state of Chiapas, which immigrants call "the beast," has taught him that any upraised hand might hurl a stone. But here in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, he discovers that people are friendly. "It's just the way we are," says Jorge Zarif Zetuna Curioca, a legislator from Ixtepec.

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Perhaps not everyone is that way, but there is a widespread generosity of spirit. Many residents say it is rooted in the Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous cultures. Besides, some say, giving is a good way to protest Mexico's policies against illegal immigration.

Not long after seeing the statue of Jesus, Enrique is alone on a hopper. Night has fallen, and as the train passes through a tiny town, it blows its soulful horn. He looks over the side. More than a dozen people, mostly women and children, are rushing out of their houses along the tracks, clutching small bundles.

Some of the migrants grow afraid. Will these people throw rocks? They lie low on top of the train. Enrique sees a woman and a boy run up alongside his hopper

"

¡Orale, chavo!

Here, boy!" they shout.

They toss up a roll of crackers. It is the first gift.

Enrique reaches out. He grabs with one hand, but holds tightly to the hopper with the other. The roll of crackers flies several feet away, bounces off the car and thumps to the ground.

Now women and children on both sides of the tracks are throwing bundles to the immigrants on the tops of the cars. They run quickly and aim carefully, mostly in silence, trying hard not to miss.

"

¡Alli va uno!

There's

one!"

Enrique looks down. There are the same woman and boy. They are heaving a blue plastic bag. This time the bundle lands squarely in his arms.

"¡Gracias! ¡Adios!"

he says into the darkness. He isn't sure the strangers, who pass by in a flash, even heard him.

He opens the bag. Inside are half a dozen rolls of bread.

Enrique is stunned by the generosity. In many places where the train slows in Veracruz, at a curve or to pass through a village, people give. Sometimes 20 or 30 people stream out of their homes along the rails and toward the train. They smile, then shout and throw food.

The towns of Encinar, Fortin de las Flores, Cuichapa and Presidio are particularly known for their kindness. These are unlikely places for people to be giving food to strangers. A World Bank study in 2000 found that 42.5% of Mexico's 100 million people live on $2 or less a day. Here, in rural areas, 30% of children 5 and younger eat so little that their growth is stunted, and the people who live in humble houses along the rails are often the poorest.

Families throw sweaters, tortillas, bread and plastic bottles filled with lemonade. A baker, his hands coated with flour, throws his extra loaves. A seamstress throws bags filled with sandwiches. A teenager throws bananas. A store owner throws animal crackers, day-old pastries and half-liter bottles of water.

A young man, Leovardo Santiago Flores, throws oranges in November, when they are plentiful, and watermelons and pineapples in July. A stooped woman, Maria Luisa Mora Martin, more than 100 years old, who was reduced to eating the bark of her plantain tree during the Mexican Revolution, forces her knotted hands to fill bags with tortillas, beans and salsa so her daughter, Soledad Vasquez, 70, can run down a rocky slope and heave them onto a train.

"If I have one tortilla, I give half away," one of the food throwers says. "I know God will bring me more."

Another: "I don't like to feel that I have eaten and they haven't."

Still others: "When you see these people, it moves you. It moves you. Can you imagine how far they've come?"

"God says, when I saw you naked, I clothed you. When I saw you hungry, I gave you food. That is what God teaches."

"It feels good to give something that they need so badly."

"I figure when I die, I can't take anything with me. So why not give?"

"What if someday something bad happens to us? Maybe someone will extend a hand to us."

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