MEMORIES OF
DON CHÚS
(recent snapshot)

Jesús Laguna, known by everyone at Yerba Buena as Don Chús, is a native of Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan. He's worked here longer than anyone else. He's an intelligent, good- natured man with an immense goiter on the right side of his throat, and a predilection for wearing on cold days a sock-top beneath his straw hat. Today he's in charge of dispensing gasoline, and he does a few other such chores. As we talk, we stand on the platform outside the shop. From here we can look out over the entire grounds. I ask Don Chús how his association with Yerba Buena began.

"In Pueblo Nuevo, one morning I met a friend on his way to mail a letter. He'd been working out here for a few weeks and he said that I should try to get a job here, too. So that same day I came out. When I got here, Don Ray (Ray Comstock) was cutting trees with a chainsaw. I'd never seen a chainsaw before. And right beside Don Ray, Doña María (Marie Comstock) was chopping weeds with a machete. Back then, neither of them could speak much Spanish so I went to see José Díaz, from Oaxaca, who spoke English real well. He was in charge of signing up workers and keeping hours. Even though back then I didn't know how to do much of anything, on January 11, 1955, at the age of twenty-five, I came to work out here."

"Back then, the only building out here was a little shack put together with sheets of corrugated tin, where Don Ray kept the tools. Don Ray's family had a camper on the back of their pickup truck, and that's where they slept. That truck was a powerful one, too, with a winch on it. Well, it had to be a good truck because the good highway between Tuxtla and Villahermosa didn't exist in those days, and between here and Pueblo Nuevo, there was only half a road."

"My first job here was cutting trees where the garden is now. Once we'd cleared out those trees, we had maybe fifteen or twenty more men come in. Some chopped and some carried wood to pile up for burning limestone rock, to make lime for use in making mortar. We sold part of the lime and used it ourselves in our buildings. After clearing the garden we cleared places for other buildings. The first building to go up was the clinic, in l957. It was built of wood. First we tried building it alone, but it turned out all crooked. Then a tall gringo came down and he knew how to build things, and he did a good job. His name was Roberto. Other Americanos also came, like Edwardo and Dean. As soon as the clinic was up, Don Ray and Doña María began pulling teeth. Then Dr. Mauricio arrived (Dr. Butler) and they began curing people, even though in those days the clinic was real small. Now it's been rebuilt and enlarged a lot."

classroom, post office and store
The three doors, from left to right, enter into the classroom, the store and post office. The wide building beyond provides lodging for

"After that, we built two houses where the dormitory now stands, one serving as a warehouse and the other as a kitchen. After that we built the Casa Grande, where Don Ray and his family came to live. After that we dug wells -- one for the Casa Grande and one for the clinic. After that, we built the building where today the office, post office, store and classroom are. After that, so we could have light, we built the electrical plant, which burned oil. After that, we built La Loma, where Doña Nela lives on the hilltop, and then La Victoria, where Pastor Bercián lives."

"Then we built four houses for the Model Village and cleared a big area for the village's garden. The houses were four by twelve meters (a little over four by twelve yards), divided down the middle, so two families could live in each one, with one chimney serving both sides. There was one toilet for every two house. Don Ray invited people from the villages to come there and live, and learn how to conduct their lives better. He gave people seeds and the people living there were expected to work in the garden."

"The Model Village kept going from l976 to l978. Antonio Díaz lived there and he worked in the garden and also spread the word of God, for he knew how to read but also how to speak and even sing in Tzotzil. But the others living there, they got bored and wanted to drink, smoke and eat meat. Don Ray scolded them, and they just left. Of course Don Ray was trying to help them live better lives, but they left anyway. It was during those days that I decided to quit smoking and drinking, too. Before then, I smoked two packages a day and twice a week I'd drink. Well, you couldn't work with Don Ray doing that, so I quit. Now down at the Model Village all that's left is one house, and the garden is grown up with trees."

"After the Model Village, I worked on the water system. It took ten months. For the first ponds we had to carry on our backs 350 bags of cement, all the way to the top of the mountain, and we had to work in mud that came up to our knees. The first tank we made was twelve by six by four feet and then the second was six by three-and-a-half by two. For the next tanks we had to carry 650 bags of cement. Sixty men worked on that project and I was in charge of them. By then I'd learned how to do all kinds of things. After the tanks were finished, we had to bring water pipes down from them. After the water system was installed, we built the student-nurse's dormitory and the church, and some more houses, where today the workers live."

"Nowadays Doña Nela has some ideas for other projects -- like a two-story building for an office, store and post office. And up by the dormitory we'd like to build a hotel for people who come visiting their family in the hospital."

"But, since the Comstocks left, the building has slowed down a lot... "

Next Entry
Return to Index Page