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Rev. Elizabeth
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« on: November 04, 2014, 05:49:42 PM »

She didn’t even have a fork. 
Finally. This was  the  moment I had waited for from the moment I boarded my  6 AM flight from  Burlington five days ago.
Hot and tired, we sat  in late afternoon heat at the Women in Action Center, as one by one by the women welcomed us  and told us  about their work and lives.   Many of the women knew me and welcomed me by name; I had known some of them from the very beginning; from when the group gathered outside on the hard packed back yard of a small house.
We were a group of eleven gringos visiting this grassroots women’s project in La Primavera barrio in Managua Nicaragua, and eleven women would take us to their tin and wood homes, welcoming us into  their lives if only for a few hours. The moment I had waited for  finally came.
 Marta spoke.  “Thank you,” Marta said to me, “for not forgetting about us”. And perhaps finally, that is what it--this journey--is all about. Not about bringing material goods for their little store; not about child sponsorship, though that is valuable; not about empowerment but simply about not forgetting.  We exchanged smiles, knowing that I would be her guest for supper, regardless how meager it might be, knowing that each of us had waited for this moment. 
 I have known Marta, since I began to sponsor her son Antonio seven years ago   I had eaten at her house many times.  I had taught her children to say grace.  I told them to say ‘muchas gracias’ to their mother when she served them food.
As other women met their guests and prepared to leave, Marta and I got up together, hugged,and began our trek to her home. As we threaded our way past children playing, past clusters of teens hanging out, past tin and wood shacks where mothers were preparing supper and children hung out in doorways,  she carried Luz, her newest child, and we tried to chat.  I was more careful than Marta, and watched where I stepped, being careful to avoid potholes filled with grey water, or the stray dogs who thought my strange smell promised food.
We arrived at Marta’s house where Antonio, now a shy 14, and his brother Gabrielito greeted me.  Anita and Mary were there as well, but Anita barely remembered this strange gringa, and Mary was a mere infant the last time I was there.
Marta proudly showed me the improvements made to her home. The  latrine and shower instead of being pole  cubicles walled by flapping black plastic,  now had metal enclosures  with attached roofs and doors that could be hooked shut.  The pila, or lavandera, where clothes and dishes and babies were washed, now had a roof, a real blessing when the torrents of the rainy season begin. Several years ago volunteers visiting Women in Action installed drainage tiles from the lavandera to the latrine, so water now went into the latrine pit instead of standing on the ground.  The elimination of this gray water source removed a the possibility  of bacterial infection and helps keep the area dry.
Marta proudly showed me her newly reconfigured home.  I think there were 3 rooms, but I could only see two. Large, unfolded cardboard boxes created the wall that divided the house lengthwise in half. One long room served as kitchen and dining room, and a small bedroom in which I counted one double bed, a crib,and a chlld’s bed, was off this long room.   A television  and boxes that stored clothes were in this room.  I assumed that the second bedroom--or what I thought could be  the second bedroom--was behind this one.
Marta’s kitchen consisted of a two burner propane stove on a shelf against the wall.  A roughly hewn rack held several knives and a spoon.  Marta, a petite woman, had to stand  on a block so she could reach the pot to stir the rice and beans that were to be our supper. 
Given the choice of helping her cook or tumbling in the hammock with all the children, I chose to help Marta cook.  This was my moment of truth.
She handed me four bananas and a knife.  I was to cut  the bananas into thin  long slices and fry them.  The blade on the knife couldn’t cut water. With anxious care I managed to hold the slippery bananas and somehow  saw  them into slices.  Having mastered that, my next task was to actually fry them. I had no skillet, no frying pan, but a small sauce pan barely big enough to hold three slices of banana, and I had twelve to fry.  Grabbing the pot with my right hand, I realized that I needed a potholder.  All Marta had was shreds of an old tee shirt.  I envisioned the shirt going up in flames, and me burning down her little house and the neighborhood.  Reluctantly I went and got one of the two hand made pot holders I had given her; I knew she wouldn’t want to use them but my fears of burning down the house took precedent.  Then I discovered that if I let go of the pot, with its inch of oil and three banana slices, it slid backwards.  Again, visions of conflagration danced before me.  So I clutched  the pot by its less than adequate handle.  But, there was more.  How to turn over the bananas?  Marta had no fork. The only tool I had looked like a tiny wooden pizza peel, and the only way to flip the slices was to push them against the side of the pot and try to maneuver  each  onto its unfried side. If there is a saint who  protects houses from fire, that saint surely watched over me as I tried to flip banana slices without spilling oil on the flame. And while all this was happening; while I juggled potholder and  bananas  and while Marta stirred the rice and beans and listened to the children, we tried to visit with each other.
 Music and church are an important part of Marta’s life. The last time I visited Antonio played on his keyboard and we sang hymns together. Rather, they sang and when Antonio played “Lord You have come to the Lakeshore” we sang the chorus together. It was moving and beautiful. But the keyboard is gone, and Antonio was outside playing with his siblings. 
So here we stood. She, standing on a cement block, in front of the beans s and I in front of the bananas, imploring the gods to keep my hand steady. In my mind’ eye what follows has assumed has a dream like quality.   I can see the two of us--gringa and Nicaraguense, old young--standing there, stirring,  smiling at each other. But I can also remember being there listening to her soft sweet voice. We began to sing the song of the Lakeshore.  Neither of us remembered the opening, but we both knew the chorus.We dum-de dummed ourselves through the beginning and l we got to that chorus we sang together, I the melody, she the harmony.  And we sang; and we smiled at each other. Next door the downbeat of some rock tune pounded, and across the yard chickens clucked, in the hammock, the children giggled and shrieked And we sang.  And smiled at each other.  Then we sang again.  This song of the Lord and the lake. 
Hungry and curious, Antonio came in.  She said something to him speaking too rapidly for me to understand. He began to sing “Alabare,” a bouncy  praise hymn.  Again, Marta and I knew the chorus, so again we sang, and laughed at ourselves, and sang, Alabare, Alabare....There in the heat, standing on the dirt floor, in a house made of tin and cardboard, we sang.
And then, as the lights flickered and dimmed, we sat at the little  handmade wooden table and held hands while I said grace. I was both mortified and touched: mortified because my Spanish isn’t good enough for me to speak thoughtfully, and touched because together they recited my words after me making, real what I felt was inadequate. We ate. Rice and beans and fried bananas. Marta put the leftovers back in the pot for her husband later on. And it was time to go.
Antonio and I parted tearfully as he stayed home to care for his little sisters.  Marta, carried Luz and we held hands with Anita and we walked in the dim light as people wandered about talking, laughing, playing soccer, visiting. It was busy in the heat of early evening.  And of course, we sang.  Gabrielito on one side of Marta, would wander away, join us,then wander away again.  So the three of us sang the chorus to Alabare over and over.  In the throng of evening walkers, we were no more curious than the preening teenage boys, or the shrieking children running about.
“ I have a song I want to sing to you,’ she said,” a nice song from a CD I have.” And so, amidst the noise of the street, she began to sing in a soft throaty voice.  Rough dirt road; sepia light from old incandescent lights; running children, caminetas weaving in and out, old and young walking, and there we were, a small child between us as she sang,  her voice, her self, totally absorbed in the song she loved and was giving me as a gift. As she ended I let go of Anita’s hand and squeezed hers. We looked at each other and continued on our way.
When we got to the Visitor’s Center  I  finally met, Gabriel, her husband, a tall, shy looking man who works hard for his family in some factory. We shook hands.  At last, Marta and I  said goodbye, with hugs and smiles and promises from me of una carta. 
She told me once that all she wanted was a note saying ,‘Hola, Marta,’ and that would be sufficient.
I will be sure that she receives that note. I will be sure that she knows that someone, far away from where she is, sees her face, her family on her computer screen, and thinks of her.





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sue
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2014, 09:38:26 PM »

Lovely story  thanks for sharing
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