“I will need to take you to every house in the village!” my daughter Gale had declared when we arrived at her small vereda in Colombia, a two hour sweaty hike from the nearest sister enclave. That had sounded like a reasonable but undoable request even before we arrived. I didn’t know how many people this would involve, but I did know that it was not going to be like an end of soccer game moving line of hard slapping “good game, good game, good game.” Each meeting was personal. With only two days and lots of other important things to do, (like removing papayas from their post 15 feet in the air) it could not really even be a reasonable goal to aim for.
The second day we headed up the hill in the three rows of small dwelling that comprise La Union. In the farthest upper left hand corner was a small farm with some donkeys in the yard. Gale peered through the small window into the dimly lit interior. “Allo?” she called out. We headed around to the side where the donkeys were. Jesusa greeted us, and welcomed us inside the gate. She was grinding corn in a large waist high pestle to feed the donkey. “He is not eating,” Gale translated as Jesusa pointed to the donkey. “See how swollen he is here?” She delivered a firm punch to the animal’s lower left neck.”This is not good.” She was clearly worried. “Come inside.” We walked through the densely grown yard filled with low bushes, flowers, parts of equipment and into a small kitchen area with a very low ceiling. It was illuminated by the side we entered from, which was largely open.
In the back was a wood burning stove. She shooed two tiny cats off an upturned log that made a bench and offered us seats and then she retrieved some wood to stoke the fire. The hard packed dirt floor was swept clean, and Jesusa pointed to a small side table with an attached shelf underneath. “See the duck and the chicken asleep there?” I had not even noticed them, so quiet were they in their slumber.
She took some eggs and was busy by the stove as we chatted. How did I like it here? Where is my husband? How is my time here? I labored through my responses, coaxing my high school Spanish into the present. Gale allowed me to wade through, interrupting only when I came out with French, which I frustratingly and consistently retrieved more easily, as I had lived there for six months in college. It had taken root more firmly than the Spanish I was now summoning.
As if by magic she turned around holding two bowls of soup made with what looked like oversize kidney beans, chunks of banana, with a cooked egg on top. I should not have been caught off guard, but I was not expecting a meal. “Aye, muchas, muchas gracias!” I could utter before I tucked into it. We chatted a bit more. Gale’s housemate had arrived as well and was also given soup.
Jesusa turned to face me and look me directly in the eye. Her manner and tone conveyed absolute conviction as she stated, “You do us great honor by visiting us here.” The tears that sprang up instantly hindered my ability to form words. “Oh, Jesusa, no. The honor is mine. Thank you so much. You are so generous.” I am stammering, searching for the right words, which would not have been easy in any language. I am so appreciative of her welcoming me into her home, of welcoming my daughter who is living there for a year, of dropping what she is doing and making us a meal.
As I stutter she hands us chunks of bread. This serves to stymy my attempts at formulating more coherent thoughts and “Oh gracias, ortra vez gracias” (once again, thank you) is as eloquent as I can manage. It is the depth of her sincerity that so moves me, and our connection is unmistakeable. Not only was there a great deal unspoken, but we both know that we have young adult daughters. Without words, she has told me that she appreciates the work my daughter is doing in the village, which ensures the safety of the people there, she appreciates that I have come to visit her, and visit them. She is able to feel my respect for her, for what she is doing.
Even though I know I am taking some license in my assumption, it is perhaps because I cannot understand all the words that the feeling is conveyed even more strongly. In that instant she has greeted me in her world, welcomed me in a way I have not often experienced.
As we get ready to leave she asks when I am going to return. Before coming I had not even entertained the notion of a return trip. With my visit, I am now wondering the same thing. She is not asking out of politeness. She really wants to know. I can only tell her that I have no plans at the moment, but I know that if and when I come back, I have a friend to welcome me.