August 14, 2010
Helping the poor is a touchy thing. We're really studying this out because there are ways to feel like you're doing a good thing but actually cause more harm than good. That whole point is a long post for another day, but I want to share with you one story of a family we've known since moving here.
This lady of the campo (the VERY rural area) has a lot of children and not much else. We met her the first time when the weather was pretty unbearable and we passed her and her small son walking home. We knew there were no houses near, and they were heading our way, so we gave them a ride. From then on, we were instant "neighbors." We've had many opportunities to give them rides because they walk about 6 kilometers into town several times a week to try to sell little bags of medicinal grasses she grows, or nuts and coco they have growing in their field. Sometimes the abuela accompanies them, which never ceases to amaze me. The abuela is this lady's mother, and she's really, really old. She walks very slowly, hunched over, and at times without shoes. When we pick her up in the truck, she talks away in Guarani, even though I tell her I don't understand. She just giggles and talks even faster. Little old ladies are just the cutest things!
Back to the story--the mom with all the kids and the elderly parents. She is one of those folks who has no problem walking up to me and saying, "My son needs shoes. He wears size 39. When you have some, give them to me." But she says it with a smile and always brings little gifts. When we lived closer to them, she'd send her kids over with bags of fruit or whatever was growing at the time. And now that we live closer to town, they stop by our house with little gifts.
This morning, I was sleeping in because it was a VERY late night and I had quite a sore throat. These cold mornings, the warm bed is just so cozy. Camille came in to tell me that our friend and a couple of her children were outside and wanted to speak to me. We'd visited them yesterday with a bag of clothes Caroline outgrew, so I guess I should have been expecting their visit today to bring by gifts. That's how it works.
I went outside, and the mom had a grocery bag with some clothes someone had given them, and a basket with a bag of grasses (they actually call them weeds here, but I didn't want to say she brought me a bag of weed), a couple little bags of coconuts (they're the size of marbles here), and a tiny bag of beans. I hate to accept food from folks who have so little, but it's important to them to give something back. I thanked her profusely, and then she said, "My son wants to eat something. What do you have?" So much for small talk, huh? :)
While we waited for the grill cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate my girls set about making, one of the neighborhood abuelas walked by. The two ladies started a Guarani conversation on my front porch, while I tried to pick up a word or two here and there. Every now and then one would turn to me and translate into Spanish a bit. Before I knew what was happening, my visitor reached into the bag with those few used pieces of clothes, took out a long-sleeved shirt, and started putting it on the abuela. As she pulled her arms out of the sleeves, she said, "I have a mother and a father I take care of, so I know that you have to keep warm so it doesn't strain your heart. Put this on and warm up a little."
These two ladies had never met, but their 5-minute conversation was enough for this really, really poor mother with a large family and so many needs, to realize that the abuela didn't have much either. So she took this shirt out of the bag and gave it away. Just like that. It was very natural for them, but man, it got me. Lord, help me to hold on to the things I should, and to loosen my hands on those things that are only mine to give away.