It was dusk when I arrived at her home, and I spotted smoke filtering up through her thatch roof. I ducked under the thatch to go in the doorway. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light inside, I saw her smiling radiantly at me from behind the low table behind which she sat. A bowl of masa sat beside her as her hands deftly worked some of it into a perfectly round tortilla which she placed on her comal over the fire. Minutes after I walked in, her two oldest daughters came in from high school and I watched the three of them sit by the fire and chat, catching up on the latest news, as fresh, hot tortillas kept coming off the comal. Soon her hands were joined by those of her daughters and I, and the tortilla production moved faster. I shared in the stories and laughter, mostly in Maya, with a little English mixed in every once in a while to clarify something for me. Mother and daughters’ fellowship was sweet, light, and beautiful to behold. One of her girls, Sandra, lives with me most of the time, so this was “catch-up” time. She told Sandra stories of the latest antics of the children, spiced with interjections from the next oldest girl. Sandra laughed merrily. Everyone’s eyes sparkled in the firelight. Then we swapped “Sandra” stories, me telling some of the funny things Sandra has done at my house, and her launching into stories from when Sandra was young.
Presently the other children appeared from outside, fresh faced and breathless from their play and helping with chores. One carried a tub of dishes they had just washed at the creek. Most had just bathed there as well. The weather was cool, in the low 60’s, and the children’s hands felt cold as they wrapped them around my neck. Soon her husband came in and we all quickly gathered around the low table upon which she had just made tortillas, it now served as our dining table, even though it was only about 3’ x3’. Hot tortillas were plunged into the warm broth in our dishes, spiked with flavorful but spicy peppers, and containing a piece of venison. Conversation mellowed as I chatted with her husband about the church (he is the pastor). Steaming cups of tea finished off our meal.
I relaxed in the hammock briefly before we walked over to the church. As the hammock rocked back and forth, the youngest, a three year old boy, nestled beside me and told me stories with his precious lisp. This challenged my Maya skills and he giggled over the English word I used: “what.” He loved the word, and would promptly say it whenever anyone called his name, though I am not sure he really knew what it meant.
Church service was by candle light. She was there, of course, as the pastor’s wife, and I smiled at her on the front bench with her children gathered around her. She was still smiling, a radiant smile that made you feel that all was well. She and most of her children were barefoot, but hair was neatly combed and clothes freshly changed. After we joyfully sang a number of Maya songs without accompaniment, it was time for prayer. I listened to her prayer, and I was humbled. Hers was not full of prayers for herself and her needs. It was an outpouring of thanks for blessings God had given her, followed by sincere prayers for people she knew in need. Then she prayed for me, thanking God for me, praying for my safety, that I would have food to eat the next day, and strength for what God called me to do. She prayed for her daughter that lives with me. Finally she prayed that God would give her faith to love Him more. I couldn’t resist peeping over while she prayed, and as the candlelight danced around her, it lit her face up beautifully, dancing off her prominent cheekbones and accentuating her lovely features. In her sincere thankfulness, the joy in her spirit combined with the glow of the candle made it seem as if I had been given a glimpse into heaven and those gathered before the throne of God.
After service, we went to the house, and I was given a bed. It was the only bed in the house, the one she and her husband usually sleep on; that night they slept on the cement floor surrounded by their children. Temperatures dipped into the upper 50’s that night, inside and out, the floor was cold, and they were all dressed in short sleeves and bare feet.
Early the next morning, sometime after four, I heard her stir the fire. I got up shortly, along with the two high school girls. We all huddled around the fire and chattered a little before the two girls dashed to the creek to take a quick bath. Soon I was sipping something warm and thinking about the day before me. All too soon the school buses were heard in the distance. I said a quick goodbye and slipped out the door with the girls, leaving the rest of the family still asleep. The bus driver had agreed to take me along, so I was thankful for the transportation.
I arrived back at my house, and thought on the contrast. As simple as my home is compared to many in the States, I have so many more things than she does. I have running water, a small stove and refrigerator. She goes to get water in buckets and cooks over a fire. No refrigerator. I have lights; she has gas lamps made out of empty glass jars. I have a shower and a toilet; she has a creek and a tumble-down outhouse, two people live in my house (Sandra and I) and I have two beds; she has nine people in her house and one bed. The list goes on.
Later I find time to do some writing for a company I have been doing some work on the side for to provide a little extra income. Today the task is writing descriptions for a furniture company. Although writing usually comes easy for me, today I struggle to find words to describe a chair that costs $500.00 or $1,000.00 in our Belizean currency. I write: “Though sleek and modern, this chair flirts with tradition, just like you do. Clean, smooth lines are paired with the surprising touch of nail heads, usually associated with a more traditional look. But nothing about your home is usual, so the chair fits right in. So go ahead, flirt with tradition a little, whether in your entry, living room, or bedroom, the creamy linen of this chair will quietly add a fresh look.” I think of her. I think of her obvious happiness. I think of her home… furniture list includes: one homemade bed, three narrow, regular height tables which serve as cabinets, the low table for making tortillas, three 8-inch high stools each made of three rough pieces of 2 x 6, a hammock, and two cheap plastic lawn chairs. That’s it. Probably all that is in her house didn’t cost more than that 500.00 chair. And yet, I would imagine whoever buys that chair has never been as happy as she is. That person chooses exposed nail heads as a fashion statement; she has nothing else out of sheer necessity. And while the furniture I wrote about was way out of my league both in price and style, I wondered if her happiness with the simple things was within my reach. She has a secret…