My grandma handed me a shell keychain today at comida (the late lunchtime meal). She simply said that it was from Acapulco and that I could hear the ocean in it. So I put it up to my ear, and listened and then was about to give it back to her and she said no, it is for you. I asked her why and she gave me this look as if I should never ask why when I get handed something, and said, "because it is a gift."
I share this story not because I want you all to know that I have this wonderful little shell keychain from Acapulco, but because it made me think a lot for the rest of the day. My host grandma has given me many gifts so far already, many that are not tangible. She has made me countless cups of coffee, cut up fruit for me in the morning, and sat with me for many hours while talking about anything from her family to my family and the school system in Mexico. But this is the first time she has handed me something and told me it is a gift for me. And, the thing that I enjoyed most was her reason for the shell, "because it is a gift." How often do we think, shoot- it is someone's birthday and we need to buy them a gift, or it is their anniversary or a baby/wedding shower? Or how often do we give a gift knowing it is the right thing to do and expect one back again sometime in the future? My grandma gave me this keychain with no strings attached, and completely out of love, not regulations.
I started thinking on my bus ride to Las Palomas after comida about all the gifts that I have already been given here, whether tangible or not, and how they differ from a lot of the other gifts I've gotten in the past. When I first arrived to my host families' house, my little sister, Lilian, was so excited to hand me a note. The note said something along the lines that she was really happy to have me staying with them and to have a sister. The cutest thing about the note was that she wrote it in Spanish first, and then used Google translate (so it wasn't completely perfect, but still made sense) to translate it into English for me. That was my first gift, and one that I know I will be keep forever. She just wanted to do something to show her excitement and probably make me feel comfortable and happy, and that definitely was effective.
When I think about 10 de Abril, I can for sure see all the gifts we've already exchanged. I admit that I am no professional cook or professional dish washer, but the time that I volunteer at 10 de Abril is truly effective. We can get things done a whole lot quicker, and get to the extra things like sweeping everyday and making sure the kitchen and workspaces are completely clean. Even though it has been nice to have an extra set of hands, I know that all of the workers and people that attend 10 de Abril have given me more than I can even begin to reflect on. Tangibly, I have learned so much about Mexican cuisine from Vero, who I work with in the kitchen. I have made enchiladas, chilaquiles, tortas de papa, ensalada, lentils, salsa, and so much more. She is teaching me how to cook in general, how to cook for a large group of people, and how to cook using specific Mexican flavors and ingredients. Also, with my embroidery project, everyone who comes to 10 de Abril has been chipping in to get me all the material I need to complete my project. They have given me the material, one person gave me an extra needle, someone gave me pink yarn, another brown, another green, and even the ones who haven't given me their yarn have given me their time and watch what I am doing and help me when I am making a mistake with a stitch. Even the words of encouragement, either telling me that they were proud when I made the rice and it turned out okay or that my project is looking beautiful so far, have been gifts that I keep in my heart.
Every story that gets shared at Las Palomas is truly an irreplaceable gift, even when it comes from someone who doesn't quite know everything that is going on around them. I am doing my best to get to know all 29 people that are living there right now, and get to know their stories, even if it is just a little detail. I spend a good amount of time talking to a woman named Juana, and try to at least say hello to her everyday. She is an absolute joy, but does not remember a lot of our conversations, so about every 5-10 minutes, she will ask me the same questions over and over again. Also, she likes to talk about my family and friends, and feels sad when I tell her they are all in the United States, and she always tells me to make sure I send her "saludos" (basically hello and that she is thinking about them) to everyone--> so this is my way of sending the Saludos of Juana to you all! :) Also, she enjoys talking to me about tortillas and how to make them. I just found this out today that she used to make tortillas and sell them to people when she lived on a ranch, so that is why the whole process of making tortillas has stuck with her, and she loves to tell me and show me exactly how to pat down the dough and then put it on the stove and fry it. I'm thinking that I might be becoming a somewhat familiar face to her, but that just might be in my head, but everyday she says that we have amistad (friendship) and smiles and laughs a lot with me. She tries to tell me that she is old, and I tell her no, you are beautiful and young and she replies saying that she is not young because she has no teeth (she then proceeds to open her mouth and sure enough, shows me that she has no teeth, hehe), but then we laugh about that too. She says I have teeth that are good for biting tortillas, and then we usually end up back on the topic of how to make tortillas. I really enjoy all my time with Juana :)
Another woman that I spend some time talking to is Maria. She knows everything that is going on, and we have had some really great conversations. She helps me practice everyone's names, and tells me a little bit about each person, at least from what she knows, so that helps me understand where everyone is coming from. Also, she used to be a cook in a restaurant, so her and I always talk about food, especially the food that I am learning to cook at 10 de Abril, and she gives me more pointers and tips on what I should do next time and what else I should try to do. Maria had a stroke about 4 years ago, so she has a difficult time moving her whole right side of her body. She has been living in Las Palomas for 3 years now, and she enjoys having people around, even if a lot of them don't quite have all their wits about them. We talk about how great it is to have people to live with, and have all things such as food and laundry provided for, especially since the people who live there cannot take care of themselves on their own.
One more story comes from a man named Arturo. He, like everyone else there, is wonderful. He spends a lot of his day walking from room to room, sitting for about 15 minutes each time he enters a new room, and then goes somewhere else. Every time he leaves a room, he usually annonces that he will be back soon after he walks for a bit. I enjoy that he walks, even if it is a short distance, because I see that as better than sitting the whole day. He always says hello, and generally says "buenos noches" to me at any time of the day, when generally "buenos noches" is simply for the nighttime, but it doesn't bother me. Once again, I found out some more about him today, and was presented with a lovely gift from him. Arturo sang to me for 20 minutes. He is 88 years old and did a real good job remembering most of the words to a lot of his songs. His songs were so cute, and we would repeat them a lot, but they were songs he used to sing when he worked in the mines when he was younger. I guess he used to sing a lot when he first got to Las Palomas, but it's been real hard now for him to remember all the words so he doesn't sing often anymore, and usually just for short times. He also used to play the guitar, but says that he cannot play it anymore. I guess I was lucky to hear him sing for that long. It was really cute though. I could continue to tell stories of every individual person there, but those are three people that have really stood out to me.
Gifts. They generally end up getting used for a short time until they are slowly forgotten, outworn, or possibly even re-gifted to someone else. However, that doesn't mean that we should stop giving gifts in any way possible, tangible or not, and I guess I am learning to accept gifts more easily here too. When someone gives you a gift, accept it, because it truly is a gift, a gift they were willing to give you, and that is like having a piece of them in your heart. So I guess I am attempting to "re-gift" some of the gifts I have been given by sharing my stories with you all, and I'm giving it to you because well, it is a gift :D