It has been far too long since my last blog post, but we have been quite busy here. We have 3 people on staff out for various reasons… a baby, a broken clavicle, and a stint in the hospital. What are the chances of all of that happening at once? We’ve had our very own Frankenstorm taking place. Nonetheless, tonight’s blog is about empanadas.
Two nights ago, Maga comes walking into the center on a mission. Youth rec was happening so Andrew and I were downstairs supervising the games. Maga tells me that she will be making empanadas the next day to raise money for a family in need. As we discuss the details a bit further, she tells Pastor Maiko and I who the family is. She also tells us that a nearby baker has donated some of the ingredients but she still needed a few things. I agreed to buy all the potatoes she needed and Maiko offered to talk to a few of the leaders in the church and take up a special offering. The next morning (yesterday), we went to the market and bought everything Maga still needed with the money collected. As we pulled out of the mission, the guard stopped us and let us know very quietly that he’d like to pitch in some money to help the family too. If I had to pick some of the poorest people in Bajo, this guard and his family would fall into the mix.
Now some background on the family and the situation. This family moved to Bajo Tejares from Limon, Costa Rica. The mother has three children, the two younger ones are named Jerry and Wen and they look like little black children. You can spot them out of a crowd here in a heartbeat. That’s because their father is actually from Limon which has a large Afro-Caribbean populations as this province is on the Caribbean coast. Apparently by coming here, they were in hiding from the father who is involved in drugs and said to be a very dangerous man. In any event, the family needed money fast to turn their power and water back on as their landlord was trying to kick them out. When the family first arrived, the children were extremely quiet. If you smiled at them, they would just look away. Jerry and Wen, in particular, just appeared to be broken and damaged. I hate even using those words to describe a child, but I can’t think of a better way. There was simply no joy in their eyes. I personally believe that all children deserve the chance to be mischievous. They deserve to be carefree and act like little devils from time to time. When I first met these little boys, that was my secret hope for them… that they would eventually feel so comfortable here at the mission that we’d lose sight of the damaged little boys that once walked through the gates and only see two precious little mischief makers.
It has been a slow process, but Jerry and Wen now adore Andrew. They have become so attached to him. One day I walked out to the playground and Jerry was standing there looking broken-hearted. I asked Andrew what was wrong with Jerry and he said that Jerry was upset with him because he couldn’t play with him just then. Though he was upset, Jerry continued to watch Andrew’s every move. Finally, Andrew walked over to Jerry and asked him to play. His face lit up and his mood immediately changed. It’s literally all he wanted is to play with Andrew. Each day, the boys run up to Andrew before they leave and give him a big hug.
So back to the empanadas… Maga began cooking in the morning with the expectation to have them ready by lunch. Of course, she was cooking tons of empanadas, so that was probably typical Latin American time estimation. I told Andrew we were all eating empanadas for lunch but they weren’t quite ready by then. I had to run an errand with Jessica after lunch but when we returned, the empanadas were finally ready! We started with 6, 2 for each of us (Andrew, me, and Felicia). Andrew is apparently not so great at picking out empanadas as his were almost all fried and little filling. Mine, however, were quite delicious. In fact after I ate my 2, I quickly realized I wanted more. Felicia and I walked outside to go to Maga’s house and saw someone down the hill walking off with the box of empanadas. We went after her. As it turns out, it was the mother of the family. She had walked into a house to sell some of the empanadas. We awkwardly waited in the street. When she walked out of the house, she laughed because she knew were waiting to buy more empanadas.
Yesterday afternoon, things were winding down and the center was about to close. Maga came back for the final sale of empanadas. I have never seen so many people, children and adults, buying up empanadas. I personally bought 2 more for dinner. Andrew bought 2 more for dinner. He also bought Kevin 2 empanadas for his birthday. That is a sweet side story that I have to share. Andrew bought the empanadas for Kevin and handed them to him. Kevin went to reach in his pocket to pay Andrew for them and Andrew told him that he had already paid for them and it was a small birthday present. Kevin looked so surprised and gave Andrew a big hug. This kid is 17 years old and doesn’t think too much of himself. He definitely needs a boost in self-esteem and more confidence in himself. Maybe that is why it surprised him so much for Andrew to want to give him a little something for his birthday. Speaking of birthdays, Felicia told me that it was Wen’s birthday that day too. I asked her which Wen and she responded “It’s empanada Wen’s birthday!” Just between us, we had bought 14 empanadas. As we finished up our final transaction, Jerry ran up to his mother and saw the money in her hands. He was jumping up and down and said excitedly, we have money! It was sad and cute to me all at the same time. Kids may not understand a lot about finances, but they feel the stress of what being poor is.
At the end of the day, we had all had our fair share of empanadas. Maga came by to tell me that we had raised about 45,000 colones which is around $90. She very specifically said “we” raised that money, and that is the best part of all of this. One of the things I love most about living here is the sense of community I get to experience day in and day out. Maybe none of us have very much to give, but we all have something. We can all do something. I think the key is to jump into action before you let your mind talk you out of it. It’s what we did.
I had an old song from the 60’s stuck in my head last night, maybe a little cheesy, but described my thoughts from the day pretty well and worth a listen every now and again…
Think of your fellow man
Lend him a helping hand
Put a little love in your heart
You see it’s getting late
Oh, please don’t hesitate
Put a little love in your heart
And the world will be a better place
And the world will be a better place
For you and me
You just wait and see