Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hyenas Ate My Soap

Spotted Hyena - no it's not a cute puppy dog!
Hyenas in Mexico?? Noooo I don't think so..... We were in a tent camp in the Serengeti a few weeks ago. When we arrived, there was a bucket of water and several of those small boxed hotel soaps on a table outside the tent. The next morning, the boxes were on the ground, but the soap was gone. The same was true for our travel companions and their soap. At breakfast we all talked about what had happened to the soap. A few nights later the mystery was solved... someone was awake and saw a hyena nab the soap and eat it! Weird!

Grazing Cape Buffalo

A few nights later I woke from a sound sleep to hear loud chomping right next to my head. I sat up and peeked out the window of the tent. EEEEK! There was a huge cape buffalo eating grass right out from under the tent just under my bed. These are seriously dangerous animals built like a tank with the brain power of an ant. What to do? I went back to sleep.

Animal adventures aside, what impressed me the most about Africa were the people. I went there expecting to feel a sense of separation from the people...that the lifestyles and concerns would be so different from my own that any real connection would be a challenge. I was immediately surprised by the warmth, kindness and generosity that surrounded me. True, the simplicity of lifestyle and poverty were striking, but the connection was warm and immediate.

Maasai women welcome us
In Tanzania we visited a village of the Maasai tribe. The men welcomed us in their traditional colorful dress with sparkles in their eyes and a warm handshake. Then the women appeared from between two mud huts. They came in a line, with their flat beaded collars bouncing up and down as they chanted. One of them took my hand, smiled at me with her eyes and pulled me into the chanting and dancing circle. Soon we were all laughing and moving and conversing with smiles and gestures.

In the Maasai tribe the women do all the work while the men take care of the cattle and lounge about. So I was invited to climb a ladder to the roof of one of the huts to help distribute new thatch over the top in anticipation of the rainy season. Afterwards, as I stepped down onto the ground from the ladder, the woman standing closest to me blew me a kiss. I blew it right back at her and felt a deep connection with this woman who was so outwardly totally different from me, but who shared a feeling of love and connection..

Me and Betty
In Rwanda we visited a womens' basket making cooperative. Once again, I was grabbed be the hand and led to a space on a straw mat next to a diminutive but very pretty and ebullient young woman. Her name was Betty...actually it was something unpronounceably African, but Betty was her English name. She cuddled right up to me and started showing me the technique of coiling and stitching a basket. Then she handed it to me and it was my turn. I clumsily and self consciously tried to do what she had shown me. Meanwhile, she literally wrapped herself around me getting as close as possible and protecting me from sticking myself with the sharp needle. There it was again. Her eyes smiled and held me and soon I was also pressing against her as we viewed the progress on the basket as if with one heart and one set of eyes.

Then the sky opened and it began to pour. We all hurried into the basket shop - the only available shelter. I found one of her baskets and bought it. She shouted and jumped up and down with joy. As we were leaving, she brought out a small basket she had made which she gave me as a gift. Such a touching gesture from someone who has so little to someone who has so much! I accepted the offering with gratitude.

So what does all of this have to do with Banámichi? Nothing and everything. Banámcihi is a world away from East Africa and yet the heart of the people is just the same. I love that about Banámichi...the warmth, generosity and genuine kindness of the people. Once again, they have so little, but give so much of themselves. The relationships with them have touched me deeply and warm my heart.

Beautiful Claudia
Yesterday I heard that Victor, the plant vendor was in town with his truckload of garden goodies. I hurried down to where he was and there I also found Roger and Claudia, and Tichi. I always feel such happiness when I see these people I know in Banamichi...somehow they always elicit that same joy of connection that I felt in Africa.

I can think of so many other people who I am delighted to know here. There are Ramon and Reyna...our construction guy and his wife. Such dear, good people! Then there are Beto and Vicky and their children...Ana Victoria and Betito.  There is a purity of intent about all of them...they offered friendship and assistance when we were new in town and knew no one. They are warm, kind, and generous with their time and their hearts.
Ramon, Reyna, Vicky and Beto
 And there are Raphael and Theresita....they vacillate between seeming American and seeming Mexican. They have that edge of that caution that you find in Norteamericanos, but ultimately they have the hearts of Mexicans. They graciously welcome newcomers into their homes, cook fabulous meals for them and invite them to their "country house" in the even smaller village of Jojobal. They offer gifts of plants from their garden and comfortable, easy friendship.

I am also thinking of Loyda, of the beautiful smile and generosity of spirit. A social worker by profession, she currently works at the school and is bothered by matters of ethics. She served a short stint as chief of police in Banamichi, during which time she excelled at settling disputes between neighbors and families.

More recently there is Iris the teacher who loves kids and loves to hold little Betito. There is Isabel the doctor intern, who looks too young to be a doctor, and who speaks Spanish so fast that I can't possibly follow her words. There are Rene the intelligent and Jesus Romo who is a US lawyer as well as a Banamichi mover and shaker.

And there are so many more that I have not gotten to know very well. There was the sweet man selling cajeta hearts on Valentines Day at the immigration post 21 kilometers south of Nogales. He had been deported from the US as an illegal, and was struggling to make a living for his family in his own country. There are the toll collectors on highway 15 heading south into Sonora, who always say "Qué les Vayan bien."..."may you travel well." This sentiment is uttered to every passing car...wishing each group and safe and happy trip. I always get the feeling it is more than just empty words.

There is little Gladys next door - 11 years old now - who when she was younger would rush out to help us carry stuff in from our truck every time we arrived. There is her mom, also Gladys, who presented us with home made tortillas and tacos over the garden fence. Even Chuchico next door on the other side, who seemed cool to us at first has come around and now is gracious and friendly.

And last but not least by any means are our US expat community in Banámichi...Tom and Lynn, Dan and Tracy, Darrin and Cheri. All of them have opened their hearts and lives to us.

A Big Thank You!!
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am so grateful for all the beautiful people with whom I share my life... those in Africa, those in Mexico, and those in the US as well.  I feel so fortunate to have had so many great connections with people all over the world. This is what it means to me to be blessed. A heartfelt thank you  to everyone for enriching my life in so many ways!

Sometimes I think that in all of our affluence in the United States we have forgotten what really matters. Many of us have become so concerned with money and material possessions that we forget to simply open our hearts to one another. This seems especially true in this time of economic downturn and election hoo-hah! In the end, when we are on our deathbeds, what will matter? The "stuff" we have acquired, the opinions we have held, or the kindness and love we have shared with our fellow human beings, even if they are different from ourselves?