Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. – William A. Ward
(Ecuador) – Located on the outskirts of Jama, the petite community of ‘Verdum’ is barely noted by those who race to the beach near La Division or to return. The owners of the shrimp farms and their workers ebb and flow throughout the day, but Verdum is a sleepy little hiccup along the route.
I often stop at the little tienda when I walk to town, and if I am going home, that’s my ‘last stop’ to buy something cold to drink or pick up a few odds and ends for the kitchen. Partly hidden beneath an almendra tree, the inconspicuous wooden structure suggests a life of eclectic construction. Half of the tin-roofed building sits in the open, where a walk-up window receives all-day use; the other nestles beneath the almendra tree, where locals sometimes swap stories while sharing bottles of cold cerveza at the end of the day.
What I like most are the salt-of-the-earth people who live here. If Zoila is shelling peas or beans, I smile and pull up a chair and happily reach for a handful of legumes as we discuss the weather or the dust or the mud or what color paint I am wearing. Cars and trucks zoom past, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake; the drivers rarely stop to buy anything from the tienda.
Zoila and her husband Marco have lived in Verdum about 40 years. I asked her how they met, and she said (with a coyish smile) that he worked for her father on his farm in the mountains! Marco now drives a mototaxi and delivers people and cargo throughout the day. He often parks beneath the almendra and waits until someone calls for a driver.
One day I presented an idea of painting the facade of their little tienda.
“Oh, Lisa, no tengo dinero… we don’t have money for that,” Zoila shrugged.
(I had estimated the costs of a fun cosmetic face-lift would be fifteen dollars or less.)
“No. You don’t understand. I have the paint. It won’t cost you anything… but you have to help! We can do this in one or two days.”
“But we don’t have the money to pay you for your work.’
‘You are my friends. This is a gift; you are always so kind to me. It’s like a minga (a community project where the locals work together for the benefit of the community.) We’ll do this fast and it will be fun.’
When she was sure that there were no hidden surprises, she agreed. We discussed colors. “What colors do you like?” She didn’t care. I invited her to come see Casa Loca and “…see a few things…” which they both did the following morning.
They showed up as planned with their mototaxi, and she admired the garden art, the painted bodega floor, the painted stairs going to the second floor, the deck, the bed made from driftwood, even the painted kitchen counter-tops….
“Do whatever you want,’ she chuckled, “I trust you…”
We scooped up the box of painting supplies, returned to Verdum and began work on the outside walls of the tienda.
While they worked on the store side, I painted some test colors then kept painting beneath the almendra tree… At the end of the day their son “Junior” came home from work and picked up a paint brush as well. We had fun and did a few creative side projects with scrap lumber!
At the end of the each day, she asked, “What do we owe you?” and I assured her that she owed me nothing.
“You are my friends, and you have always been kind to me,” I said. She insisted on feeding me lunch, giving me fresh eggs to take home and green plantains and a kilo of rice and the five-gallon jug of water. We definitely reached a win-win compromise! The best benefit was the sweetness of working together and watching their pride in what we achieved with little effort.
We were all working so hard that I forgot to take photos until we were almost finished!
The mosquito illness veered the project into a detour, but we reached a comfortable stopping point. Mario drove me around town and delivered me home, where I stayed for the next 4 days. When I stopped by this week to tell them I was alive and recovering she said, “Oh Lisa! We’ve been so worried about you!”
(I was equally relieved to see that they were both feeling well…)
Sometimes a tiny gift will stretch into a most-rewarding project; just look at the payback from fifteen dollars’ worth of creativity!
When this post is published, I will most likely be at the clinic to find out the results of the blood tests. Odds are that my illness was not dengue… Would anyone care to guess what it might have been?
Here’s another view of Verdum and the road to the shrimp farms and La Division.