When I first moved out of my host family’s home and into my own house, my neighbors in Barrio San Martin became a second family to me. They gave me food, we passed the time talking on each other’s porches, I let them borrow my water when they had none, and they let me borrow their water when I had none. Since moving to a different barrio, I haven’t been able to spend as much time with my old neighbors as I used to, but I still go back to visit de vez en cuando.
Here’s a picture of me with Maria and her family. Maria makes a living by making tortillas, so every day, I’d wake up to the sounds of taptap, taptap, taptap, taptap – her hands pounding the masa (dough). And whenever I’d buy a tortilla or two, she’d always sneak in an extra for me. From November to January, she and her daughter Angelica take a break from making tortillas to pick coffee, spending every day out at the farm from 4am to 4pm. Without fail, Maria always gives me a big plate of food and a cup of coffee whenever I visit, even though she doesn’t have much. She also did my laundry by hand for almost an entire year–the woman is a saint.
From right to left: Angelica (her daughter), me (the giant one), Maria, and her son Orman.
Here’s Orman. He doesn’t talk much, probably because he’s too busy running around the house and giggling. Usually we just play that game where he hides behind a wall and peeps his head up, and then laughs and hides each time he realizes I’m still looking at him. It’s quite fun.
Clara is really outgoing and was one of the first people to welcome me to the neighborhood. She usually passes the day taking care of her three children and selling Avon products. In fact, Clara and Maria are both Avon saleswomen, so it would get awkward sometimes when they were both competing for my business. I ended up buying a comforter and perfume from Clara, and while I only ever bought Avon lip gloss from Maria, I also solicited her help for washing my clothes, which in my mind, evened it out.
Me, Clara, and her daughter Ashley:
I’ve become probably the closest with Angelica and her family, who live across the street from my old house. Angelica is an all-star. I first met her when I was moving into my house and she came over with her English homework and asked for my help. I was just six months into my service at this point but was already cynical. I thought for sure she just wanted me to do her English homework for her, just like most of the other kids. But I was wrong. She had already done her English homework, and just wanted me to double check that everything was correct. And it was! She also really grew on me when she killed all the tarantulas in my house. We’ve since become great friends, and this year I nominated her to participate in a Peace Corps camp for girls called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). She went, and unsurprisingly, she was one of everyone’s favorite campers!
Left to right: Angelica, her baby sister, and me
Angelica’s parents are wonderful as well. Her father Ronald helped me build my shower when I first moved in. Her mother Marbelly works for Acción Médica Cristiana, which is the NGO I worked with on the cervical cancer campaign. It’s also about a block away from my current house, so I chat with her nearly everyday.
Here is a photo of Marbelly working in Acción Médica Cristiana’s “Venta Social de Medicamentos,” which is a fully-stocked pharmacy that sells medicine at reduced prices:
If you all have been following my blog for a while, you must remember how much I loved hanging out with all the kids in my old neighborhood. For a while I had a coloring group with all of them, in which they’d all sit around my table and color until they either got bored or I kicked them out. It started off really informal, but as time went on, I organized the coloring group around other activities. For instance, the time Mongo came to visit, they learned about dengue and malaria prevention and then colored little handouts on it. Another time, I brought a puzzle, and they first had to put it together, and then we all went around making up a story about it. Finally after that was done, they drew pictures from the story. It was a lot of fun while it lasted.
Here I am, with all the children. I can’t get over how Peace Corps this picture is.
By now you must all be wondering why this blog entry is entitled, “Bienvenidos a la Tienda Lorena,” which roughly translates to, “Welcome to Lauren’s Store.” Somehow over the course of two years, I have accumulated more clothes than I can bring home with me. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I sorted through it, packed most of it into a suitcase, brought the suitcase to my old neighborhood, and set up a make-shift store at Angelica’s house. I then went around telling all of my friends in the neighborhood that I was giving my clothes away; they just had to come choose what they wanted. The clothes were gone in five minutes.
La Tienda Lorena:
From the inside:
Some of my neighbors after shopping:
It was a fun way to get rid of excess clothes, say goodbye and leave a little recuerdo for everyone. I’m going back to visit one last time in a couple days to give them all yet another recuerdo: a photo of Maní and I, which I know they will all just cherish forever … mostly because of Maní.