Here I sit in my classroom. Preparations have been made. I’ve just devoured a kilogram of yogurt, naranja. It’s going through. It’s gone through.
Last night we dined — the new Christian group from Washington State, Ramiro and I — at the pretty nice restaurant on the highway. Ramiro told of his life, this time in more detail, and we had Paul, the bilingual leader of the group who’d apparently been jibbed out of his pension and decided to move to Ecuador, as well as the Washington police officer who’d studied Spanish extensively, to translate; though Ramiro’s demonstrative, animated story-telling which crescendoed to high moments of tension and usually resolved with somebody getting slapped (in the story, as signified by his go-to back hand slap into his right palm) painted a nice picture of what this other younger fellow Paul, the American from Philly who I’d met briefly at Bethel, calls the traditional “machismo” pan-Hispanic culture.
Apparently, Ramiro’s youngest daughter had been slapped by the guy she was with. Why? Who knows. What I could gather through translation was, that things escalated to two families in a showdown, basically, on the streets. Ramiro parted his way through the kid’s family and slapped him hard, “Like a man,” he said, “but with an open hand.”
The other family said he should’ve turned the other cheek. After all, he was a pastor. Ramiro: “I am a father before I am a pastor. And where did your son learn to hit women — not in my house — there is not hitting in my house!”
It was an intense story; had us all leaning in, waiting for the translation and listening to the smack of Ramiro’s backhand against his palm.
Now it should be sunny this morning and possibly raining in the afternoon. Pristine clouds drift ever so slightly across the sky and a bird floats overhead.
Yesterday we went across town to a different Christian school and we gave bags of clothes and stuffed animals to the mammasitas and ninos there. When we walked in they were all sitting in two perpendicular lines of chairs, making a nice appreciative corner. And Ramiro energized them with a much beloved and familiar song, miming an elephant and other animals — a sort of children’s macarena. I couldn’t help but to dane along with everybody. I’ve seen this routine somewhere. I’ll have to ask for the lyrics.
On this note, Franklin Roosevelt or “Pichillo” finally handed me his CD, (which I’ve left in his car). Elam — great band, full of traditional Incan classics, warbling their woodnotes wild.
And at the Christian school where everyone donated clothes and stuffed animals, I couldn’t help but to accept hugs and besitos from the line of happy people. One was in a wheelchair and seemed ultra happy. I communicated briefly with her and got some pictures. Apparently, she’d written two books — one a book of poesia.
On the ride home in Ramiro’s 1985 Silverado, dubbed “Moses,” for parting seas of pedestrians and automobiles alike with its gigantic size and suffocating diesel exhaust, I awed at Ramiro’s possible sainthood since he’d dutifully served Ecuadorians and even some Columbians and he’d only taken one vacation in his life (not that this is a mandatory criterion) and for him it wasn’t really a vacation, since, like my dad, he found himself hemorrhaging cash at Disney World — however “cute” he said it was.
I mean here’s a guy who delivered food and water to terrorist drug cartel thugs up in the mountains of Columbia, so he tells me. Google FARC, he says. The terrorists were crying, he says. I suppose the government had boxed them in and they had been starving. I’ll have to google it. (I’m not sure how the situation is with South American governments and drug cartels these days but I remember that one narcotics checkpoint Ramiro had pointed out to me that day on our way to Las Cavernas in the jungle. It was abandoned.)
But mostly Ramiro helps impoverished Ecuadorians as that is his lot. “I come from a family muy dysfunctional,” he said. His father, an abusive alcoholic, with whom he’d only ever had very rigid one-sided conversations. He went to school barefoot and spent his afternoons cleaning the fourteenth floor of a building in Quito. “The 14th floor was mine,” he said with some pride, for the money he earned for cleaning it provided his family with what his drunken father would not.
At fifteen he set off on his own. At 18.8, as he puts it, he married. And in 1979 on January 1st he was in church when the Lord called him up to the pulpit and he became a preacher, now beloved by everyone in Pifo, Quito and probably most of South America for that matter. And North America, too. They guy preaches with such dynamism, waving his stubby arms in the air, acting out a person crying because of his or her unrequited egoistical need, then smacking his hands together: “The Bible says: Obedience; the Bible says faith in the Lord. It is not gray. It is black or white.” So you either do or do not believe. But you can still have black as your favorite color.
“They have Jesus in their hearts,” Ramiro explains to me, sweeping his hand across the dash of Moses to the night sky.
That is why they work so hard without asking, “Why?” “What’s in it for me?”
“A human by himself is hard — it doesn’t work. Because we are egotistical — everything for me. But once you accept Jesus in your heart — it changes you — he provokes in you — to do everything for others.”
It was a dynamic lesson. And I started to think to myself, can I accept Jesus to provoke the selfless helper in me? Or am I too much of the selfish writer type?
Can writing not be work for others?
I wonder what Jesus and Mohammad would say to each other if they could meet at Perkins or something.