Costurera

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 5

Seamstress.  

We have a neighbor about three blocks up the street who has a sign out offering mending and alterations.  

She looks about fifty-five to me, but I’ve been fooled before.  I know people here who appear ten to twenty years older–to me–than they actually are.  Lack of dental care, poor nutrition, too many years of too long hours take a toll on the body.  Living in the barrio can take a toll on the body. 

She has a beautiful smile and, when she smiles, which is frequently, her face brightens.  Her wrinkles are adjusted for smiles.  She is clearly one of those people who has smiled a lot in her years.  

Today, I had to pick up six pairs items, pants and shorts, school uniforms* that she had hemmed for us.  They huge road machinery is still working on our street–paving!–so I had to tiptoe around the work site by the side of the road; a big stretch of the road is now wet cement.  

I got to her house and she greeted and welcomed me, smiled at me, then went through five or six plastic grocery bags, seeking to identify the clothes that belong to us.  She found them and laid each one out for me, showing me what she had done.  I then handed her a shirt that my son had just gotten that had already opened up a hole in the seam at the left shoulder.  She waved her hand and told me that she would fix it but would not take anything for it, that it was nothing.

Then I handed her two hundred cordobas, asking if she had change.  Two hundred cordobas is just over six dollars (30 cords to the dollar right now). She gave me one hundred eighty cordobas in change.  That meant she had done the altering for sixty cents. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Shouldn’t it be more than that?”

“No.  And this shirt is nothing.  It will be done this afternoon.”

“Okay.  You’re sure?”

Now even by the standards of our barrio, that is too little.  But she wasn’t changing her mind.  So I thanked her and clasped her hand and blessed her and tiptoed my way back through the road crew and tools and crying concrete.  

About 45 minutes later, our neighbor Mileydi tapped lightly on my door.  

“The costurera is here.”

I went out and greeted her.  She asked me how much I had paid for the mending and I told her twenty cords.  

“Okay,  My daughter asked, ‘Momma, how much did he pay you?  You only got twenty cordobas.'”

“How much was it supposed to be?”

Cien veinte .”  

Fortunately, I still had the 180 cords of change in my pocket.  I took them out and handed her the hundred cord bill.  

She hesitated.  Asked how much the change should be.  I showed her the hundred cords in one hand, the eighty in the other, said, “I gave you cien cords, so veinte more, one hundred minus twenty  is eighty.”  

She kept smiling but didn’t seem convinced.  I walked her through the arithmetic again, then twice more.  Finally Mileydi walked over and, as far as I could hear, repeated the same thing I had said but in better Nica Spanish, without the gringo accent.  

Our costurera smiled at her and closed her hand on the hundred cord bill.  

“Si.  Gracias,” she said.  Then she handed me the shirt, already stitched.  

Nada,” she insisted.  

Now during all of this, I offered all hundred and eighty cords, and then the fifty and then the twenty in addition to the hundred she accepted.  Repeatedly.  She wouldn’t take them.  But she smiled bigger and told me her daughter was right.

“Tell her I kept asking.  Tell her the gringo is not a ladrón!” I said, smiling back.  Mileydi laughed at me.  

And our neighbor walked back home.  

You would imagine, before you entered this culture, that you could just insist on overpaying.  And you could.  And we do, sometimes.  But doing so can risk damaging the relationship.  There are Nicaraguans who see all gringos as rich and seek to overcharge at every opportunity.  And there are also Nicaraguans who refuse to take even twenty cordobas extra, because her price is twenty cords per garment.  She doesn’t do math well.  But she’s rightfully proud of her work and she won’t take more from us than from her other neighbors. 

Because she sees us as neighbors, too.  

Redemption from Ashes

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Something beautiful happened today.

We stood on the freshly dried concrete floor of our friend Elizabeth’s newly-built home and we worshiped God and prayed for his blessing.

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth’s  home burnt to the grounds home burnt to the ground.  She had to guard the pile of rubble so that no one would steal her last possessions.

Two weeks ago, we barely new Elizabeth.  Kim had chatted with her about kids and dogs and recargas.

Eliza and Bella

Elizabeth and Bella sharing Scripture verses and laughing.

 

Today, we sang songs of gratitude together and prayed blessings for this home; then we shared mini-doughnuts and Coke.  And it struck me–and I hope this doesn’t offend you–that we were sharing communion together.

Now, we know Elizabeth.  She is joining our Mujeres de Shalom (“women of peace”) group led by our ministry partner Bella Ndoro.  She even, somehow, has the tiny beginnings of an inventory of 2 cordoba (6 cent) bags of chips.  Corin is more than happy to be her best customer.

The kids chased a ball around outside while we talked and laughed.  kids in front yardAnd I pictured what I had seen two weeks ago when I walked back to see the site of the fire.

 

I have described in detail the broken infrastructure of Nicaraguan government and social services.  But I watched bags of cement delivered, construction workers show up (whom Elizabeth was responsible to feed; we and some other neighbors got to help with that), and in less than two weeks, Elizabeth has a home again.  I don’t know what you think of socialism, but we’re certainly grateful she is not homeless.

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This does not mean that all things are good; some things are horrible and some are evil.  But in all things, God continues to bring good for people’s lives.

Eliza and Mike

I was standing there, looking at these solid, blank walls and this bare floor, a house that none of us–you reading this and I–would consider luxurious.   It’s one room.  But I doubt I’ve ever seen someone more grateful for a home.

And where we were strangers before, now we have started friendships.  Where she was abandoned by her husband, then left with nothing, in that same place we got to surround her and pray and sing and laugh and eat.  Our close neighbor friends, Mileydi and Juan Carlos, and our Servant Partners teammates have become Elizabeth’s new friends.  

When we first began to sing, there were only a few of us in the Eliza with everyonecircle, but as our voices drifted outside, some neighborhood children and two other moms came in, drawn into the celebration. In this barrio, tensions over the sharing of scarce resources and distrust among neighbors can run high. We lean on God to make part of our witness here modeling a better way of living together, of singing and sharing and holding hands as we pray.  Of learning from Jesus how to be true neighbors.

 

[Kim and I wrote this one together.]

 

House Fire

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Friday, a woman’s house burned down.

I got a ride home from coaching basketball practice to see a huge pile of black waste material being loaded into a dump truck by a Cat.  We don’t see big machinery on our street very often.

“Is that trash?” one of my players asked.

“Or maybe sewage?” I suggested.  We live across from an asentimiento, a squatter village.  Either is possible.

We watched for another minute before I got out.  My wife and young son were there with other neighbors, watching, too.

I came up smiling at them, but no one returned my smile.  Then Kim told me what happened.  Everyone in the asentimiento IMG_0074hooks into the power lines and runs electricity, rigged up however they can, to their homes.  The rigged wire had begun to spark and burned her house to the ground.  The destroyed house was across the street from us and two houses back from our close friends.  I walked down to see the site.  The only things left were the brick fire cookstove and some zinc roofing.

 All her other possessions were now that pile of rubble, ash, and cinder quickly getting scooped up to be hauled to the Managua city dump. Two tiny barefoot neighbor girls were darting in and out of the blackened pile, collecting charred bits of wood for their cooking fires.

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