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A Lesson in Giving

My Scholarship entry - Giving back on the road

WORLDWIDE | Sunday, 22 April 2012 | Views [172] | Scholarship Entry

La Rosa de Castilla is a mining town high in the dusty mountains near Guanajuato, Mexico. In the summer of 2000, I volunteered there, building latrines and mud stoves.

While there, I learned to appreciate corn tortillas – not the cardboard-like ones my father got at the supermarket in Vermont, but fresh baked from the comal – soft, warm, nutty. La Rosa was the first place an East Coast girl like me saw rain travel across the horizon, watching it move in in sheets and estimating how long until I had to take cover. I learned to love telenovelas (Latin American soap operas). To this day I can sing you the theme song to Locura de Amor. But the lesson I most remember came in the form of a simple white cup with a blue flower.

My co-volunteer and I stayed with a family. The matriarch was a woman so old, age no longer seemed a question. She didn't speak much, and when she did it was softly. But she smiled as we left each day to scramble along the dirt paths, offering our mud and bricks, armed with sticks to stave off the dogs that growled at us in each yard. We didn't know her well, but we liked her, and we got the impression she liked us, too.

The day we left La Rosa, we were caught up in the flurry of flustered activity that travel usually entails, in order to be ready when our ride to Guanajuato arrived. As we dashed back and forth, checking under beds and in drawers to make sure nothing was forgotten, the old woman shuffled to our door and, in her silent and deliberate way, motioned for us to follow her.

And so we did. Our curiosity momentarily calmed our discombobulated state. The old woman led us to her room and quietly held out a ceramic cup to each of us. She had no doubt searched her room for something pretty to give us as a parting gift.

"Que Dios les bendiga, vayan con Dios" she said. God bless you, go with God. Her present moved me more than she could have known. She reminded me what giving back means: giving what you can, when you can, from the heart.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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