I knew that they didn’t have much to eat. Last I spoke to Noe about the normal diet of the grandparents at Casa de los Abuelos he explained to me that the recent Christmas dinner donated through the generosity of a Canadian donor, was a luxurious treat. The meal had consisted of turkey, potatoes, salad and tortillas, plus of course the mandatory side of espagueti. We helped to serve the dinner in both Merida and Ixil, to 40 very grateful men and women who call this their retirement home, their final resting place on earth.
You could be deceived into thinking by the words ‘retirement home’ that this could be a cushy place with a fountain out front, pots of geraniums in every window and the sound of Frank Sinatra singing in the shower.
Far from it. This is a home that is built on nothing more than a concrete floor and (in the original Merida location), an aluminum roof that leaks like a sieve when the rains come. The stench of urine is hard to avoid given that the amount of helpers in the home at any time is roughly one or two to every twenty people. One person is dedicated to the kitchen, another person to the grinding chore of cleaning soiled sheets and bedding, changing adult diapers, cleaning floors, giving medications, dressing sores and general nursing care for the elderly. Although the new location in Ixil is a great step up, with the lack of staff to help the grandparents, the home still lacks in operational essentials that you might think would be considered ‘basic and standard’ in your home country.
Thankfully, there is Estela, and prominent feature of previous posts for those interested in a story of every day heroism. Estela’s morning checklist includes seeing if everyone made it through the night.
Yesterday we went to the Merida location to serve a simple breakfast of ham sandwiches, bananas, coffee and, of course espagueti. When we arrived Lety was working in the kitchen and gave us a warm greeting. At first I was pleasantly surprised to see bags and bags of donated bread from the local Sam’s Club. My first thought was, what a generous donation. My second thought was, how will they eat all of this bread before it goes bad? And my third thought, a sinking one, was the sad realization that much of the bread had in fact already gone moldy.
Lety was busily working with her hands, breaking and tearing each piece of bread very carefully. In one large pot she placed the pieces of bread that were still edible. In another pot she placed the moldy bits. Rachel asked her about the green stuff and she smiled and replied, ‘that’s vitamin C my love’.
Curious, I asked her what she was making, as she poured water over the pot of ‘good bread’, and began to mix it with both hands, breaking and mashing the bread until it became a sort of bread soup. Proudly she explained to me that she was making a postre … a dessert, like a flan, she said. She added a bit of milk, butter, sugar and raisins, and would later place this pot within a larger pot of boiling water to cook the bread soup.
I suppose this could be a delicious dessert that you and I would enjoy. But something inside makes me think that calling it a dessert is just a way to cover up the reality that this is simply all that there would be tonight for dinner. Perhaps for breakfast tomorrow. It was not apparent to me that there was anything else planned on the menu. No turkey today.
Man shall not live on bread alone.
Perhaps we can learn something from this bread soup. The working of hands, the reflecting of the bread broken, the separating of the good parts from the bad, the nourishing of a soup that may lack in nutrients but is rich in some form of spiritual vitamin, served by hands who place loving others above loving self.
A bread soup might just be enough to get us through the night after all.