Continued from Sweet Summer: Mexico::
We piled into an old VW van and drove away from the airport. Judíth was the only person who came to pick me of the six people I found myself surrounded by who spoke fluent English. She quickly translated questions and answers between me and the others. I watched the city fly past us as we drove and I was struck by how similar it was to my home town, perhaps older buildings, slightly more run down, but similar. As we drove I realized it was the 4th of July, there would be no fireworks today.
We pulled up to the Torréon YMCA and unloaded my things. The heat was sweltering and I was beginning to feel parched, but therewas much to do. The boys took my things inside the building and everyone else followed. There was a great excitement in the air as I walked in. Judíth told everyone that I did not speak Spanish and so, in their own sweet natured way, each mustered up as much English as he or she knew to welcome me to their YMCA and town. I followed Rosabí through the office and outside into a courtyard of sorts. I stepped back into the blinding light and heat, as soon as my eyes had adjusted to the light I found myself face to face with a beautiful man. He was kind; I could tell by looking at him, I knew as I looked into his eyes. Eyes do not tell lies; his were kind compassionate eyes, I felt as though I could see his soul through his eyes. He smiled at me; I had clearly not been paying attention, mostly because I was mesmerized. His name was Tony and it was his birthday. When he spoke I realized he spoke English well, not quite fluent, but close. He said hello to me and welcomed me. “It is very nice to meet you too,” I squeaked out as he kissed my cheeks. This was a custom I was not used to in the United States. My face certainly turned several shades of red when he kissed my cheeks; I was instantly drawn to him. His eyes sparkled when I said, “oh, and Happy Birthday!”
“Muchas gracias, Sarita,” he replied.
It was decided that I would stay with the Rojas family first, so we gathered my things once more and Rosabí drove me to their home. I was greeted by my host-mother, Iréne and her daughters Paty and Yuri (oh, and Daisy, their white miniature poodle). My host-mother, Mama Rojas, asked me, “Quieres platano con leche?” I will not lie to you, I knew what the word platano meant; I knew what the word leche meant; I even knew what con meant and could have guessed at Quieres if I had to, but I was tired, overwhelmed, and slightly emotional at this point, so instead of understanding her words I heard Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah Wahhhh, Wah Whaaa Whaaaa.” She looked at me, I looked at her, and we just knew, this was going to be one long summer. So, at a loss for what else to do she said, “PLA-TAN-O,” and held up the banana, “CON,” she put the banana and milk together, “LE-CHE?” and held up the milk, at which time she put down the banana, looked at me and moving her finger in a wild swirling motion said, “BZZZ!!” which I instantly understood to be the blender. We looked at each other again, then, we laughed until we cried. When we had both caught our breath, she hugged me and made me banana milk.
Once I had finished my platano con leche, Mama Rojas brought me and her daughter Yuri, who spoke decent English, to the dining room table. The second thing Mama Rojas taught me was this, “Dile Sarah, no entiendo nada.” Seconds later I learned that it meant, “Sarah, say, I do not understand anything.” For the remainder of the summer, anywhere we went, she would tell her friends to listen to me and then would turn and say, “Dile, Sarah.” To which I always responded, “No entiendo nada.” Mama Rojas’ friends would howl with laughter. Years later when I took my first Spanish class at the community college I knew before anyone in class what “entiendo” meant.
The following day I walked with Paty and Yuri to the YMCA for the first day of summer camp. I got a staff shirt, met the staff members I had not met the previous day during a staff meeting. Chuy, our supervisor, gave me a choice of where to work, I decided I would teach soccer, what I did not know was that Tony was the teacher I would be working with for the remainder of the summer. Everyday I would show up after breakfast and help get the kids from their parents’ cars ushered into the Y, then we would gather in the gymnasium for the morning ‘meeting’ and then everyone split into their groups. I was told to head over to the soccer field. As I walked to the soccer field, my new friends said hello and gave hugs. I stopped at the snack bar for a big bottle of water and walked out onto the field. There were some soccer balls already out and even though I still had a "boot" on my right foot from my 3 broken toes, I started kicking the ball around the field. I didn't even realize he was watching me until he started clapping. I looked up and Tony just smiled at me. I would spend the remainder of my time teaching soccer and volleyball with my Tony. We had a great time, some days his cousin Luis would come help us, and most days we would end up playing a game at the end of the day. Several weeks into my summer in Mexico I was able to take off my boot and really play soccer with the guys. We had great times and all were fairly impressed at the gringa's ability to head a soccer ball and dive for a ball while playing goal!
Hours turned to days, days into weeks, the summer was flying by. Tony took me, Paty, and his sister Nadia for ice cream in the park one night. We walked from their house several blocks to the park, it was dark but the neighborhood was safe. Nadia and Paty walked ahead chatting rapidly in Spanish while Tony and I brought up the rear. We meandered down the streets and finally found ourselves at the ice cream counter. Tony ordered and paid for my ice cream at we all found a place at the picnic table. We sat, all chatting and eating our helados. Tony asked me questions about where I am from, what my goals are, what I see myself doing in the future. We talked for a long time, it was comfortable and wonderful. He would look into my eyes from time to time, he has the most beautifully intense eyes. They are so full of love and kindness. He asked me that day, "Sarita, would you ever marry a man from Mexico?" "Of course I would," was my response, "but I don't know if I can take living in all this heat." He grinned and asked me, "what if he moved to your home?" All I could do was smile, if I allowed myself to entertain the idea of this man moving to my home town, I was sure my heart would burst with joy.
The summer passed quickly, hot nights and even hotter days. When we were blessed with an afternoon of rain, the humidity following was brutal. Mornings were spent at the YMCA and afternoons were big family lunches, sometimes a nap, and often a trip to town for one adventure or another. People fought to spend time with me, take me places, or show me around. I went to museums, where I was frequently let in free if I spoke English, the "Gringa" was exciting, I went to the mall, grocery stores, downtown Alameda, the movies, friends' houses.
It was such a new experience to be loved, with no conditions, with no expectations. My life has not always been easy, though I'll be the first to admit, I know it was not as bad as it could have been. Oh, but to be loved by doing nothing more than being yourself. To be treated as family when there was no obligation, that is a rare treasure and one I hold onto dearly. I spent the remainder of that summer roaming the streets of Torreon with friends who became family. I had the honor of glimpsing real life in the homes of my Mexican family. That summer healed parts of my heart I didn't know were hurt. To this day when I get an email from my friends in Torreon, or when I visit, I feel love and acceptance in an overwhelming way. It's my secret treasure. My very own pot of gold, and their love has given me the key to many riches. How very blessed am I?