Week Two with a foreign exchange student was challenging. We’re settling into patterns, some good and some not so good. Our new friend is still excited to be here and is still marveling at things we take for granted, such as cars stopping at stop signs.
I’m still marveling at Spouse’s willingness to let me walk smack into a situation that does not suit me at all. I know full well that I’m
dumb enough kind enough to offer our home to a stranger based on the recommendation of a good friend and the reassurance that it would be an amazing opportunity. But you’d think he would have, perhaps, guided me another way.
Well we have ourselves an opportunity and a half, right here in our house all summer.
And we only get out of it what we put in. So after reminding our guest for the fourth or fifth time that she really, really has to lock the doors, especially when she leaves the house, after giving in and letting her have all the white-bread-and-ketchup sandwiches she wants, and after deciding not to tell her about water conservation and drought in California, we found an evening on which to really connect.
As usual, I made a relatively plain meal. Well-seasoned lentils, israeli couscous with feta and olives, watermelon, and raw bell pepper. And she found it horrible, even after adding what I think might have been a quarter cup of salt. She went to her room to try on one after another of her outfits and to ask if they looked okay. In the lull after the nightly fashion show I read a blog post from my friend about how cancer is eating away his perspective and how he’s fighting to be present with his family.
So when Rosí came into the kitchen, instead of working, as I needed to, I joined her. And told her I have a friend who’s fighting cancer and has been for three years. She, in turn, told me about her grandfather, whose prostate cancer was misdiagnosed repeatedly even as her mother kept saying, “This is not right. Get another doctor.” The grandfather died two years later. We talked about cancer and about death. About how there are quite a few bad ways to go. She talked about HIV and the relative who died from complications from HIV-related conditions.
I mentioned that there was some hope with HIV as treatments are improving.
“Not in my country.” She told me that in the Dominican Republic the treatments were making almost no difference because successful HIV treatment requires, as she said, “paying attention and being willing to care about health.” That, she said, was not the way in her country.
She talked of the high cost of HIV medications. And of most life-saving medications. She talked of pervasive alcoholism in the DR. [World Health Organization stats suggest that her perspective is skewed by her town.] She said that in her neighborhood, many children walked the streets without shoes, without school, and without enough food because their parents drank what little money they had.
“So does it seem hopeless,” I asked, “with, as you say, many people using alcohol, and many people taking advantage of honest people by stealing and cheating?”
“No. You can never lose hope. My mother does not have a lot,” she said. “But she always made sure we have food and we go to school. No money for clothes? Maybe. But money for food. And she does it honestly. She doesn’t have a formal job but she does everything she can to earn money honestly. If we’re sick? Go to school. Not if we’re really ill, of course. But if we don’t feel well? Too bad. Go to school.”
“She knows what’s important.”
I asked if it was hard to be honest and struggle when some give up and either drink or steal. It seems that is the struggle in many of the poorest parts of our country, as well.
“There is no choice,” she said. “There is no excuse for being dishonest. There is no reason. If you try hard, there is enough for food and school. Not for extras. But for food and school.”
As expected, I felt terrible about how we spend our money. I tell the kids we use money for food and shelter and heat and school and not for extras, but they have enough toys to say otherwise. And we have treats and new books and expensive coffee. I knew that guilt would come during our summer as American hosts.
But Rosí’s reminder about what’s really important brought me out of my deep sadness about my friend. People everywhere are struggling. Really struggling. He’s fighting with everything he has to make sure his family is loved. Rosí’s mom is sacrificing to ensure that her children have the necessities. They’re doing…we’re all doing…what it really takes to be good people.
Make sure kids are fed and educated. And loved.
Make sure family and friends know they’re important.
Lead by example an honest, hard-working, and purpose-filled life.
And give to others everything you can.
Take that, summer inconvenience.