February 13, 2008

La suegra (the mother-in-law)

A strong woman

I have been asked how I get along with El Jefe's mother. I guess people are curious, knowing that I don't fit into this culture too well.

The first thing you have to know is that El Jefe's mother is a saint. Seriously, she is a saint walking on earth. She was an elementary school teacher for almost 40 years while she raised nine children in the most extreme poverty and with hardships that even the poorest of poor North Americans could never imagine.

Every one of her children graduated from high school and three went on to the university. One son has obtained his masters in education. One son is a pilot on a cruise ship. She's rightfully very proud of them and displays all the graduation certificates on her wall.

Her children revere her, as they should. Her 6th, 7th, and 8th children, all sons, left Honduras to work on the cruise ships, saved their money and built a nice house for her. Two of them left jobs as teachers because they couldn't make a decent living as a teacher in Honduras. Her youngest son was killed at the age of 18 by an incompetent doctor who gave him an huge overdose of the wrong medication in the hospital. Now El Jefe, two of his brothers, and one sister live here in Honduras and that makes her very happy.

Her husband and three of her four older daughters went to the USA to make a better life and send money back to help her when they can. She has visited the U.S. several times but doesn't want to live there.

She has been retired a few years but can't walk down a street anywhere without people coming up to her saying, "¡Maestra, maestra! Se acuerda de mi?" (Teacher, teacher! Do you remember me?) She always says, "Yes, of course! How are you?" Later on she laughs to us and says, "I have no idea who that bald man was!" After 40 years of students, how could she remember them all?

The government of Honduras frequently does not pay its teachers, sometimes for months at a time. Once, when El Jefe was about ten years old, and her children had gone three days without ANY food, she was forced to sell a parcel of land adjacent to their home. A man had been wanting to buy the property for a long time. Knowing the bind she was in, he offered L.800 (about $42 in today's money). Knowing that her children had to eat, she took it. (This chokes me up every time I think about it.)

When she was younger, she was very involved in politics and was quite the feisty activista according to El Jefe. Apparently she was well respected by some very important people. I wish I would have known her then!

Her hobby now is going to visit sick people in the state run hospital, sometimes taking them food, other times just visiting and praying with them, trying to make them feel better. When El Jefe was young, she used to take him with her when she took food to prisoners in the prison. Even though she doesn't have much, she never passes a beggar in the street without giving him some money. She often helps neighbors less fortunate than herself.

I think she's happy now that I've learned to make tortillas. She's a little like the mother Marie in "Everybody Loves Raymond" in that she's always asking El Jefe if he's hungry and she wants to take care of him when he's sick. We laugh about that. But she's not at all like that mother in that she is never critical or busybodyish.

I know I'm not the girl that she would have picked for her son. I'm sure if she could have had the choice, she would have picked a less outspoken, more modest, more religious, and certainly, more Honduran girl. She wonders at the things I do, like digging holes, making compost, and climbing 14 foot ladders to paint the house. She probably cringes at some of the things I say, although sometimes she laughs. She probably thinks I'm a little spoiled, but she puts that down to being north American and not really my fault. ;-)

She accepts me and never has a bad word to say to or about me, as I never have a bad word to say about her. So you see, she really is a saint.
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