Pay Back

I moved back to Cusco on Saturday to spend my last few days in the Sacred Valley before heading south toward my final destination of Santiago on Monday via Arequipa and Arica. I checked back into the Hotel Virrey right on the main square.

It is Vanessa´s father who has owned the Hotel Virrey for more than 40 years. It occupies a particularly idea location on the Plaza de Armas, directly across from the Cathedral. The hotel is, however, not pretending to be anything but practical. For $30 a night, you get a bed, a private bath, and toast for breakfast.

As her father is aging, Vanessa is taking a larger role with her family´s businesses which include the hotel and a coffee processing plant. As a longtime friend of Vanessa´s father, Edwin has offered to be her mentor in better developing the hotel in Cusco. It was Edwin who arranged for my stay at the hotel when I first arrived here, and thus also the one responsible for introducing me to Vanessa.

Vanessa met me at the hotel Saturday night, and we strolled across the plaza to a restaurant that can only be described as Cusco´s version of Casa Bonita. Though the food and the entertainment are far superior to CB, the mission of the establishement is essentially the same – overpriced food and kitsch. But I really didn´t mind.

In addition to having dinner with a beautiful Peruvian woman, my ulterior motive was to hopefully get Vanessa to take an interest in the girls at Anta. Philanthropy does not work the same the world over, and the truth is that the vast majority of the support the girls get comes from the U.S. This seems a little unusual given the fact that there is, indeed, wealth in Peru. There are people with means to help those like the girls of Anta. But there is not the same culture of private philanthropy here as in the U.S. and other countries. While I was hoping to pique Vanessa´s interest in the orphanage, in all fairness the pleasure of her company alone was certainly worth my time.

I talked to her a little about the history of Peruvian Hearts, and Edwin´s affiliation with the Dodson family back in Denver. I shared with her how I came to learn about the orphanage, and what I had been spending my time on since arriving in Peru. I told her about the girls, and the extraordinary experiences I´ve had with them during my stay.

She would remark, “that sounds very interesting” and “I have thought I should really do something like this, but never have.”

I invited her to join me and Edwin on Sunday to go to Anta to cook for the girls.

Something really special happened with Vanessa. And it´s the same thing that happened when I made my appeal for help with the rain jackets that illicited such an incredible response from friends and family anxious to help. I think it deserves pause and attention, and here´s why.

No matter how cynical I might become toward my fellow man, to me something about our condition reveals itself all the time as fundamental.

We all need to give.
We want to give.
Giving doesn´t create a deficit, it fills a void.

But despite this inate thirst, sometimes we need a little help through the process…a little nudge. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us how. A shepherd. A guide.

This morning, when Vanessa arrived at the hotel to meet me, it was clear she had — overnight — contemplated and fully embraced her need to give. And watching this manifest was truly magical to witness. My work as “guide” was done. From this point on, it was all Vanessa.

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We walked to the main market, and I watched Vanessa carefully pick out and broker cuts of pork, tomatoes, garlic powder, lettuce and bread. She knew their final destination, and she showed great charity in the simple act of picking out the freshest leaves, and warmest loaves. Her countenance was completely at rest in joy and revelation. It was like watching the pages of a book of paintings being opened under a warm light. The brilliance of its images calmed by the sun´s haste around the curve of the earth; its browns and reds blurring as the pages turn from a distance. I watched her closely. And I saw the moment when a glow turned radiant. I saw an evolution. And I´ll never be able to desribe it in words.

Her money was always the first to appear. And it was she who uttered the words directly – “I want to help.”

She bought the garlic, I bought the tomatoes. I bought the bread, she bought the lettuce. We split the price of the pork, and then argued over who would carry the heaviest bag.

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We met Edwin at the square, and headed to Anta with a bags full of food.

As we strolled down the walkway with our arms full of bags, I could hear their voices.

“Pah-teek! Pah-teek!”

Here they came, like a little love stampede. They met Vanessa first, and she got her first set of hugs and kisses from them. They grabbed her arms, and led her through the building out the back to the kitchen – chattering the whole way. I had my own set of angels on my arms and at my back…marching our way to our purpose.

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With the assistance of about six girls, we chopped vegetables and marinated the meat while keeping eyes on the potatoes that had been started before we arrived. Vanessa stood with two girls at her side, pealing potatoes with their hands. From time to time we´d stop for a photo break whenever it struck one of the girls that it was time to take pictures. It´s really always time to take pictures around the girls. “Take picture! Take picture!” Oh, alright. ; )

Dheysi kept checking in on my whereabouts, and Ermelinda strutted around with my John Deere cap as she helped set the tables. While some of the girls cooked, others helped sort laundry. In between chores, Vanessa and I would get interrupted for a hug or a clapping game or just a few moments of our undivided attention. Every time I caught Vanessa´s eyes, I saw the trajectory of her happiness widen…she was being filled.

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The Sisters led the girls in grace, and we each took our seat. The Sisters placed Vanessa and I at opposite ends of the table for the grown-ups, while the girls all politely and somewhat quietly ate their food. As Spanish was the only language being spoken at my table, my dinner time interaction was focused on the girls. I´d hear them whisper “Pat-teek” and I´d look over only to hear more giggles being whispered between ears.

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I got up a few times to fill the girls´glasses and offer them more portions. They seemed to find this a curiosity, which I suppose is not much of a surprise as the girls are never really waited on. They appreciated the gesture though, and said their proper thank-yous.

When all their bellies were full, they came to us with hugs and gratitude for the meal. I held all of my hugs a little longer, while watching as Vanessa received kisses and embraces from them all. I saw Vanessa´s hugs begin to linger too.

I spent a little while in the classroom with the girls seeing their desks and notebooks. They had gotten ahold of my Spanish-English dictionary, and used it as a tool to develop gossip inquiries. Silly girls.

We were summoned to the front gate where Edwin had secured an ice cream cart. We all stood under the high sun with ice cream dripping down sticks, and slowly falling into individual food comas.

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I spent a few minutes more with the girls in the classroom, giving them each a woven bracelet and tying it around their tiny wrists. Ermelinda removed a bracelet of her own and tied it on my right wrist, where Lobsang´s blessing string resided before being removed and laid to rest with my Paolo. The other girls took one of the bracelets from the collection I bought, and tied it around my other wrist. It was a sweet exchange, huddled together choosing bracelets and indulding in the simple act of giving. They, too, needed to give.

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We left the classroom to meet Edwin and Vanessa at the car, and the girls gave them both bracelets of their own. Ermelinda handed me a scroll of individual handwritten thank you notes from all the girls. I pressed them to my chest and said thank you. It´ll take me days to translate them all, but I´m anxious to try.

As we approached the car to leave, I turned to give my farewell hugs and kisses. I made it through the first six or so without incident, but by the time I got to Dheysi and Ermelinda I started to cry. My constant comfort, Dheysi gave me two extra hugs. “I´ll see you again Dheysi.”

The girls all yelled “thank you” to us as we got in the car. Edwin translated for me, telling me they said they would email me and stay in touch. They waved as we pulled away, and I blew as many kisses as I could before losing sight of them. Vanessa´s hand rested on my arm. She knew now, first-hand, what I was leaving.

Vanessa has agreed to act as my proxy with Edwin in picking up the girls´ rain jackets on Wednesday and delivering them to Anta. I´ll be on an overnight bus Monday night to Arequipa, where I´ll spend one night before continuing south. By Wednesday, I´ll be in Arica, Chile, for two days before returning home. Because of my travel schedule this week, I don´t anticipate more than one or two more travelogue entries before flying out of Santiago on Friday night.

I´m meeting Edwin and Vanessa again in the morning. Edwin is talking to an attorney friend of his in the morning to get more information for me on the adoption process. Vanessa is then taking me on a tour of her family´s coffee factory.

Vanessa and I spent a few hours strolling around Cusco tonight before she went home. I asked her if she had a good day.

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“Yes. They are so sweet, the girls.”

“It´s so wonderful, isn´t it, that what we received in return from them so far exceeds that which we gave?”

“Yes, very much. This is very true.”

This is very true.

Love,
p

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