Friday, August 11, 2006
BOLIVIA REDEFINES HEROISM
ALEJANDRA AND HER TAMALES
Who are the present day heroes in Bolivia? Certainly not the corrupt rich who exploit her endlessly!
The heroes in Bolivia are those who struggle to make a living; some of them are only children. This is a tribute to one of them. Her name is Alejandra; she sells tamales – a soft, boiled corn cake wrapped in dry banana leaves.
My first conscious memory of her was about 7 years ago. She was 14 years old, carried tamales in a bag, rode her bicycle around the neighborhood and shouted at the top of her lungs “tamales, tamales”.
Our part time secretarial help, Vanessa, always bought tamales from Alejandra in the afternoons. She would cycle to the fence near the church and Vanessa would dutifully buy tamales for tea. One day Vanessa fell sick and didn’t come to the church office. Like clockwork Alejandra appeared in the afternoon and began shouting without stopping - Tamales, Tamales; I was busy at my desk and hoped that she would simply leave. She did not. I went to the window, looked stern, waved my hands angrily and urged her to go away; she fled on her bike!
A few minutes later the Holy Spirit stirred my consciousness with a discipling moment: Alejandra was not an unpleasant interruption to my work but the embodiment of consistency, diligence and labor – the Godly virtues we were trying to facilitate in our people. She returned minutes later; quietly hoping that Vanessa would appear. I saw from the corner of my eye; walked out of my office and approached her looking very apologetic and kindly. It seemed to work because she looked relieved and broke out into a smile. We began conversing and it wasn’t long before she told me her story. She sold tamales to help pay some of the bills at home: her brother’s education, her father’s medical bills etc. Bolivia depends on persons like Alejandra. I invited her to our Saturday breakfast programme and encouraged her to attend the church.
Alejandra is part of a common third world phenomenon: adolescents and children who work to support their poverty stricken families. These kids, and not the Brad Pitt clones, are truly our modern day heroes! They work hard because of loyalty to their families: mum, dad and their siblings are not there for their convenience but are companions in the common struggle for daily survival. A times they are not recognized for their efforts nor are they treated humanely by family members. But they soldier on anyway! They are not only Bolivian heroes but ours as well!
Thank you Alejandra for enriching my life.