[Note: I feel like a big gossip writing this. However, this woman has a fascinating story, and I've been thinking about her a lot lately.]
Pushing the stroller down the street one day, I stopped short upon hearing a woman ask me in perfect, clear English, "are you an American?"
The question didn't startle me as much as the woman who asked it. Slightly hunched under layers of dirty, threadbare clothes, her wiry gray hair was pinned up under an old crocheted cap. Gazing at me with piercing eyes and asking again with mouth full of worn teeth, she asked again, "are you an American?"
This lady that I would have mistaken for a bag lady turned out to be the owner of the house that sported a rusted sign advertising "English lessons--all levels". Since moving to the neighborhood, I had been intrigued by the sign and the person who wrote it, but doubted that anyone currently lived beyond the exterior crumbling wall. Then one day I saw the door close. I had not seen the person, but it must have been Gloria.
Her son is my age and lives with her as he suffers from what sound like severe psychiatric problems. She also has a daughter named Clara. However, her Clara lives in the US. As she was unable to renew her student visa, she hasn't been able to visit her mother in years, afraid that she wouldn't be able to enter the US again.
While snacking on Christmas cookies last winter, Gloria told me more of her story. She grew up in Ciudad Juarez and went to school in El Paso--no wonder her English is impeccable. When she was in junior high, her family moved to Chihuahua. Most of the time her father was well employed, but when times were tough, he'd sell peanuts at sporting events. He did what he could to make sure his family was provided for.
But, more often than not, times were good for them, and Gloria was able to attend university in Mexico City, studying journalism. After she graduated, a friend of her family had some contacts so she was able to intern and work for a year or two in Cologne, Germany.
How on earth did a woman who has a degree, impeccable English skills, and a clear thirst for knowledge (she's forever lending me books) end up in a dilapidated house, scrounging the streets for sticks or fallen palm trees to burn for a fire to cook her food on? Between caring for her son and ailments of her own, she's not able to work. As time went on and she was less and less able to care for her house, she has nowhere to hold English classes, if she were to find some prospective students. She explained that she hasn't been able to get her pension from the government in a year. I don't know exactly how government pensions in this country work (for seniors and the disabled), but I do know that they provide minimal funds, around 100 pesos a month. And she doesn't even have that anymore.
A few weeks ago, when I saw her on the street with a can in hand, asking passerby for change, I don't know who was more embarrassed--Gloria or myself. Now I know, I was the one more embarrassed. I had no idea things were that bad. After all, when I was new here, she was one of the first people to introduce herself to me. While, on the outside she appears more needy, at the time I met her, we may have been in equal need. Other people may see Gloria as a charity case. I see her as my friend.
Yesterday was the first time that I had seen her in months. We chatted for awhile, and she mentioned that she's writing some stories that she's like to get published. I told her that I've got a market guide for publishers in the US, and she jumped on that. However, she's got it in her head that she can get published within a few months. I've tried to let her know that getting published could be a very, very long process.
But she really needs the money. And as she said that she's had a cookbook in the works for awhile--she's already shared with me some fabulous, from-scratch, traditional Mexican recipes--I'm hoping to help her self-publish a small cookbook within a few weeks. I normally hate selling things (there was a year when my brother sold Girl Scout cookies for me), but when I believe in something, I can get over my insecurities. And I believe in Gloria.
So--coming soon--Good Food by Gloria! (I'm sure she'll come up with a better title.) Think about it. I'll be more than happy to sell you one!
[Another note: I know, I know--I may be getting in over my head. I'm aware of that. And OK with it. But, if I have skills to partner with this woman to help her earn a living, I feel that I need to use them. We'll see where this goes.]