Phone Call From Iquitos, Peru: Iveli’s Rebellion

 

Every Friday night when I’m in The States Senora Luci—the Bora Indian woman who is in charge of my house for children in Iquitos—calls me from Iquitos when I’m in the States. The purpose of the call is twofold. First, we determine how much money I need to Western Union her to pay the bills for the following week. Next, I get to chat with the children about what’s going on with them.

Senora Luci: “I’m having a problem with Iveli?”

Me: “Problem? What kind of problem?”

Senora Luci: “She knows she’s supposed to be home no later than ten O’clock. But last night she didn’t get here until twenty until eleven.”

Me: “Did she say why she came home late?”

Senora Luci: “Only that she’d forgotten how late it was.”

Me: “That’s not a good excuse.”

Senora Luci: “When you’re not here she uses that excuse all the time.”

Me: “Put her on the phone and I’ll speak to her about the problem.”

Senora Luci: “She’s outside. I’ll go get her.”

As I waited for Iveli to come to the phone, I thought about the first time I met here. It happened seven years ago when she was seven. Her father was long gone, and her mother was unable to feed and clothe her. Her face was smeared with dirt and her hair was … well … you get the picture.

She had problems adjusting to living at my house. Back then there were five other girls in my house. Iveli got her feelings hurt easily. When she thought one of the other girls had made fun of her, she would lash out against her. Her favorite retaliation was to wait for the perceived offender to go to sleep at night. Then Iveli would get up and put chewing gum in the girl’s hair.

The sound of Iveli entering the house interrupted my reverie.

Iveli: “You wanted to talk to me about something, Senor Leo?”

Me: “I do. Senora Luci tells me that you came home late last night.Is that right?”

Iveli: “The time just slipped by, Senor Leo. I won’t do it again.”

Me: “Iveli, we want you to be in the house by ten for a good reason.”

Iveli: “I know.”

“It would be nice if you apologized to her.”

Iveli put the phone down and spoke to Senora Luci. I could hear both of them sobbing. Sometimes when I’m in The States someone will ask me why I live in Peru. To be honest with you, there are a few times when I’m not so sure, It takes an emotional moment like the one that took place yesterday to remind me that Iquitos, Peru is definitely where God wants me to be.

Mayberry Is Alive And Well

 

“Have a seat, young man.”

I looked around the barber shop. No young man in sight. “Are you speaking to me?” I asked the woman barber cutting a man’s hair in Franklin, North Carolina. I couldn’t tell her age. She could’ve been anywhere from fifty to sixty-five. About five foot eight inches tall, she was a slender woman with a head full of brown and gray hair that reminded me of the hairdos in the movie, “Hairspray.”

“Thanks for the ‘young man,’” I said, dropping down in the straight back chair facing the barber.

“Be with you in a few minutes,” she said to me. Then she turned her attention back to the thirtyish-something looking man sitting in the barber’s chair. “So how’s life treating you, Scooter?”

I didn’t know if that was his real name. Or just a nickname. Either way, the name suited him. He was dressed in faded jeans , a black and white long sleeve checkered shirt and scruffy looking brogans that had seen better days. In his calloused hands lay a white sailor’s cap. “Not so good, Frankie,” he said in a voice that reminded me of Jim Nabors in the old television show, Mayberry.” I think my girl friend’s got wandering eyes.”

That brought a “Hmn” from Frankie.

Scooter frowned. “After all the wooing I’ve done to Thelma Mae, you’d think she’d ‘preciate a good man like me.”

Frankie suppressed a smile. “Some women are like that. Don’t know how to hold on to a good man whey they have ‘em.”

“You got that right,” Scooter agreed.

I glanced around the barber shop. It was sparsely furnished. Just a wooden coat and hat rack and a half dozen straight back chairs. I looked out the window where a couple of blue-haired women were strolling past us. Beyond the town stood the Smoky Mountains. Definitely a Norman Rockwell setting. I was admiring the view when Frankie said, “You’re next.”

I passed Scooter as I headed for the barber’s chair. “Howdy,” he said in a friendly voice.

“Howdy,” I replied.

Frankie didn’t have anything to say to me for the first few minutes as she trimmed my hair. Then, when I thought she wasn’t interested in talking, she came alive. She proved to be a very funny woman as she cracked one joke after another. The one I liked the most was this: “I know this truck driver who lives down the road in Georgia. “Nice looking man. But somethin’ of a  ladies’ man. He used to go with a friend of mine, Sue Ann. Well, one night Sue Ann got tired of his two-timing ways. Know what she did?” I said I didn’t. “She gave him an al-turn-i-tive. That’s what she did.

Frankie waited for my response. “So what happened, Frankie?” I asked.

“That guy did what any Don Juan would do—he took it.” Then she roared with laughter.

I chuckled. “That’s a good one, Frankie.”

As I paid the ten dollars for the haircut and headed for my old Toyota parked a half block away, I thought: Who needs the internet or twitter for entertainment when you’ve got all the info and humor you’ll ever want at Frankie’s Barber Shop. Mayberry is alive and well here in Franklin, North Carolina. And I’m glad.

 

 

 

 

Phone Call From Iquitos, Peru: Juanita’s Heart Is Broken

 

Every Friday night Senora Luci—the Bora Indian who is in charge of my house for children—calls me from Iquitos. The purpose of the call is twofold. First, we determine how much money I need to Western Union her to pay the bills for the following week. Next, I get to chat with the girls about what’s going on with them. Finally, before hanging up, Senora Luci and I discuss any problems that may have come up.

Senora Luci: “Juanita’s been crying a lot lately.”

(Juanita is one of four girls I take care of in my house. I’ve been taking care of her since she was a year old. She is now seventeen years old)

Me: “Is she sick?”

Senora Luci: “Not exactly. At least not physically.”

Me: “I don’t understand.”

Senora Luci: “Do you remember Carlos?”

Me: “Is he the tall boy in Juanita’s class, the one with long curly black hair?”

Senora Luci: “That’s him. Juanita has had a crush on him for some time. Being the best looking boy in th class, just about all the girls in the class like him. Juanita thought he only liked her. But …”

Me: “I’d like to speak to Juanita.”

Senora Luci set the phone down. I can hear her leather sandals making slap-slapping sounds as she walks to the front door. I hear her yell, “Juan-ni-tah!” Seconds later Juanita picks up the phone.

Juanita: “Si, Papi?”

Me: “I just wanted to see if you’re okay.”

Juanita: “I’m fine.”

Me: “Good.”

Juanita: “I love you, Papi.”

Me: “I love you, too.”

You know, it’s truly amazing how much power those three words carry.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m In North Carolina

 

“What happened?” Kathy asks.

“It’s a long story,” I reply.

We’re sitting on her porch watching the autumn sun slide lowly behind the mountains in the distance. I focus my attention on a brown hawk soaring over the trees. I’m about to ask Kathy what kind of hawk it is. That’s when I notice her body language. Her arms crossed, she gazes at me thoughtfully.

“What?” I ask.

“Are you going to tell me?”

I know what she’s referring to. I had emailed her before leaving Peru. I’d told her about my fifty-two year old nephew. I’ve been staying in his mother’s house in Atlanta during my yearly trips back to Atlanta for the past twelve years. There are only two bedrooms in Ann’s small house.  Marion was staying in the bedroom I’ve become accustomed to occupying. Ann had said that he would sleep on the couch once I arrived. “I can’t stay with my sister anymore,” I’d emailed Kathy. “Can I stay with you when I get back to the States?”

Being the angel she is, she emailed me back and said her guest bedroom was empty. And I could stay there until I was scheduled to return to Peru.

“Well?” Kathy asks, interrupting my reverie.

I tell her what had happened that prompted me to email her and ask if I could stay at her house for the time that I’d be in the States. In July of this year my nephew was released from the South Georgia prison he’d been incarcerated in for the past five years. (He has been in and out of prison since he was twenty years old). Since he has stolen large sums of money from me to feed his cocaine habit, I didn’t feel that I could deal with him anymore. “I’ve changed, Uncle Leon,” he’d assured me when I advised him of my decision to spend my time in North Carolina with Kathy. “I found the Lord in prison.”

If this had been the first time I’d heard this from him, I would’ve given him the benefit of the doubt. But it wasn’t. Each time he promised he’d stop breaking his mother’s heart and wouldn’t steal from either of us again. “I’m a changed man,” he’d exclaimed in a sincere voice. “I’m going to attend church and Al-Anon meeting religiously. That’ll keep me straight.”

But each time he would end up in jail. I was hoping and praying he would stay straight this time. But …

“You made the right decision,” Kathy says.

“Thanks,” I say. But deep down inside me I feel that if  I’d stayed at his mother’s house and  prayed with him again, maybe … just maybe …

Al’s First And Only Love

 

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

The question was directed at a stoop-shouldered old man sitting at a table near the window of Franklin, North Carolina’s McDonald. I chose this table because this man seemed like an interesting person to talk to as I drank my first cup of coffee this morning. Plus, like me, he was a Senior Citizen. A burgundy beret sat cocked on the side of his head, and he wore a gray long sleeve shirt with a button-up green sweater frayed at the sleeves. “Have a seat,” he said in a voice that reminded me of Boston. “My name is Alfred. But they call me Al.

After I told him my name, I asked. “What brought you to Franklin?”

He chuckled. “My wife.”

I learned that he’d met his wife in Boston sixty years ago. Just after graduating from Boston University. She was a high school teacher from Franklin, North Carolina who had brought her ninth grade history class to Boston to visit some of the city’s historic sites. While waiting to attend Graduate School at BC, he’d taken a summer job as a tour guide for visitors wanting to check out Boston’s historic sites.

“She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen,” Al said.  “She said her name was Darlene. She was a petite woman with long golden hair and a twinkle in her blue eyes.” He drank from his coffee cup.
But you know what I liked the most about her?

”I smiled. “No, Al, I don’t.”

He looked out the window where the sun was burning off the fog that hung over the town. “It was …” He stopped and wiped away a tear that had fallen from his eye and was heading for his neatly trimmed white beard. “… her voice,” he finished in a choked voice.

“You liked her southern accent, didn’t you?”

“I loved it.” Another tear fell from his eye. A faraway look in his eyes, he allowed this tear to enter his beard. “She had the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard.” He smiled at the recollection. “Like molasses dripped from her lips as she spoke. Back then I was a bit on the shy side. She was about to head back to the dozen or so students when I blurted out, “Can I see you again, Darlene? At first she was taken back with the question. But you know what, Leon?”

“What, Al?”

“She said she’d like to see me again, too. But I’d have to come to North Carolina. I didn’t think she believed I would actually do it. But, after getting her last name and address, later that summer I took a Greyhound bus to Franklin. We went out every night for a week. Then I had to return to Boston.”

“That’s a great love story, Al.”

Another smile. “To make a long story short, we got married before her school started back in September.”

Al and I chatted for about another half hour. Then he stood to leave. “I’m going to see her now. She’s buried in the local cemetery.”

As I watched him open the door and shuffle over to an old blue Buick parked nearby, I thought about how in the States we’ve become a “throwaway society”—new buildings being torn down after only a decade and a half of use, long held traditions discarded with each generation, and marriages that end in divorce after just a few years.

Then I thought about the love between Al and Darlene—a love that still lives in his heart.

And I smiled.

Little Brown Church In The Wildwood

When I was a teenager my radio awoke me at six every morning.

Before retiring for the night, I would set the clock alarm to awake me at the town’s gospel radio station.The song they played every morning at six must have been the announcer’s favorite—“Little Brown Church In The Wildwood.” I can still hear the distinctive voices of the Chuck Wagon Gang as they sang, “Come to the church in the wildwood/oh come to the church in the dale/no spot is so dear to my childhood/as the little brown church in the vale.”

I’m opening this post today because my sister, Ann, and I made the one and a half hour drive from Atlanta to the old wooden church in north Georgia Sunday morning. This old church reminds me so much of the church in the gospel song.

Before my mother made her transition to Heaven fifteen years ago I used to drive her to this church about once a month. The church hasn’t changed since then. It sits atop a grassy incline overlooking a small cemetery surrounded by a waist-high rusty iron fence. Mother especially enjoyed singing the old time hymns sung in this church.

About fifty or so people dressed in their Sunday best attend this church. Adhering to the custom that dates back to it’s beginning in 1842, the men sit on the left side of the church and the women on the right. The harmony between the two sides is music from Heaven. After the service Ann and I socialized with the parishioners for a while.Then we got into her car and headed back toward Atlanta.Once we left the two lane black top and entered the expressway, Ann said, “Remember the first time we took mother to this church?”

I pondered the question. “Uh … no.”

Grinning, she said, Bethlehem Church.”

That rang my memory bell.

Mother was in her early seventies. And her memory was beginning to fail her. Before she and Ann and I had left Atlanta to drive to the north Georgia church, mother had assured us that she knew the way. Ann asked her if she was sure.”Of course,” mother replied. But she didn’t. We wandered through back roads for an hour  before we finally decided that mother had forgotten where the church was—and the name of the church.

I pulled the Ford into the parking lot of of a small grocery store. An old man dressed in overalls and smoking a corncob pipe sat in a wooden rocking chair next to the door. I asked him for directions to Bethlehem Church. “Never heard tell of it,” he replied.

We asked a dozen or so people for directions to Bethlehem Church before we concluded that wasn’t the name of the church. To make a long story short, we finally accidentally found the church. It was twelve-thirty by the time we entered the church.

“Every time we  make this trip, Leon,” Ann said, bringing my attention back to the present. “I think about mother.” She smiled.

“So do I.” I replied, returning the smile.

Then, reading each others mind, we broke into mother’s favorite gospel. “Come to the church in the wildwood/oh come to the church in the …”

We sang it all the way back to Atlanta.

 

 

Can You Give Me A Smile, Brother?

“Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I replied as I entered the service station and headed for the coffee section to my left. When I’m in Atlanta I buy a cup of coffee for my sister, Ann, and I every morning. As I doctored the two cups of coffee, I listened to the two young employees behind the counter greet every customer who entered with a wide smile and a hearty, “Good morning.”

This service station is the most popular one in town.

It’s always clean, the coffee fresh, and the employees eager to be of service. I once asked an employee—a college age black man with a Colgate smile and friendly eyes—if he ever tired to greeting each customer.He laughed. “The first six months I worked here my wife told me I wake her up at least twice a night saying “Good morning” in my sleep.”

I was about to comment on that when three construction workers came through the front door. I thought he’d greet the three as a group. Instead, flashing a wide smile, he said, “Good morning” to every one of them.

All of the employees at this service station impress me.

It’s their attitude toward their job that sets this company apart from their competition. I’ve seen times when only one worker would be behind the cash register. Suddenly, a half dozen or so customers would come to the cash register. (it seems that regardless of whether I’m in a service station, drug store or Wal-Mart, once one person heads for the cash register, others follow—like they’re giving away something and nobody wants to be left out). The worker behind the cash register will call out, “Need some help at the counter.”

Faster than you can say Jimminy Cricket, here comes another employee running toward the counter. “May I help someone?” he/she will  ask in a cheerful voice.

I’ve been in some Atlanta service stations where employees treat me like I’m intruding on their time. One day as I tried to pay for gas, a lanky guy who hadn’t shaved in days was plopped down in a chair behind the cash register. Talking on his cell phone loud enough to be heard at the gas pumps. Snapping the phone shut, he gave me the evil eye. “What a bummer,” he grumbled. “Couldn’t you have waited until I got through talking to my woman?”

Needless to say, I never returned to that service station.

The  eager-to-please attitude Quick Trip employees have remind me of how contagious a friendly attitude can be. In many large American cities people seem to be isolated from each other. If more companies adopt the attitude of Qwik Trip employees it would enrich everybody’s lives. A friendly smile and happy greeting—even if we don’t know the other person—bring much needed sunshine into our lives.

 

I Know Today Isn’t Thanksgiving, But …

My heart is so full of gratitude I want to shout: “Thank You, God, for bringing six wonderful women into my life!”

The first woman I want to thank Him for for is, of course, my mother. She’s in Heaven now. But not a day goes by when I don’t think about her. Though she had just a third-grade education—her father took her out of school when she was eight years old and put her to work on his North Georgia farm—mother was the most caring, most giving person I’ve ever met.

When I was a boy I wasn’t the brightest of her six children. But she always encouraged me to do the best I could do. And she taught me how to live life.”The most important thing, Leon,” she’d say in the North Georgia drawl I’ve always loved, ” is to honor the Golden Rule.” To drive home the message,she’d declare, “That’s what the Good Book tells us to do.”

I wasn’t so sure about the last part.

But I never told her that.

The next three special women God has brought into my life are my three sisters, Ann, Sharron, and Joyce. They have always supported me in whatever project I was involved. “So why does that make them so special?” you’re probably asking yourself. Two things. First, though neither of the three possess a lot of worldly things, they have sent clothes, toys, and medicine for the needy in Iquitos and have sponsored a smart but poor young Indian woman to attend a nursing school in Iquitos. Secondly, all three love sports. When I return to Atlanta for a couple of months each year, the four of us are either on the phone talking about a ball game or watching it together in one of their houses.

Another special woman God has sent into my life is my ex-wife, Joye. During our thirteen years of marriage she was a loving wife. (I take full responsibility  for the breakup.) Over the years I’ve heard countless men say mean things about their ex-wives. I’m not one of them. There is not a sweeter person in the world than Joye. I didn’t realize just how special she was until after our marriage ended. I would not have realized my dream of graduating from college if it hadn’t been for this exceptional woman.

Th sixth special woman God has brought into my life is a Buckeye who left Canton, Ohio shortly after graduating from Ohio State University. She migrated  to Atlanta twenty years ago. I first met her at a church sponsored singles group Halloween party. It was a time in my life when I worked long hours.So I arrived at the party about an hour late—dressed in jeans and a gray tee shirt and cowboy boots. About half of the fifty or so party goers were on the dance floor. My mind on some unfinished work  I had left at the office, I just couldn’t get into a festive mood. So after about an hour I decided to leave.

As I neared the front door a petite, attractive brunette came sashaying through the doorway. She was dressed as a gypsy. “Where are you going, soldier?” she said in a playful voice. As I gazed into her brown eyes, I could tell that she was not only pretty but a bright and compassionate woman as well. So I stayed. I’m happy to say that we’ve been friends since then. She has also been a staunch supporter of my work in Iquitos, Peru.

Six wonderful women in one lifetime. Thank You, God.

Flight To Atlanta

As soon as I arrived at the Lima Airport I phoned Senora Luci to let her and the girls know that I’d arrived safely. We chatted for about five minutes. Then they put little Ja Di on the phone. Normally, she jabbers away in a language only she understands. Tonight, though, she had nothing to say.

Must be her nap time, I concluded.

While waiting to board my Delta flight I struck up a conversation with a fiftyish looking man wearing a a multicolored Inca cap and an Atlanta Braves tee shirt. We introduced ourselves. He said his name was Anthony and he’d just spent a week in the mountain town of Cusco.

“Did you visit the nearby town of Machu Pichu?” I asked.

His ruddy face lit up. “You bet I did,” he said. “What about you? Have you been to this holy place?”

I thought about how to respond to the question. The time I went there I was accompanied by my friend, Kathy, from North Carolina. Both of us found the place to be fascinating. It was quite an experience. But holy? I wouldn’t go that far. But I chose not to comment on the holiness of the ancient Inca pueblo. “Yes, I have,” I replied.

We were discussing the other towns in Peru Anthony had visited when the announcement came over the intercom to board our plane.I was hoping to be seated next to Anthony. But he was traveling first class. And I was wedged between an overweight teenager in a green jogging suit and a muscular middle-aged man with muscles that would put “Arnold The Terminator” to shame in the back of the plane.

I’m now at the age when traveling sometimes wears me out. So I was sawing logs before the plane took off. I didn’t wake up until we were making our descent upon the Atlanta Airport. I’ve returned to Atlanta by plane dozens of times over the years. But the anticipation of seeing my family and friends still brings a lump to my throat every time the plane’s wheels touches down on the tarmac.

“Thank You, God for this safe trip,” I said aloud.

I was expecting to hear somebody to say, “Amen.”

But they didn’t.

I guess everybody was wrapped up in their own thoughts.

 

 

 

 

What A Day

The hassle began when I arrived at the Iquitos Airport.

I’d bought a ticket the other day for the last flight of the day to Lima. Bad news awaited me at the counter. “Senor,” the slender young agent advised me. “There is a problem with your ticket.”

“What problem?”

“Your ticket is not from Iquitos to Lima. Instead, it’s from Lima to Iquitos. You only have twenty minutes to go back downtown and have the ticket changed.”

When I got over the shock I flew outside—actually I ran as fast as these old legs would carry me—and hopped into a motorcar. Uh … make that flopped into a motorcar. “Downtown,” I ordered, “Fast!”

The young driver turned around and gazed at me thoughtfully. “What part of downtown?” he asked.

When I explained the problem he burned rubber.

To cut to the chase, I arrived at the place where I’d bought the ticket just as an airline employee was closing the front door. They had already closed down the counter. So I begged them to start up a computer. With a lot of pleading—along with a generous tip—I managed to get the ticket changed in just a few minutes.

I arrived back at the airport just in time to get a boarding pass and hurry through security. The plane had arrived early—a small miracle in Peru—and passengers were boarding the plane. Sweat rolled down my face as I climbed the steps and made my way toward an aisle seat in front of the plane.

“You made it, Senor,” the attractive young stewardess said in a pleasant voice.

“Yes, thank God,” I replied.

The hour and a half trip proved to be a bumpy ride. Flying through bad weather has always unnerved me.  Every time the  plane shook violently I would say the Lord’s Prayer to calm myself. “Now if I can only make the Delta flight to Atlanta, God,” I mumbled as the plane finally made its descent upon the Lima Airport.

The young stewardess must have overheard me as she passed by to ensure that all passengers had their seat belts fastened. “Praying again, Senor?” she said, a smile in h\er voice.

“I’ve found that it is always helpful to pray, Senorita.”

Her smile widened. “It sure does.”