Giving to others especially those less fortunate then most of us any time, always brings a warm feeling to your heart. Giving at Christmas is especially rewarding. However sometimes one has an experience that transcends all of this and is something that you will always remember for your whole life. I had such an experience yesterday.
It all began about 6 weeks ago when some friends of ours became aware of a school near Cuenca way up in the mountains accessible only by dirt roads, that was having problems with their water supply. Upon investigating our friends found that the outflow pipe from their cistern which is high on a hill that supplied water for cooking and for toilets was blocked so no water flowed. So they decided to see what could be done to repair the blocked pipe. A plumber was found who upon inspecting the problem said he could fix it for $480. At a Thanksgiving dinner at the California Kitchen a local restaurant run by Americans over $700 was raised mostly by "gringos" as we are called. When a question was raised about what to do with the extra money, we found out that neither the parents of the children of the school or the school (about 120 kids in grades up to 7th) did not have any funds to give them any kind of Christmas party. So a plan was conceived to give each child a sack of candy and also some school supplies likes pencils etc and some jump ropes and a soccer ball at a Christmas party. So a date was set was set to get the plumbing fixed and then take the candy etc to the school and give it to the children. We did not expect it to be any big deal but we were in for a surprise.
Since yesterday was the last Sunday before Christmas many churches big and small have colorful processions celebrating the birth of Jesus on this Sunday.
So early yesterday morning we went by bus and a truck called a mixto which is used for hauling things to a town called El Valle. There we met some people associated with the school and we rented another truck and proceeded up a one lane pot hole filled road to the school. The sky was blue the air was fresh as we climbed about 1500 feet above Cuenca to almost 10,000 feet. The scenery along the way was breath taking and reminded us of being in the Swiss Alps.
After about 20 minutes we came upon a group of people who as it turned out were from the school and had walked over 2 miles to meet us and escort us back to the school. Many people were in costume especially the children and we found out that this was to be the Christmas procession to the church which was also on the school grounds and they wanted us to be a part of it. We were not in the least expecting such a warm reception and felt honored and humbled that they wanted us to be a part of their cultural tradition.
So the procession got organized which included Mary on a horse a truck leading it with Christmas music playing, and we walked behind it down the hill stopping occasionally for other vehicles to pass. A man occasionally would set off fireworks to announce our journey. It was a joyous, heart warming and humbling experience to walk with these simple people through the beautiful land they lived in and lived on. We saw crops they cultivated, animals the raised and fed and many very humble dwellings which they called home. Since it rains a lot this time of year a sudden down pour would have surely put a damper on this procession but they sky remained blue with only a few clouds.
Upon arriving at the school which was set upon a hill nothing fancy just classrooms, a cocina (kitchen) and big plaza which served as a gathering place and also for volley ball and soccer. At one end of the plaza was a small church higher upon a hill.
We went first to see the repaired cistern which the people proudly showed us and also how the water was flowing to the cocina and the bathrooms.
Then it was announced that before we handed out the candy and school supplies the children wanted to perform for us. Over the next 20 minutes they had sack races and and two musical chair races one boys and one girls. We laughed and cheered with all the parents and others watching the ninos. There was music provided by some young men who brought in sound equipment and played all kinds of upbeat music including some rap and hip hop as well as traditional western Christmas music and Latin music like Feliz Navidad.
Then the children were all gathered hand in hand in a circle and they began to dance and go around and around, and to the delight of those watching and those of us who had quickly become children again ourselves, we joined in and has more fun then we probable have had for years.
Then we passed out the treats. We did not have the children come to us. We went to each one and gave them their sacks. Each one sometimes shyly would thank us and give us those sweet smiles with those big black eyes that melted our hearts.
Then it was time for them to feed us. We sat at the tables the children eat at and were served a traditional Ecuadorian fare of chicken rice potatoes lettuce and surprise! roast guinea pig. For drink we had good ole Coca Cola.
Of course the whole scene was some what unorganized and chaotic but it didnt matter. What mattered was the love fellowship kindness and caring that we were surrounded with.
We wished we could stay and be kids again forever but we had to become adults again and do adult things, but for a few short hours we had an incredible experience which we will never forget.