Concepcion is a contented woman by all appearances. She lives with her husband, Luis in a home that is adequate. He is an artist. She has a restaurant. When she is very busy, he comes and washes dishes for her. They have two children who live at home and also, Luis’ parents live with them (but sort of next door). Concepcion is smiling. She is grateful. She is lovely with a genuine smile. She makes me one of the best cheese and squash blossom quesadillas I can ever imagine eating.
I have met Concepcion because I am in Oaxaca, Mexico with Dave. We are celebrating our 40th anniversary with a 2-week trip in Mexico. It is work and fun. Dave is expanding his travel business to include more destinations that can be an authentic experience. It is a working vacation, because that is what we do well and what we enjoy. I am deeply gratified seeing Dave’s command of Spanish and his skill at designing a trip and finding quality, local guides to be on our team. I think he is enjoying my joy at learning new words in Spanish and asking questions of Pablo, our very capable guide. It is just good to be in Mexico with my husband of many years, enjoying his joy (Maybe he even appreciates my suggestions about how to arrange his initial trip to Oaxaca).
The truth about Concepcion is that she has a very simple life. The floor in her restaurant is dirt. Her living room doubles as the over-flow room of her dining area and she is limited in her offerings at the cafe. Her son is helping her in the café (he did not pass the test into the university and has a limited future—though he is handsome and helpful to his mother. He seems bored.). Her in-laws, indeed, live adjacent and recently deeded the portion of their land that includes Concepcion’s restaurant to Luis so they now own the cafe. I sense that she is the hard worker in the family. Her daughter tried to start a business, investing a significant amount of money in a clothing shop venture, only to be bilked out of the entire investment.
Pablo brought us to meet Concepcion because she is participating in a local micro-finance program. After a period of skeptism (warranted, after her daughter’s experience), she was persuaded by a friend to accept a 1300 peso loan so that she could offer more options at her restaurant (that’s $104). She bought carrots and onions and other basic ingredients. Her weekly pay back has been 250 pesos ($20) and she has managed that for three years. She has been able to improve the roof and to buy new tables as a result of the loans . Now, she is taking a huge leap to take a 6000 peso loan ($480) that will take her 16 weeks to repay. She will use it to buy beer and beef to increase her profit margin and clientele. (Hopefully, with her increased profit margin, she will be able to improve the cafe’s bathroom facilities.)
Concepcion is a woman I admire.
She is smiling.
She is grateful.
She is conscious of what she has and is eager to see what is in her future.
She is taking risks, but not fool hardy ones.
She is improving her life and the life of her family.
She is setting a wonderful example for her children.
I often want to get all involved in the lives of people I meet who are striving forward. I don’t need to help Concepcion, though. She is in capable hands of the local organization who is providing funds and accountability and support. However, I did ask her many questions because I dream of an opportunity in Copper Canyon for the local women, both Mexican and Tarahumara, like the opportunity Concepcion has had. Maybe I will be able to organize a similar program. Maybe there are women there, like Concepcion, who have aspirations and dreams and a plan.
There are so many possibilities for ways to give. I like this experience in a little weaving village in Oaxaca, Mexico that reminds me that I am not responsible to meet every need I see. I am drawn to Concepcion, but only as an inspiration and instruction. Clarity will come as we continue to experience and learn.