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María, The Photograph, And A Cup Of Coffee
From Ecuador News

June 25-July 1, 2002

By Carlos Delgado Centeno

Sunday, 11:30 in the morning.

Place: A bakery cafeteria, with six tables, nothing fancy.

Street: Roosevelt Avenue, where so many Ecuadorians walk, looking at store windows and daydreaming. So many Ecuadorians who have done whatever they could to arrive: navigating the Pacific; following paths through the Central American countryside, beaten by the sun or the cold of the desert at night. They arrive, crossing the river or coming through the tunnels used by people smuggling drugs.

Protagonist: María, 36, from Azogues, in the Cañar region. It is her first day off after working 200 hours in two weeks.

She is at the post office to pick up a package that has just arrived from her country. You can tell by her shaking hands and the look on her face that she is anxious to find out what Manuela, her mother, has sent. The smell of the fresh bread and the coffee mix to give her the false impression that she is at home—there is nothing like those aromas to make you feel safe and relaxed, they are the tastes and smells of home.

Maria takes a sip of coffee automatically, she chews a piece of sweet bread without tasting it. She fixes her gaze on the package and suffers because she doesn’t want to lose her composure, but her nerves are betraying her. She doesn’t dare to open it yet, because she intuitively knows that what is inside will make her lose it. With characteristic humility, embarrassed that her nervousness and closeness to tears are so apparent, she looks around and discovers that no one is paying any attention to her. They aren’t interested in her world. She relaxes a bit, but feels even more alone. Her only real companion is the package. It is speaking to her, saying, "Open me, I am your life, your history, your mother, your children, your country, I am your beloved 'Cañar.' I am the climate that you miss, the smell of coffee in a clay pot, the winds that blow through the eucalyptus trees and bring memories of happy times with Juan."

"Juan," Maria said later, "who loved me until the day he stupidly got drunk and fell from the back of the truck when they were coming home from playing soccer. I always told him to be careful but he never paid me any mind and he left me alone with our children. How much I miss you Juan! You should be here, instead of me, and I would be in Ecuador with the children waiting for you to send us the money to finish building our house."

Another sip of coffee and Maria opens the package…

With her right hand, she pulls out a photograph. She grasps it in both hands, and her tears start coming fast, so many tears that she wipes them with her sleeve without remembering the napkin on the table. In the photo, her eight year old daughter sits with her two year old sister on her lap, both with an innocent smile and a message in their eyes that says, "we need you Mamá."

Maria knows that she cannot go back, because she needs to pay the ten thousand dollars that she owes from the trip.

Meanwhile, in Ecuador, the mayor of María’s city complains about distributing the city’s budget to the people. He complains even though the state obligates him to take these necessary steps to better the way of life for the inhabitants, who pay taxes and work all day long to receive only 100 dollars a month.

What shame, what sadness, is in this barbarous act. They are savages to destroy a person's dignity like this, to push them across the borders, so that María should have to be violated, maltreated and offended at every crossroad, so that she should have to leave her children in her mother’s care because she cannot take care of them. In her city, there aren’t even the basic services to live decently; there is no work and she knows that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer. Even worse, those in charge always try to convince us that they have the only solution, while they keep carrying away the money in sacks.

On the day in which all the Marías come together and incite us up to rebel against this situation, we will look at our children’s photos with different eyes. We will drink a cup of coffee without tears, and we will all eat the sweet bread that she was not able to finish in the cafeteria on Roosevelt Street.

Translated From Spanish by Erica Pearson.

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