Blanketed By Love

There is a website for San Carlos residents that provides all sorts of information.  Through conversation boards, readers learn about local events, weather, and news.  Sometimes silly questions are asked and answered.  Other times frustration and criticism run rampant.  And every once in a while there is a posting that creates the potential for something incredibly beautiful to unfold.

I came across one such post a couple of weeks ago.  Cobijo San José, a senior home, needed items for its pantry.  I have lived in San Carlos for a year and a half.  I had heard of Cobijo only once before, during Christmastime last year.  I had no idea where it was located or how it operated.  I figured it was past time to find out.

A friend and I drove to a small, rural community on the outskirts of Guaymas.  San José de Guaymas has a population of just a little more than 1,000 people.  There is a school, a church, a police station, and several small, independently owned grocery stores.  There is bus service from San José to other parts of the city.  We followed the signs that led us to Cobijo, a large, impeccably kept home with flowering gardens.

Irene, the managing caregiver, met us at the door and led us through the foyer into the kitchen.  As I emptied my bags of rice, beans, and meat, Irene told us that there were 21 residents living at Cobijo.  After documenting everything I had brought with me, she gave us a tour.  We also met many of the residents, who were eagerly waiting for Mass to begin.  We chatted with several before promising to return.

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I am a curious person.  My brain is constantly full of questions; I often ask them at the least inopportune times (like during the movie).  I believe the whole point of having a cellular data plan is to look things up on road trips.  Before the Internet, there was my dad.  So as soon as I got home from my trip, I emailed the original poster on the San Carlos Board, and asked if he would be willing to meet and provide more information about Cobijo.  Like any volunteer, who cares deeply for his charges, he eagerly agreed.

Our conversation jumped all over the place.  I know I am still missing key parts.  After two hours together, I have just the very beginnings of an understanding of how the system works, kind of.  It seems that the state government of Sonora provides the home for elderly who are indigent or without family caregivers.  They also provide a staff of two guards, four daytime caregivers, and one nighttime caregiver.  They do not provide regular pay, however.  Paychecks come infrequently- -maybe every five months, maybe not.  The government has created a Board that runs the day to day operation, with no annual budget.  So when the pantry is bare, it is truly bare.

The home has water about four hours per day, due to leaks in the system bringing the water from Guaymas.  Imagine trying to wash clothing and dishes for 21 residents in that amount of time.  Propane companies donate the propane to heat the water so residents may take warm showers during the winter months.  This propane also makes cooking on the stovetop possible; there is no oven.  We did not get around to discussing medical care.  Residents have a small store where they sell clothing and other donated items to raise money for food and other essentials.  Outside of this, they are entirely dependent on the community for making sure they have what they need.  This includes home repairs, upkeep of the home, and maintaining the grounds.

Before the meeting was over, I had another list of needed items.  I had also made the commitment to serve as “Activities Facilitator” or “Volunteer Who Brings Games, Crafts, Books, Magazines, and Chats”.  Sadly, so much time and energy are spent securing resources for the residents that enrichment opportunities and social interaction often go by the wayside.  I am not a good fundraiser, but I can plan the heck out of fun activities!  And anyone who knows me also knows that I LOVE to talk.  After making a return visit (this time dragging my husband along) I knew this was something I really wanted to do.

In Spanish, the verb “cubrir” means to cover.  The word “la cubija” means blanket.  Cobijo is a play on both of those words.  It is a safe place, providing cover for or covering its residents with care.  Despite the lack of government support, a truly dedicated, selfless staff and tenacious volunteers work tirelessly to provide for the residents of the home.  I am excited and energized to be joining forces with such a dynamic group of people.  And as “Little Miss Curious”, I am even more thrilled by the opportunity to learn from 21 new teachers.

My “Come to Jesús” Moment

thumbnailAs a front gate guard for the Villas California community, Jesús Morales Vasquez is up and down constantly throughout the day and night, questioning visitors, chatting with residents, and raising and lowering a very heavy metal barrier as he lets folks in and out of the neighborhood.  He was just shy of the halfway point of a 36 hour shift when I joined him for lunch in the casita a few days ago.  Jesús has an inner essence that outshines everything around him; a spirit that makes this 5 feet 6 inch man seem 10 feet tall.  His love of life is infectious, and I wanted to catch it.

Born on December 25 in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, Jesús is 68 years old.  He is no stranger to long hours or hard work.  Jesús left school after the ninth grade to help his mother support his eight brothers and sisters.  He worked as a welder and a fisherman, often simultaneously, leaving one job for the other each day.  He didn’t dwell on the long hours or demanding, dangerous work.  Instead, Jesús reflected on nature’s wonders and her beauty in places like Chiapas, Oaxaca, Bahía de Kino, and the stretch of the Sea of Cortez visible from where we sat.  He shared his top-secret fishing spot with me, recalling with pride the day he hauled in 800 kilos of camarónes, some nearly 40 centimeters long.

Jesús has been married to his wife, Rosario, for 40 years.  They have three sons and one daughter.  Their daughter keeps Rosario company during his long shifts- -he described it as a never-ending talk fiesta.  Jesús spoke of his oldest son, who is faced with many challenges in his life at this time.  Not easily discouraged by events outside of his control, Jesús is filled with hope that with the love and support of his family, all be will be right again soon.

Jesús’ faith comes from his strong belief in God and involvement with the church.  When he was younger and his children smaller, Jesús and his family participated in mission exchanges through their church and parishes in the United States.  They traveled to Minneapolis, Maryland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, and Scottsdale.  Jesús ministered to teens.  After a little sleep at the end of a long work day (or two), he completes items on his Honey Do List and then spends his time reading from The Bible.    Unless he is working, you can find him at church on Sunday mornings.

Jesús feels deep pride for his country.  His eyes teared up as he described the strength of Mexico’s people.  He placed his hands on his heart and talked about their unity and love for one another.  He referred to his compatriots as his hermanos.  This depth of feeling is not just reserved for his countrymen.  In spite of dealing with his own health issues related to diabetes, he focused his attention on my sprained ankle, detailing a family recipe guaranteed to reduce swelling.  Noticing the struggle I was having with one verb in particular throughout our conversation, he took the time to write down the correct conjugations in my notebook.  I was there to learn more about him… this lunch was about Jesús.  He didn’t necessarily see it that way.

“How are you always so happy?” I finally asked.  Still working at the age of 68- – long, lonely, physically demanding hours,  facing precarious health issues, and hurting for his son and grandchildren, Jesús never fails to have a smile on his face.  His response was surprising simple.  “La vida es un regalo.”  Life is a gift.  “Waking up is the very first gift of each day.”   I felt the depth of his words in my own soul.  Occasionally, we need reminders to give thanks for the precious moments we are granted.  Jesús is my reminder.  I am forever grateful for the gift of his presence in each of my days.