Not long after I arrived in Casco Viejo, Evan completed the hiring a new maid from the Calicanto Foundation. The intercity program trains women from low areas including El Chorrillo and Santa Ana. While I am certain that Leonarda need little instruction on cleaning techniques, she took from the program something much more valuable. She gained the confidence to rebuild her life after the tragic lost of her son.
It was our good fortune that Leonarda accepted the job. She is a near perfect employee. She takes pride in her work, is easy to supervise, and gets along with co-workers. Those qualities would be enough, but she also has a host of additional skills.
Leonarda bakes, cooks, and sews. She made rum cakes for guests at Xmas that were both magazine photo perfect and delicious. She is so good, that I pay her to fix us meals that we can heat up after a long day. Another skill is sewing which was discovered when I asked if she knew someone who could recover an old seat cushion. “Si, I can,” she replied proudly in English. I immediately turned the project over to her and the results are impressive.
While shopping with Leonarda for the chair’s fabric, I was invited to visit her home. Leonarda owns a two bedroom apartment in El Chorrillo which she is very proud of having. Normally I would not venture into to El Chorrillo since it is considered unsafe for gringos, but I very much wanted to accept her hospitality. We took a taxi when we completed shopping for the project’s fabric.
Leonarda’s home is in a large apartment building with a secured courtyard entry. We walked up 2 flights of stairs and she open the door. The small space was divided into 2 bedrooms, a bath, a living room, kitchen, and utility area. The floors were cement and spotless. Indeed although the space was crowded, the entire apartment was neat.
On the dining table sat a sewing machine that she had used for 27 years. It was evident she used it regularly since she had made her curtains and there was a pile of sewing projects stacked corner. Above her sofa she had a shelf filled with family photos and trinkets. She also had an exercise bike in her living room which she uses to keep trim. No wonder she can bake yummy desserts and stay slim!
We sat down to visit. I am continually amazed at the level of conversations that I can have without common language. Between Leonarda’s limited English and my limited Spanish, we talked about our families especially our bond to grand-daughters. We talked about diet and exercise routines. She agreed to prepare for me healthy meals. We talked about her absolutely stunning nieces whose pictures were on her walls (I do literally mean beauty queen winners). We even talked about being independent and self supporting women. I was there for nearly an hour.
At the end of our visit, she and I walked to the street to secure a cab for my trip back to Casco. I marveled on the trip back how she could accomplish so much in her limited space. Ah, but then, she is a wonder, my friend Leonarda.