Kaleb Rogers is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Atlántico, Colombia.
Abstaining from meat can be awkward in social situations. One tends to field a spate of questions upon denying a seared slab of steak or a plate of fried fish:
“Why don’t you eat meat?”
“Is it hard to get your nutrients in the Peace Corps?”
“Where do you get your protein?”
I’d become accustomed to such questions in the United States, and over the years had readied myself with the necessary retorts to defend myself while not too seriously obstructing the flow of conversation. On the coast of Colombia, though, I usually just let the questions slide.
In my Peace Corps site, someone had asked me the third question, though in reality it sounded more like “Y qué comes para la proteína?” Before I could respond, Lida intervened:
It was the first moment I looked at Lida and thought, “I like this lady.”
Lida is my host mom. There exists no award for best host family member, but – if there were – I would nominate her.
Lida is funny, and I’m not just saying that because she laughs at my jokes (she does). On one occasion, when I came home from a long day, I walked around a corner in my house. Our refrigerator sits around this corner and leaves a small gap between itself and the wall. As I turned, I saw Lida crouching behind the refrigerator. Even though I had seen her, and she had seen me see her, she jumped out and tried to scare me. I died of adorableness.
On another occasion we were at a Christmas concert in the plaza. “Say Feliz Navidad!” yelled the band’s lead singer. “Feliz Navidad!” we all cheered. “Now, shout Merry Christmas!” he continued. Not being able to pronounce the phrase, Lida raised her head in utter confidence and yelled “Marrrria Christiiiina!” We all died of laughter.
Lida is quiet. She never says more than necessary. Sometimes she sits on the patio for hours just looking out into the mosaic that is her community, her history. Sometimes I’ll sit out with her in comfortable silence, reading or working on my computer. Her soft presence is comforting; it makes me feel less lonely even if we’re not speaking. Sometimes she’ll tell me about something serious in her life or something that is bothering her, usually after a few costeñitas.
Lida is there for me. If I’m out late or forget to tell her that I’m traveling, she sends me a concerned text. She’ll bring my clothes in from drying outside if it’s about to rain, and she’ll leave me some spare rice or yuca, both of which she knows I like. If I leave chickpeas soaking overnight, I’ll awaken to her boiling them for me. Most recently, I reminded her that my Peace Corps service was winding to a close, only a few months left. “Cuatro meses,” she exclaimed in defiant surprise, as if putting the number in front of it would extend the time. Such small social cues make me swell with joy.
Lida is not smothering. She does not force feed me rice and bollo. She does not go into my room when I’m not around. She does not consistently interrogate me about where I’m going or what I’m doing. I interpret this freedom that she grants me as trust. She trusts that I will be safe and make smart decisions. She trusts that I have some agency. If I want to tell her about what I’m doing, she’s there. I might tell her, “Lida, my GLOW girls and I are making tee shirts!” and she will gladly listen or offer advice.
Lida is hardworking. With the most stable job in the household, Lida works everyday. She ambles out the door at 8am, headed to care for the children at the Bienestar Familiar, and she returns at 4pm. Her consistent (and often stressful) work schedule doesn’t stop her from prepping lunch for her family in the early morning, preparing dinner for her family in the evening, making sure our supply of drinking water is well-stocked, or doing a number of other household chores.
Lida is an abuela. She is hard with her grandson, Samuel, when she needs to be. But she is also always the one he hugs first when he cries. She is the glue of the family. She is the head and the rock. She is the well-rounded matriarch we all wish we had in our lives, and I am going to miss her dearly.