Archive for August, 2011

interim

August 30, 2011

Here’s a little color to look at while I dig myself out of an electronic hole; was out for a week sick (half me, half Illyria) and now potty-training. So, not much computer time. xo

a

Detail of the dress I bought for the wedding

 

cilantro I planted in a flowerpot that came with the apartment

 

Illyria's and my toes

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invitation

August 23, 2011

Wow – when my academic mojo gets going, my blogging really slows down. Last week was a good work week. This week I’m going to try working on potty training again so will probably not get any work done.

I’m really excited because we got invited to a wedding! People have been telling us for ages that Albanian weddings are a Big Deal. The hotel we stayed at in Vlora hosted a wedding party one night while we were there. It was very loud, and lasted all night long. Luckily the one we’ve been invited to will take place while my in-laws are here visiting so we have built-in overnight babysitters! We’ll actually be able to put the kids to bed before we go.

I bought a second-hand gown for $15 and now just have to find a slip to wear under it, and a shawl or jacket to wear over it. I have shoes and jewelry. I’ll probably get my hair done. Considering how nicely Albanian women dress just to go out for coffee or to go to work, I expect the bar will be pretty high for a wedding.

I’m also thinking I might try to lose some weight – kind of laughing at myself because I keep hearing this Romy and Michelle dialogue in my head:

Romy: So all we really need are better jobs and boyfriends!

Michelle: Yeah! But wait. If those things were so easy to get, wouldn’t we already have them by now?

Romy: Well we never really tried before. I mean, we never had a real reason, like a reunion, to motivate us. And I hate to say this, but I really think we should lose some weight. [Pointedly removes a Dorito bag and half-eaten Dorito from Michelle’s hands]

Michelle: [under her breath] Ok so it was only like one chip. And it wasn’t even a whole chip.

I love that movie.

the friend date

August 15, 2011

I left the house in a hurry, Gimli practically shoving me out the door as he took over putting the kids to bed. I had dithered over what necklace to wear – the first time I have worn jewelry at all, other than my wedding ring, since Oscar was born – and finally chose a paua shell pendant I picked up in New Zealand on our honeymoon, that I used to wear a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I had swapped out my ballet flats for low heels, my usual funky-ethnic-embroidered shoulder bag from Mongolia for a grown-up black purse, and had on my nicest dress (a sleeveless turquoise-colored cotton with an empire waist and cleverly hidden openings for nursing a baby); the paua shell was a gesture towards my hippie persona and an identity anchor because dressed as I was, I hardly felt like myself – or, at least, I felt like a version of myself that I haven’t seen in such a long time I scarcely recognized her.

So I was running a little late.

It didn’t matter; Zana – one of the many women my husband works with – was running even later since she had to cross the city to drop her kids off at her mom’s house before meeting me downtown. So about an hour later we were sitting at an outdoor café with a beer (her), a red wine (me), and a plate of sliced apples watching the full moon rise over the Blloku – former restricted zone under communism, now the focal point for Tirana night-life – talking about our lives.

It was really, really nice. Zana was easy to talk to – her English is excellent, and she tolerated my lame Shqip very kindly – I joked to Gimli later that he’s going to get really sick of hearing me begin every third sentence for the next few weeks with “Zana says…” – and it was just fun to be out late at night. Normally it’s not even within the realm of conceivability for me to leave the house after 7 p.m. and here I was out past 10:00! But Tirana’s such a small town in some ways – Zana’s younger brother buzzed by on his motorcycle at one point, and later came to pick us up in his car (it was nice to get dropped off at home instead of having to walk alone late at night, even though it wasn’t far – maybe 5 minutes’ walk? – it would have felt silly to take a taxi for such a short distance). It was exhilarating to dash across the street in high heels, slightly tipsy, after being dropped off – I felt young.

I have another friend date pending for next week with another of his coworkers, Irina (who is currently going through a divorce – oh the awkwardness of knowing more about people than you probably should because of office gossip), and a girl’s night out with some American women on Tuesday evening. So it feels like my dance card is pretty full at the moment.

It’s a nice feeling.

on making new friends in far-off places

August 12, 2011

I’ve been trying to write this post for, like, ever, and it’s not truly complete – I’m sure I’ll circle back to this again – but this is part of the friends puzzle that I’ve been pondering in my peripatetic life.

I’ll start with the confession that sometimes it’s hard for me to stay motivated to make friends in Albania, knowing that we’re here for a relatively short time – but at the same time, two years is far too long NOT to make friends. I do have one good friend – our nanny, who is a lovely woman a few years older than me, with two teenaged sons. She has worked for missionaries for years and years (that’s how I found her – recommendation from another American woman she works for part-time) and so although she doesn’t speak English, she’s adept at speaking very simple Albanian and at deciphering what I’m trying to say in my broken attempts at her language. She is generous, compassionate, kind, caring, and funny. I love her, and I already know it’s going to be really, really hard to say goodbye to her when we leave. She loves my children without reservation and they love her.

But it is kind of weird that the best friend I have here is someone I pay to come to my house. Occasionally money has become a source of friction, but not very often – it’s just really, really awkward when it does.

So far, the other friend options I’ve found have been either through Gimli’s work, or through the church we attend (and there’s some overlap between the two, since one of his co-workers introduced us to the church to begin with). There are three American women in particular who have little children who have been friendly towards me. One lives very close, less than a block away (she just had a baby). My main reservation in building these friendships has to do with the persistent feeling of hypocrisy that haunts me – not theirs, mine! All mine. I feel like I’m living a lie in letting them think I believe the same things they do. I was raised in this tradition, but I no longer believe a lot of it – although I do consider myself a Christian, I don’t believe that Jesus is the only path to God, or that homosexuality is a sin, or that God answers prayer. And I vote Democrat. So I know that all those things would be points of contention – and I don’t know if they’d still want to be my friends if they knew that. (Ummm… I’m not assuming all my readers here agree with me on these points either, so I’m hesitant even here to disclose these facts about myself, but I probably won’t feel as rejected if some of you stop reading/commenting than if some of the women here started to give me the cold shoulder – not that they would, but that’s what I’m afraid of, I guess.) There’s really only one woman I feel enough affinity for here that I’d risk being open with her about these things anyway, I just haven’t pursued it, because, also, isn’t it kind of lame to only make friends with other expats??? I haven’t made overtures towards the Albanian women I’ve met at church because they all work outside the home, so our schedules don’t really mesh, and they’re even more conservative even than the Americans. Like I’ve been shocked and repulsed by some of the things I’ve heard them say.

I’ve been hesitant to make overtures towards any of my husband’s more liberal, intellectual Albanian coworkers in part due to shyness, and in part because of the same working-mom/SAHM dilemma (language is not an issue since they speak English quite well). But I did bite the bullet this week and e-mail two of them about getting together for coffee and now I have a “friend date” at 6 p.m. tonight, which is not typically what I’d be doing at 6 p.m. but heck, it’s Friday, and the kids will survive supper with the nanny for once in their lives. So… hopefully I’ll be able to develop some kind of a social life here before we leave… just in time to cut ties and move again. But we’ll process that later, I guess.

state of the marriage

August 11, 2011

…is good. But wow, it’s work, isn’t it?

Just got back from a lunchtime sit-down with Gimli, ostensibly about vacation plans but with ramifying, as these things do, into what is becoming familiar territory around our shifting roles, perspectives on child-rearing, and general approaches to life.

So, easy stuff.

Right.

I’ve often said that every time we fight it’s the same argument over and over again in different guises; I still think that’s the case, but I’m understanding more deeply what is implicated in that argument. It’s really some basic personality differences – differences that make us a great match, but also cause friction. Isn’t that always the case? For us, it’s how each of us responds differently to stress – I get still and quiet like a rabbit (freeze), while he starts giving orders and trying to control the situation (fight). So he gets mad that I’m not doing anything, and I get mad that he keeps telling me what to do, because it makes me feel like he thinks the situation is my fault.

Right now the stress in our life is by and large good stress – the children, living abroad – these are good things in both our books – but he’s frustrated with me because he feels like I’m not fully plunging into life in Albania, and I’m frustrated because he keeps wanting to run around and do all this stuff – big family excursions – and keeps pushing me to be more social. The running around part makes me feel like he doesn’t care about the needs of our little ones, and the social part – well, it’s just scary for me with my social anxieties. I also end up feeling defensive, like how am I not good enough/doing enough for you???

So we needed to talk things out, and I feel like we understand each other better now. We also made a few minor decisions (like, no big family excursion until my in-laws come to visit in about 3.5 weeks, and he’s going to start trying to come home earlier in the evenings), and that feels a little bit better too. The sucky part was I ended up crying in the middle of the restaurant where we met for lunch. And I lost a good hour of work time. But hopefully overall this will help maintain domestic harmony.

When we were dating, we both read a book titled Two Years Before the Mast – a memoir from the days of sailing ships, written by a Harvard student who for health reasons worked as a lowly sailor and visited California when it was still part of Mexico. Gimli and I both marveled at the descriptions in the book of the tedious work sailors had to do, like scraping the rust off of chains or tightening jibs, and we made it a metaphor for our relationship. You have to do the small maintenance daily – at least weekly – to be storm-ready. I did a counted cross-stitch of a sailing ship that we hung in our bathroom at home in the States as a reminder to do this.

We were due for some good jib-tightening. It’s not fun, but it’s better than the alternative.

Theft 3

August 11, 2011

Part 1, and part 2.

***

            At first I thought that no one was home.  The doors were all pulled shut and secured with twigs through the latches to hold them closed.  But I heard voices coming from the back, so I walked around the little buildings and saw the family gathered around a cow near the paddock.

The Rodriguez Mariscal home was built on a narrow flat space between the road and a steep hill that extended back up into their property.  They had only half a farm—25 hectares that had come from the sale of someone else’s land.  And it was not great land, either.  A deep ravine cut through the property, carving the soil into steep slopes that were difficult to work and eroded easily.  Only at the far back of the property was a high, flat place suitable for rice and corn. Everything in between was being used as pasture land, although Octaviana’s interest in diversification and innovation had led to the planting of small trees strategically placed to slow erosion.  At different times she raised hair sheep (bred for their lack of wool, they did better in hot climates), rabbits, and ducks, but their main income came from cheese and Octaviana’s per diems as a community educator.  She was one of the only women in the community who had been to high school.

At 36, Octaviana was the mother of eight and grandmother of two.  She ran her household like a general—shouting orders, mobilizing the troops, seeing exactly what needed to be done and knowing exactly who needed to do it.  Her husband, Don Pedro, was a quiet man with beautiful dark eyes made soulful by thick black eyelashes and a sad expression.  But he loved to laugh as much as she did, mumbling his small jokes through toothless gums, then chuckling quietly as his children hooted with laughter.

I watched Octaviana and her four youngest gathered around the cow.  Emma and Elba, the twins, held the cow’s head, keeping its nose in a hollowed half-gourd of feed.  Rachel, their older sister, held a tin of salve that Octaviana was rubbing on the udder, and Javier, the youngest, kept the dogs and other sundry animals away with a long switch.  I walked over.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” shouted Octaviana, and the children echoed her, “Good morning, Doña Elizabeth.”

“What’s wrong with the cow?” I asked.

“Oh, just some sores she has on her udder.  I bought this from the veterinary in town but I don’t know if it will be any good.  I always used to use dung mixed with used motor oil, but you know how they say that’s not really good for the cow.”

“True,” I said.

“We’ll see if this works.  There,” she said, patting the cow on the rump and standing up.  “Emma, Elba, you can let her go now.  Raquel, put that away with my other things, you know where.”  She walked past me towards the kitchen, and I turned to follow her.  She paused to wash her hands off with water from a green plastic jug, a recycled vegetable oil container.

“Come in,” she said kindly as she unlatched the door and pushed it open, shooing the chickens away.  She pulled out a small stool for me to sit on, then sat down herself and pulled a ten-gallon white plastic bucket towards herself.  Taking the lid off, she reached in and began to lift out the cheese curds swimming there in the thin, gray whey.

“Have you found out who stole your money yet?” she asked, not hiding her curiosity.

“Yes, I think so,” I answered miserably, and out poured the whole story: the running feet, the cash tossed through the window, and Centeno and the teacher’s plan to bring in the police.

“That Centeno!” she tsked, really angry.  “He always has to stick his nose in everywhere.  He doesn’t have enough work to do, he just goes around making trouble.”

“I want to go talk to Betty’s parents, but I don’t speak enough Quechua,” I said, exploring the idea.  “I really don’t want the police involved.”

Octaviana was silent for a moment.  “I don’t speak Quechua either,” she said.  “I understand it, but I don’t speak it.”  She thought for a minute.  “Maybe Doña María could go with you.  She speaks Quechua.”

“Would you come too?” I pleaded.

“If Doña María goes, I’ll go,” she said decisively.

 ~

“If Doña Octaviana goes, I’ll go,” said Doña María a few hours later.  “Just let me give supper to my workmen, then we can go.”  It was almost dark, and she was dishing out rice and a vegetable sauce for the men who had come to help build her new brick house.

“I’ll go call Doña Octaviana,” I said.  I took my flashlight, crossed the creek, and went back to Octaviana’s house.  Soon we were somberly making our way back.  María met us by the road, and we walked the short distance into the cluster of thatched huts  in the center of the of the community, to the Quispe house.

They were home.  Doña Victoria and her husband came out when María called.  I could hear hushed voices and the sound of spoons and tin plates inside the kitchen, where the orange flare of the cooking fire blazed through the cracks in the cane wall.  There was no sign of Betty or Marina.

Doña Victoria offered us seats on a log outside, laying her woven aguayo over it to make a bench.  The three of us sat down, but she and her husband remained standing.  I could only barely follow the conversation in Quechua; María did all the talking for me.  I could hear the hesitation in her voice, the over-use of her “um”s, the slow stringing together of words.  Then Doña Victoria spoke.  I could hear the anger in her voice.

Octaviana translated for me: Victoria was furious with Centeno.  He had come to her house in the afternoon, and she imitated the “sh-sh-sh” with which he had silenced her when she tried to speak.  I could see her skinny legs and tattered pollera in the moonlight, but could not see her face, shaded under a broad-brimmed hat.  Her husband said nothing, merely grunting corroboration at certain points.

“They’re going to pay back the rest of what they owe you,” said Octaviana quietly in my ear.  “They just need to sell a pig first.”

“Doña Victoria,” I said.  “I am so sorry that this happened.  I really like Betty and Marina, I like having them come visit my house.  It really hurt me that they took my money.  I just need to be able to have confianza in them again.”

She said something, and Octaviana translated: “She says they’re going to pick rice and kudzu seeds for her now to earn the money back.  The money is no problem.  She’s just angry that Centeno yelled at them.”

“I don’t want the police to come,” I said.  “They’re just girls, they’re children yet.  I just want to be able to fix things up between us ourselves.”

Evidently we were all in agreement; we shook hands all around, then the three of us left together.  I felt enormously relieved, and more grateful than I could say for the help of Octaviana and María.  I thanked them again and again.

 ~

Sure enough, about a week later, Doña Victoria came by at dawn with 100 Bolivianos in hand.  She had sold her pig.  I didn’t see Betty or Marina for a long time, and Centeno avoided me.  He was angry that I had gone to talk with Betty’s parents behind his back, without his sanction.  I myself was still angry at the heavy-handed way in which he had tried to take over, that didn’t feel like helping to me.

But Doña Victoria was cordial, grave, and dignified as she handed me the money, her spine straight, her head erect.

“Thank you,” I said.  Now Betty could come back and color at my table.  And, eventually, she did.

***

If you’ve made it this far… thanks for sticking with it! I’d love to hear any feedback you might have.

Theft 2

August 8, 2011

Read part I here.

***

The next morning before dawn I heard running feet outside my window.  Something small and light flew in.  Startled, I sat bolt upright in bed, then got up and looked all around on the floor.  There, underneath the bench that sat pushed up against the wall was a folded-up 100-peso bill.  I felt like crying.

I was eating breakfast and drinking coffee, wondering what to do next, when Roberto Centeno suddenly filled up my open door, leaning in.  “Good morning,” he said.  Centeno had married into the Maigua family, who together controlled a good 15 percent of the land in San Rafael.  This year he had been elected president of the community, a role he seemed to fill with plenty of himself left over.

“Good morning,” I replied.
“So what happened?  Who stole your money?” he demanded, sitting on my bench, looking stern.

“I don’t know.  People think it was Betty or Marina.  But this is really strange—I asked Betty yesterday if she took it, and she said no, but I said that if she did, I wouldn’t get her in trouble, if she just gave it back.”  He frowned, and I went on.  “Then this morning someone threw this in the window.”  I held out the folded-up piece of money.  That was enough for Centeno.

“Well, that proves it, then!”  His loud voice filled my small room.  “They had to have taken it!  You told Betty yesterday to give it back, and here it is!  No, no sir.  I won’t be having this kind of thing in my community.  We can’t have these kinds of people here.  We’re going to demand that they give it back, all of it.  Not just what they have left, all of it, or we’re taking her parents to the police.”

My heart sank, and I wished desperately that I had said nothing to Centeno at all.  That they had tried to give what was left of the money back was enough for me, and that this attempt to rectify matters actually sealed their fate, broke my heart.

“No, not the police,” I pleaded.  “Let me go talk to the parents myself.”

“No, no sir,” he repeated.  “This needs to be taken care of right away.”  He got up and I watched anxiously through the window as he strode towards the schoolteacher’s house.

Seriously distressed, I went out after him, pulling the door shut behind me.  I arrived as he was explaining his plan to the schoolteacher, who was already pulling out a typewriter and scrolling blank paper into it.

“No, Doña Ely, we can’t just let this go,” said the schoolteacher to me.  “Don Roberto is right.  We need to sue her parents so they give back the money—they have to learn to control their daughters better.  Those girls are trouble!  I asked Marina, you know, where she got that money for the school fees—I don’t trust her one little bit.”

“But just let me talk to her parents first,” I said.  “Why do we need to get the police involved?”

“We have to scare them!” said Centeno.  “They’re stupid illiterates!  They’ll never listen if you just talk to them!  You have to show force!”

I was beginning to figure out that these men were not going to listen to me.  So I went to find Octaviana.

Theft

August 4, 2011

This is another blast-from-the-past, something I wrote in 2004 about an event circa 1998 when I was a community development volunteer in Bolivia. It’s really long, so I’ve divided it into three parts and this is part I.

***

           I hurried along the dark, empty street towards the market.  Most of the shops closed at seven.  As the low block building came into view, I saw with relief that there were still a few lights on.  Without breaking stride I threaded the narrow passages towards my favorite shop, passing rows of dark, closed stalls.  Under the dim light from the single 40-watt bulb I quickly selected rice, salt, and few spices before turning to the shopkeeper for the total.  But when I reached into the inner pocket of my shoulder bag to pay him, I experienced one of those momentary waves of unreality that occur when something that exists in your mind fails to match your sensory experience.  There was no money there.

Mumbling an apology, I replaced the items I had selected and went back outside.  What in the world?  I clearly remembered having at least 200 Bolivian pesos, as well as a few smaller bills in that pocket of my bag.  As I walked along towards the taxi stand to catch a ride home, I mentally retraced my steps over the last few days.  I had a distinct memory of pulling out a ten-peso bill two days previously, when I had bought a bottle of soda at Doña Petrona’s house.  And I could just as distinctly picture the two reddish 100-B bills enfolding the blue 10-B note at that time.  Because I had to keep track of all my expenditures for the organization I volunteered with, I always kept a running mental list and a daily log of every peso spent.  I knew I had not spent that money.  And I couldn’t imagine having lost it on the way to the market, either.  I had been alone on the road, and furthermore I had not even once opened the bag for any reason while en route.  There was no possible way that the money had accidentally fallen out.

I had lost more money than this on previous occasions, but 200 Bs was still enough to bother me.  200 Bs converted to around $30, which could actually buy a young sheep.  It was sixty percent of my monthly personal allowance.  And where could I have lost it?

I found two coins at the bottom of my bag, enough to pay the motorcycle taxi to the village of San Rafael where I lived, so I flagged one down on the main drag, negotiated the price, and hopped on.  I balanced easily on the back of the Suzuki 125 as we wound our way up the hill and onto the dirt track that led to my community.  The dim headlight illuminated the flapping wings of nightbirds frightened off the road in front of us.  This particular driver was not given to small talk, so I continued to mull over the disappearance of my money until we arrived at the schoolhouse.  I paid him, and he turned the motorcycle around to head back to town while I strained to distinguish the numbers on my combination lock by the dim light of the stars.

Once inside, I switched on my single solar panel-powered light, and gave my small room a serious once-over.  No money anywhere.

The next morning, I mentioned the missing money to my neighbor, Doña María, as we sat in her smoky kitchen visiting.  The board walls of the room leaned at askew angles, and puddles of spilled water made mud of the dirt floor.  Soot from the wood fire had turned all the walls and ceiling black.  Skinny cats darted in and out, and María had to keep shooing chickens away from the door.  I sat perched on a small block of wood, my knees up in front of my chest.

María was instantly concerned.  “Who could have taken it?” she asked, her eyes wide.  She stopped stirring the pot to stare at me.

“Maybe nobody took it, maybe I just lost it somewhere.”

“Maybe, no?  But did you look everywhere?”

“Yes, everywhere.   I know I had it on Tuesday, and I didn’t buy anything since then until I went to the market last night.  I can’t think where I could have lost it.”

“You know those Quispe girls, you shouldn’t let them come into your house all the time they way they do.”  She stirred the pot furiously.  It sounded like a subject shift, but I knew it wasn’t.  I thought of Betty and Marina, the skinny sisters with long, thick-lashed eyes who often visited me at home.  Especially Betty, the younger one.  Just yesterday she had been sitting at my table coloring, and I had helped her with her homework.  But I hated María’s deductive leap of suspicion.  We had no evidence, nothing.

Florinda, María’s nine-year-old daughter had been listening from the doorway.  Just then she burst out, “Doña Elizabeth, do you know what!  Yesterday Marina was paying the schoolteacher the fees with a 50-Boliviano bill, and he said where did you get that?  And she said my patrona paid me, but she hasn’t been working!”

“Aha!  You see?” said María, angry now.  “They took your money!  Are you sure you didn’t see them?  Are you sure they weren’t alone in your house?  Did you leave them there on Tuesday?”

“Maybe,” I said, feeling tightness in my stomach.  “I don’t remember.”  How was a 50-Boliviano bill proof, though?  I had lost two hundred.

“Those Quispes, they’re all like that,” said María, “especially Betty.  You can’t leave anything lying around, she’ll take it.”

It seemed like it took no time at all for the rumor to take wing—Betty Quispe had stolen 200 Bs, maybe more, from Doña Elizabeth.  People began to re-circulate stories of small items that had gone missing when Betty was around—a comb, a bar of soap, candy.  Everyone just knew it was her.  I felt miserable.

The next time I saw Betty hovering outside my one small window, I called her in.  She came, uncertain, the tangled hair, dirty dress, and open sores on her legs all testimony to the grinding poverty her family endured.

It had taken me some time living in the village to begin to distinguish the layers of poverty around me.  Although all were farmers, living in homes made from materials found on the land, there were certain gradations.  At the top were the land-owning families, with 50 hectares each—enough to graze a decent sized herd of cattle.  Most of them sold milk or cheese through the local cooperative, and a few had branched out into other forms of income, such as citrus or trucking.  The wealthiest had homes made of brick, with tin roofs.  In the middle were families who had come later on, to tired land.  But they had enough to live on, to slowly build into something better.  And at the bottom were the families who had no land of their own.  They rented rice fields and rented themselves out as hired hands.  They tended a few small animals around their homes in the village’s “urban center” but did not have the wherewithal to invest in cattle or citrus with the attendant higher returns.  At the very, very bottom was the family of an alcoholic, who refused even to rent a field.  He preferred hunting and fishing – going further and further afield, leaving his no-longer-pretty wife and three small children to make do with the perpetual starch of their manioc garden.  Betty’s family was slightly better off, but not by much. Her mother’s teeth were worn to nubs from a lifetime of chewing coca, and her father looked on the verge of death.  Marina was her only sibling still in school – a stubborn girl on the cusp of puberty, wearing her new breasts with an “I dare you” smirk.

Once, sitting at my table, Marina told me, “my baby sister died because of Betty.  She was a beautiful little baby too.  But this Betty was sick, and because my mother was looking after her, the baby fell into the creek and drowned.  It was all Betty’s fault.  If it wasn’t for Betty, the baby would still be alive.”  Betty sat silently during this story, watching and listening, giving away nothing with her face.

Now here she was again, sitting at my table, looking at me with those same guarded eyes, alert and interested, but giving away nothing.

“Betty,” I said, each word hurting.  “I am missing some money from my purse.  I need to know, did you take it?  If you did, I’m not going to do anything against you, I just want to get my money back.  It’s not right to take things that belong to other people.”

“I didn’t take it, Doña Elizabeth,” she said.

I looked at her for a long time.  “I hope you are telling me the truth,” I said.  “If I don’t get it back, I won’t be able to accept children visiting in my house anymore.”

***

to be continued…