I was giving my friend Alison a ride home after an early dinner one night, as her car had a flat tire and she hadn’t had time to get it changed. She asked me to swing by the home of a local man, Jorge, who she’d recently been introduced to by a friend doing volunteer social work in the local community. The friend was moving away and needed someone to help the man with the twice daily insulin injections he required as a diabetic who’d lost his sight. As a retired nurse, Alison seemed the perfect candidate to help out.
She’d been doing so for well over a week at that stage, having made the rounds of local hospitals and jumped through the requisite hoops to obtain the medication. She’d been driving to Jorge’s home in the morning and again in the evening to deliver the injections every single day, as he lived alone and had no family to help him.
Alison directed me through the streets of Playa until we pulled up in front of a grimy, pink painted, single-story building.
She called out to Jorge through the metal gate and a wooden door creaked opened as Jorge emerged carrying a small bucket, his toothbrush and his cane to help him navigate his path.
A smile crept over his face as he let us in the front door, which opened onto the street.
“Esta es mi amiga Sarah,” Alison said to Jorge, introducing me.
“Mucho gusto,” I said as I shook his hand.
“Mucho gusto,” he replied calmly as he felt behind him for the dark green hammock strung up across the tiny room. He lowered himself into the mesh and positioned himself to receive his shot of insulin.
A battered radio sat atop a cardboard box and a fan stood in one corner. This was Jorge’s home; a tiny room with separate entry in a home owned by his landlord. The hammock was his bed, the radio his entertainment and the fan his relief from the searing summer heat, which he’d only had for a week after Alison had given it to him.
Alison crouched down on her haunches, as did I, my skin coated in a fine layer of sweat. She took out the vial of insulin, talking to Jorge casually as she worked. She narrated the process as she pierced the seal with the small hypodermic and drew up the contents.
Nurses are amazing people.
She pinched the brown skin on his arm, then as they were chatting back in forth in Spanish they both began to laugh. Jorge poked out his tongue slightly, revealing a dob of toothpaste sitting on it.
“He was on his way to brush his teeth!” Alison informed me and the three of us giggled at our imperfect timing.
Alison and I chatted about Jorge on the drive out to her small home in an outer suburb of Playa del Carmen. She told me about his complete acceptance in the face of what appeared to be a pretty dire situation. He was a blind, diabetic man with no family nearby who relied totally on the help of others to meet his most basic needs of food, water, accommodation and life-saving medication.
And yet, there was an unmistakable peacefulness about Jorge; a calmness which I had felt the moment I met him.
As we pulled into Alison’s street, local kids played basketball on the road as the round red sun sank into the horizon, bathing the sky in a dusty pink glow. I reached into my purse and handed over what was in there, about the equivalent of $18.
“For Jorge, for whatever he needs tomorrow,” I said to Alison, knowing it wasn’t much and certainly wouldn’t go very far towards changing his situation.
Tears sprung into her eyes as she said, “Well thank you so much, I will give it straight to him tomorrow morning.”
The next day I learned that Jorge had used the money to buy a new lock for his room, as he had become locked out without a key. Alison told me Jorge had been brought to tears when she handed him the money I’d given her. The cost of the new lock was about $30, and Alison had made up the rest. On one hand it saddened me that Jorge hadn’t managed to eat a little better that day, but instead had to spend the money on a lock. On the other hand, I was grateful he had at least been able to do that.
I’ve seen Jorge a few times over the last few weeks as he has joined friends and I for dinner. Each time, he has left me with that same feeling of peace; his humility in the face of complete dependency is truly something to behold, and it is almost impossible not to be affected by it in some way.
One night as we chatted away on the terrace of a favourite local restaurant, sipping lime soup and munching on salbutes, one of my friends apologized to Jorge that we were speaking in English. She said he must be bored listening to girly gossip in a foreign language. Alison translated, and when Jorge replied in Spanish with a shake of his head and a smile, she told us, “He said he isn’t bored, he is enjoying himself. He gets bored in his room. He likes being out with people, even if he can’t understand them.”
As I said goodbye to Jorge that night, I lent in and gave him an awkward hug. Poor thing probably wasn’t ready to be accosted by someone he couldn’t see coming, but I just felt like I wanted him to know that I cared about him.
A few days later, Alison told me that Jorge was being evicted from his tiny, grimy room. A man with few possessions, he had noticed a cap and a belt buckle missing from his room. As his landlord was the only other person with a key, Jorge inquired about the whereabouts of his things. At this, his landlord denied any involvement and then told Jorge he had to leave.
Apparently it wasn’t the first time the landlord had behaved cruelly; he’d been known to bang on Jorge’s door in the night, shouting, if he inadvertently left the light on after Alison’s visit. Among many other things.
Last night I had dinner with Alison while Jorge was out with another friend looking for a new place to live. He’d been evicted, and had been living at Alison’s place for the last week, sleeping in a hammock in her living room (he prefers it to a bed). She’d decided it wasn’t a good idea for her take him home hunting as the prices suddenly increased when landlords suspected a Gringa bankrolling the deal.
Jorge had been actively seeking out a new living arrangement with the help of a few friends in the area. As we were almost finished our meal, she received a phone call from Jorge who was very happy to report he had found a suitable place for 1000 pesos per month (about $80).
She was happy, as despite enjoying having him at her home, they both liked their independence. Now Jorge could listen to the baseball coverage on his beat up radio without worrying about bothering anyone. His team, the Cancun Tigers are doing well this season and listening to the matches are the highlight of his week.
So this is good news for Jorge, but he is certainly not out of the woods yet. He is still reliant on the donations of others for his basic needs. Alison tells me he has a bit of a routine happening as to where he can sometimes get a free meal; different friends around town who own taco stands, or contribute a few pesos towards his survival. Yet none of this is certain and as a diabetic, living meal to meal with no choice in diet is not ideal.
We’ve been throwing a few ideas around. Perhaps some sort of roster where a few of us can deliver a healthy, diabetic friendly meal to him once a week. I want to help, I just don’t really know where to begin, so at the moment I’m relying on the guidance of my friend Alison, who suggests we see what happens when he gets settled in his new place and hopefully we can get some sort of system going.
We’d like to get him a small fridge to house his insulin and keep some food in, which at the moment he doesn’t have. I’d love to figure out a way to get some Spanish audio books for him to pass the time, but I have no idea how yet.
So who knows what will happen with Jorge, but even though I am inexperienced in the care of someone who is truly in need, I want to help. I don’t want to do nothing because I am uncomfortable or worried I’ll do the wrong thing. If it means giving up a cafe latte every week, then so be it, because I just can’t get this guy out of my head, and I don’t want to sit back and allow him to struggle to survive when I know I can do something.
Would you like to help me? Consider this an appeal from me to you if you have a few dollars to spare (and honestly, even $5 will make a big difference to Jorge) to help a kind man who expects nothing from the world and accepts his lot with grace and dignity. Who is a living example of acceptance, and possesses a faith that he’ll be okay, even when all signs point to the fact that he may not be.
A blind, diabetic man who gets hungry in the night.
A man who has no idea that he has touched my heart and that I want to help him. No idea that I write a blog which is read by a few thousand people around the world who I have a feeling would be happy to help him in any small way. Because I’m realizing that the small things are really important. Like having a fan and a fridge and a radio. They make someone’s world.
Will you help me help him and make the life of one man, who is unable to help himself a little brighter? And help me, someone who is a little afraid of getting out of my comfort zone to help someone, but even more afraid of what it will mean for me not to?
If you would like to donate to the ‘Help Jorge’ fund, please visit this page or click on the button below to donate via Paypal. If you are in Australia and do not have Paypal, email me via the contact page and I can send you my bank details.
Every little bit helps. If you can’t make a donation, but know someone who can, please share this post with them. Hell, share this post anyway, ’cause you never know who might read it and want to help a stranger on the other side of the world!