My friend Alison and I met with Jorge the other day to share a meal and pass on the remaining money from the Help Jorge fund made possible by so many of you.
He was sitting on a concrete step just off Avenida Juarez, Playa del Carmen’s bustling main artery which was, as usual, a hive of activity. Taxis, collectivos, tricycles and autobuses clogged the narrow Avenue, competing for space amid the many pedestrians carrying out their errands at the local banks and stores. Street-side carne asado stands emanated a smokey, hunger-inducing scent as the chants of newspaper vendors and juice sellers punctuated the chaos with rhythmic continuity.
Amazingly, Jorge had caught the bus in by himself, using a combination of memory (from his taxi driving days in the area) and some helpful strangers. His daughter and young grand-daughter have recently moved back to Playa and fortunately, he has moved into a house with them. This was such great news I almost could believe the perfect timing of it all as we prepared to leave Playa the following week.
As I led Jorge along the cracked, uneven footpath to a local Cocina Economico, I thought about how the words ‘arriba’ (up) and ‘abajo’ (down) will forever be engrained in my memory.
We sat down to a plate of huevos motulenos (fried eggs on tortillas with spicy salsa) each while Jorge told us about his new living situation. He likes having his own room and being with his playful grand-daughter, though he does miss the friends he made in his old neighbourhood. He said perhaps they will all move closer to the center of town once they get on their feet a bit more. Jorge’s daughter has a job in the evening at a local lavanderia (laundry), and he has recently secured a permit to sell handicrafts from his home town of Tizimin in one of the parks in town.
It’s such wonderful news I am reminded how things often work out better than we imagined.
Dressed in a bright white t-shirt, a cap, crisp beige trousers and the smart grey trainers we purchased for him out of the fund, he looks like a different man from the one I met those many months ago in a tiny, hot room.
He is a different man.
It is evident in the way he now holds himself, the smile he now wears (also made possible thanks to the major dental work he was able to have), and the way he talks about his future plans, which he never had the luxury of imagining before.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, of course. I have fumbled my way through this process under the guidance of my amazing friend Alison, who is truly the hero of this story and the reason I met Jorge in the first place. Her commitment to helping him with no thought of how it would impose on her own life is truly something to behold. She is an amazing woman who does things like this for people every day, with no expectation of reward or accolades. She is the person you call when you are in trouble, because you know she will be there for you.
What a wonderful trait for a person to have.
We have had our share of ups and downs in helping Jorge, from communication difficulties to cultural misunderstandings, frustrations and more. I went from not being able to eat at a restaurant without thinking guiltily about what Jorge was eating (not a great way to live) to setting firmer boundaries for myself and providing Jorge with an allowance from the fund to buy his own food from the local vendors in his area. It’s been a learning curve and I’m so grateful for the lessons I’ve taken away.
Once, when he bought a bed with his food money, I almost had a melt-down (“what is he going to eat?!“) but soon realised I was expecting someone to manage money who had never had any money to manage!
All these experiences taught me more about myself and have never outweighed the positive experiences and memories we shared together over the last seven months, including some special milestones. We shared a holiday to Akumal together where Jorge ran for the first time since he lost his sight (I’ll never forget running down the road at dusk with him, laughing our heads off like school kids), and I gave my first ever injection, administering his insulin under Alison’s instruction.
We shared Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas lunch and my 33rd birthday, not to mention many meals and visits in between.
At the surprise birthday party my sister threw for me at one of my favourite local restaurants, Jorge sung me a special birthday song (he has a great voice); a moment that made my heart swell with gratitude for sharing such rich experiences.
My birthday party, December, 2013
Throughout it all, Alison has been by his side, picking him up and taking him to hospital appointments every month to secure the insulin he needs, and so much more. I can’t stress enough how instrumental she has been in Jorge’s care, and there is no way I would ever be able to do something like this without her Texan-accented Spanish and natural propensity for caring for others (she is a retired midwife and emergency room nurse).
Of course, none of this would have been possible without all of your support, and I cannot thank you all enough for the honour you bestowed upon me to ensure the money you so generously donated was put to good use.
It was a responsibility I did not take lightly.
I kept careful records of all in-comings and out-goings, being sure to cover all the Paypal and bank fees so your whole dollar amount made it to Jorge to cover his needs. A total of US $2270 was raised and I have just handed over the last $165.
I hope you’ll read through the following letter from Jorge and feel very proud of what we have achieved together. Like I said, it hasn’t all been easy, but it has been absolutely worth it to see someone’s life improve so dramatically. Me being me, I’ve questioned myself a lot throughout this process and sometimes wondered if we were doing the right thing. Undertaking something like this is not easy or neat or predictable; it is messy, at times chaotic work which throws up all kinds of challenges.
But as I read through Jorge’s letter, I needn’t ask if it was worth it, because I know it was, for him and for me. I have taken away valuable lessons from him about acceptance and patience, which he has in spades in spite of his circumstances, or perhaps because of them, I’m not sure.
I have also learned that it IS better to something rather than nothing, and that giving love to those in need really has the power to change their life. I am no Mother Teresa or saint, so doing something like this has taken me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but in return, provided me with lifelong lessons and experiences I will carry with me always.
While I may be saying hasta luego to Jorge for now (we just arrived in Guatemala!), he will always remain a part of my life in some way and I will keep in touch with his progress via Alison until we return to Playa again, whenever that may be.
I hope you know that while his letter of appreciation has my name on it, it is really addressed to all of you.
Thank you so much for supporting me on this amazing journey, and for everything you have made possible for Jorge. Not only to those of you who donated financially, but to each and every one of you who reads this blog, because without you, this wouldn’t have happened. The ripple effect is farther reaching than any of us will ever know, but know this – the world is a better place for having given a little of ourselves to someone who needed it.
For Sarita: (that’s Mexican for Sarah!)
With much affection and respect,
In the time I met you, you gave me a desire to continue living, after living in a state of sadness and desperation for not having the support of someone like you.
I feel very grateful for everything you have done for me and I will never forget it.
I will remember you up till the last minute of my life, and hope the times passes quickly until you return to Playa del Carmen and with the blessings of God I can hear your words of faith and encouragement again.
God bless you wherever you go, to you and your family,
See you later Sarita,
With affection, Jorge.
Read Alison’s letter to you all and more information about how much we raised and what we were able to provide for Jorge on the Help Jorge page.
And read previous posts about this journey with Jorge:
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