Yesterday I finally visited Dona Fernanda, the old lady who always stops in the street to talk to me. I usually see her when she is on her way to church, dressed in old-fashioned pastel colored dresses, usually with a scarf over her hair and a large cross around her neck. When she sees me she calls out to me, we embrace and air kiss, which is a bit awkward since she stands about four feet two inches tall. No matter how hot it is outside her cheek is always powdery and cool. She blesses me in the name of Jesucristo and tells me to come visit her at her home.
Yesterday afternoon I was walking home from a visit to one of the teachers in the school when I saw Fernanda sitting outside of her house. She was wearing a bandana and her hair hung down in two long, skinny braids. She was sitting on a rock smoking a cigarette. I walked over to her and sat down on a rock facing hers, and we had a lovely conversation, punctuated by Fernanda dragging on her cigarette and spitting into the dirt. “Soy grosera, no?” she asked me several times. I’m crude, aren’t I?
I asked her who lived here in this home with her, and she said she lived alone. But she isn’t afraid, she said. She proceeded to tell me that even during the war she wasn’t afraid, when she used to cross military lines in order to deliver babies. She never feared, she said, “porque para Jesucristo y una partera no hay fronteras.” For Jesus Christ and for midwives there are no borders.
Listening to her talk about her life was like reading a Gabriel García Márquez novel, all magical realism. She told me that she learned midwifery directly from God – no one here on earth taught her the trade. She learned how to sew in dreams, she said. “Son las cosas que Dios regala a una.” These are just things that God gives to you.
She has five children and nine grandchildren. Most of the grandchildren she delivered in her dirt-floor home. “They were born into my hands,” she said. I asked her if she was ever married, and she said no; her children were gifts sent directly from God.
Fernanda’s father taught her how to play guitar, and she used to write songs, she told me. But after he died she never touched the guitar again. I asked her if she could sing me one of the songs she had written, and she said no; she remembers the lyrics, but her voice doesn’t cooperate anymore. She could, however, recite for me a poem that had occurred to her as she saw me walking down the path to her house.
“Muchachita, que bonita
Me alivia mi corazón.
Espero que venga para una visita
Y le doy un apretón.”
Such a pretty girl
Makes my heart feel light.
I hope she comes for a visit
I’ll give her a big squeeze.
As I was leaving, she did just that, and I promised to visit again soon.