Thursday, December 18, 2008

look at me!

When I sat down to eat lunch at Doña Panchita's kiosk today, the last thing I expected to do was cry.  But then Maria Eugenia showed up.

I hadn't seen Mauge* (as everyone affectionately calls her) in more than three years.  Though she taught classes at the College and worked at the hospital in Coroico following graduation from the UAC-CP's nursing program in 2003, for the past year she has been studying (on scholarship) for her master's degree in public health at Austal Catholic University in Santiago, Chile. Her first day back in Bolivia for summer break and she came straight to the UAC-CP to see if there was any work for her to implement some of her coursework.

Maria Eugenia Quispe Nina is a 2003 UAC-CP Nursing graduate.

Though she wasn't hungry, she said, Mauge sat down beside me at the table and we chatted away--catching up on life, reminiscing about former volunteers, UAC-CP students, and the smattering of Franciscan Sisters who played such a significant role in the founding of the College.  

I told her that just before I returned to the UAC-CP I attended mass at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis where Fr. Tom Garvey, a long-time friend of the Carmen Pampa Fund, gave a homily about the UAC-CP and told the story of the time Sr. Damon sat on Mauge's bed in the women's dormitory waiting, in the dark, knowing that Mauge was staying out past curfew.  "Believe me," Fr. Tom told the crowd that Sunday morning, "Sr. Damon is the last person you want to find sitting in your bed waiting up for you." 

In her animated, giggly way, Mauge shrieked.  "Yes! I crept into the dorm and sat down on my bed and it was Sr. Damon!  Oh my gosh! How does he know that story?" she asked me. "I don't know," I confessed, "but now about a thousand more gringos know about your wild ways!"  She laughed and talked about how the College serves not just to educate young professionals, but to provide them with a formation that they might not get anywhere else. That's what happened in her case, at least.

She said there was a time as a young adult when she made poor decisions and when her family lost faith in her.  At the age of 18, at the College, she became pregnant with her first daughter.  "My parents thought that because I was going to have a baby that I would have to quit school. They thought I had lost any opportunity I had to become a professional.  They were shocked when I defended my thesis and got my degree."  She credits her success to the people at the College, particularly Sr. Damon, for sticking with her, for believing in her unconditionally.  Sr. Damon, she said, helped her out in some of her lowest, most difficult moments.

Mauge admits life was a lot more difficult after having children, especially as a college student (today, her two gorgeous girls are ages 6 and 11).  "But my daughters, they give me strength. They make me want to work harder so that they can have better lives.  I need to be an example for them."  

She also used her daughters to be an example to others.  Mauge reminded me of the days when she would ride a motorcycle out into the communities to do public health and extension work.  She carried her baby Alex on her back and, stepping through the straps, carried a backpack on her lap.  She encouraged women to attend community meetings with their children.  "I'd be giving talks and breast feeding my daughter at the same time.  I wanted to show the women of the community that I am one of them; I am a mom...and I am also a professional.  This is why the women in the campo trust me."

There was a pause in the conversation and Mauge leaned back and looked over at one of the UAC-CP buildings that she helped build with her own two hands as a student back in the day. She let out a long sigh.  "When I look at these buildings, I think, 'What would have happened if the UAC-CP didn't exist?'"  She paused, as if in thought, but then went on, "And I know that I would be working in the field with my parents.  I would be so far from where I am today.  I am so grateful to the people who made this all possible--the people who never gave up on me, the people who always believed in me. Will people ever know how grateful I am for what they did to help me become who I am today?  I'm indigenous...I'm Aymaran, I'm a woman.  Look at me!" 

Her eyes filled with tears and that is the moment when the unexpected happened--I cried at Doña Panchita's lunch table.

*Pronounced mau-hey

1 comment:

Catherine Q said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story.. My kids & I actually got to watch Ali learn to walk at Sr. Damon's house - gosh that must have been 10 years ago. Maria Eugenia was well on her way then... It's wonderful to hear what she is doing now & thanks for the picture - it's wonderful seeing her. CP truly is an amazing place - where life allows for beautiful meetings such as these... May God continue to accompany each of you...
Blessings & Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Catherine & Gaby Quiroga