Breakfast in the
CASA GRANDE
(recent snapshot)
Doña Lilia & student nurse prepare a meal in the Casa Grande
Doña Lilia & student nurse prepare a meal in the Casa Grande
The Casa Grande
The Casa Grande

The steady, heavy rain that fell all night continues this morning, drumming on the Casa Grande's tin roof. Outside, rainwater streaming across the gravel-covered turn-around coldly reflects the slate-gray sky. Most of the student nurses, as well as myself, have not come to Yerba Buena equipped with clothing heavy enough for the 40-degree temperatures we've been experiencing the last few days.

This morning fourteen student nurses and I share breakfast in the Casa Grande. We sit along both sides of three ten-foot long tables placed end-to-end, covered with a blue, plastic tablecloth adorned with cheerful representations of pineapples, grapes, apples and watermelons. On our blue, plastic plates lie heaps of refried black beans, pale but soul-pleasing tortillas, and a dish made mostly of scrambled eggs and fresh sweet-peas. We drink cups of hot atole, a native Indian drink made of finely ground parched corn sweetened with honey. The nurses make small-talk and laugh easily at things even only remotely funny.

Because Adventists consider Saturdays to be their days of rest, and today is Friday, in the kitchen this morning Doña Lilia is organizing not only for today's lunch and dinner but also for tomorrow's three meals. She and the student nurse whose turn it is this week to help her bang pots and pans, open and close cabinet doors, and exchange brief remarks about cabbage leaves, loaves of rising bread, the fate of avocado pits... Simply no one at Yerba Buena works harder and with more efficiency than Lilia Tosca.

This morning, to brighten things up, Doña Lilia plays tapes of music on the little Sanyo beside the window. These tapes have been copied from machine to machine so often that now the music comes out distorted, the highest notes going flat and the lowest acquiring a certain mellow, hollow sonority. It's American religious music being sung in English. Who knows what gringo visitor has left the tape here? "Glory, glory, hallelujah," the singers languidly intone, their voices resonating off the aquamarine-painted wallboards behind the radio. And though it's cold and dark outside and mist-filled rain chills and clogs the lungs, inside the Casa Grande an agreeable, glowing, orangish feeling reigns.

I'm the last breakfaster to leave. Washing my plate and cup, I tell doña Lilia how glad I am to be here, for this morning the Voice of America, which each day I listen to on my shortwave radio, reported that yesterday in Los Angeles it snowed, and that the high today in Chicago will be l8ºF. I expect doña Lilia to be interested in this, for several years ago she lived for a few months in San Francisco.

"Ay, yes I'm also glad to be here," she laughs. "And for more reasons than the weather. Sometimes I can't forget some of the things I've seen up there. In San Francisco I remember one certain street where there was nothing but prostitution of the worst kind. And in the evenings we'd see long lines of people waiting to see men and women have sex on stage... Sometimes I remember those things, even when I don't want to, and all I know to do is to ask forgiveness from God, and to give thanks that my family and I are here, in this refuge..."

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