Florentina

(excerpt)

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(...)
 

Florentina lights a fire on the earthen floor of her house. Sitting on a small log sipping my coffee, I watch her making tortillas, the room illuminated only by the fire’s flames and two flickering candles. Night has fallen fast. After reassuring her that I had a very pleasant time in her absence, I share my concern with her on the state of the electrification process here in Santa Teresa.

 

“Are you ready to receive the solar panels?” 

 

“Yes, I’ve been waiting for them for more than a year! It’s too long, but all we can do is wait. I’m more than ready; I can’t wait to do it again, to reassemble everything. I think the charge controllers come in parts and I’ll have to assemble them. I’m going to train other women and, maybe, some men too.”

 

(...)

“Tell me a bit about your departure and the trip.”

 

“Mark from Plenty Belize and Mr. Palma accompanied me on the bus to the capital. From there, I took a flight with Mr. Palma to Cancún, then from Cancún to Mexico City. But I arrived there alone because we were not on the same flight. Mr. Palma had told me to wait. I’m waiting, I’m sitting, I don’t know where to go, and I see so many people coming and going. I’m ready to panic when I finally see him coming. We go to a hotel in Mexico City. The next day, all alone without Mr. Palma, I take the flight from Mexico to Frankfurt. I land in Frankfurt, and there, I’m no longer afraid because I have all of the documentation. Mr. Palma gave me an envelope with all of the information: who I am, where I’m from, where I’m going, and what I’m going to do in India.”

 

“And you speak English! You know, English is spoken almost everywhere in the world.” 


“Yes, but not that well. Anyway, people understood me. I had a stopover in Frankfurt, but, by then, I knew how everything worked: the flight departure time and the departure gate for the next nonstop flight from Frankfurt—Delhi. Once I arrived in Delhi, I went through immigration, then the doors opened, and the Barefoot team was waiting for me! They cry out, ‘Florentina!’ Women from Honduras were also there; they have a sign with my name and my picture! Everyone greeted me! Mr. Guruji is there too. We go to their car, and we’re off again, on a very long trip. It was a nine-hour drive to Tilonia, so long that it’s nighttime when I arrive!

 

As soon as we arrive, they give me a telephone and tell me I can phone my family. I phone and speak to my son right away to let him know everything is fine. I’m exhausted and just want to sleep.” 

 

“When you arrive, they give you a telephone?” 

 

“Yes, a telephone and phone credits. Barefoot pays for everything, it’s fantastic.” 

(...)

“After this trip, do you have a new outlook on the world?”

“I saw so many different faces. My country is Belize with its abundant mountains, rivers, forests; we have space here. In India, where Barefoot College is, that doesn’t all exist. People have less space; they survive any way they can. There is nowhere to gather firewood easily. Here, if you need some firewood, you walk a bit and find some. There, no. I saw women in India spend so much time cooking and looking for small branches of firewood. Life is very difficult, but they do everything they can to help each other and help the poorest.”

 

“You know, Barefoot drew its inspiration from a great man, Gandhi, who did everything he could to help the poorest, the 'untouchables.' Do you know why Barefoot chooses only women?”

“Guruji says if you send a man, he will not return. But women always return.”

The fire is still burning, and the hours spent talking with Florentina have consumed the candles. It must be around 10 pm. I thank Florentina warmly for sharing her story. Now I leave her to rest and promise to pass by tomorrow morning to say farewell.

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