Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Last May, when daughter Eleni and I went on our annual culinary tour with Susana Trilling in Mexico,(she’s at seasonsofmyheart.com), Susana took us to Chiapas and Tabasco to see how chocolate is grown, processed and also celebrated (in the Fiesta of San Isidro). She asked us beforehand to bring some clothing and toys for the children of the Cacao Cooperative we would see, deep in the jungle over unpaved roads in one of the poorest areas of Mexico.

I had packed some bright inflatable beach balls that cost a dollar each, as well as some Matchbox cars, Nerf balls , baby clothes and other toys. When our van approached the village, I saw some children playing catch with an old sandal. I realized then that they really were poor, compared to even the poorest U.S. children, who could usually find a ball to play catch.

That afternoon, the Mayor of the small cacao cooperative welcomed us, the families showed us the small plots on which each grew a few cacao trees and they served us a meal in the central building. And we learned that their children were not poor in family and love. Their smiles were like sunshine, and when we started unpacking and blowing up and distributing the beach balls, they were thrilled. There seemed to be enough matchbook cars and Nerf balls and small toys to give everyone something. They waited shyly without pushing or grabbing.

I had packed one Barbie Doll, boxed in her plastic cocoon, as well as a gown for her, and I gave that to the oldest of the girls, in a black tee-shirt with a red heart. She immediately ran to show it to her mother. As the mayor made a speech, describing the little cooperative that had created solar-powered machinery to refine the cacao, the mothers sitting in the back, some of them breast-feeding babies, passed along the Barbie from one woman to another, looking at it in awe and stroking the package almost reverently.

Finally we got one of our group to explain to the girl with the heart that she should take the doll out of the package to play with it. But by the time we left, with all the children waving after our van, Barbie was still unwrapped inside her plastic bubble, an object of admiration for the whole village.

Passing out those toys last May was the high point of our culinary tour, we all agreed. As soon as I got home, I started collecting the cheapest toys I could find: boxes of crayons, Spider Man notebooks, matchbook cars, new baby clothes and dresses bought at a yard sale, counting games, plastic dinosaurs, stickers Rubic’s cubes, colorful socks. When I packed up the large cardboard box, on top I put three more Barbie dolls of various themes and skin tones..

Laura Saldivar, the lovely young woman who had served as our guide and translator at the Cacao Cooperative, agreed to distribute the toys if I would send them to her address in San Cristobal. She has e-mailed me that the box has arrived at her post office and that she’ll soon be taking it to the children of the Cacao Cooperative Voces de Jatate.

This year, as every year, I also bought, packed and delivered toys and clothing for a family in Worcester; a mother and three children who are clients of Pernet Family Services. For the Worcester children I bought much more expensive and elaborate toys and clothing, because I want their Christmas loot to compare with their friends’ gifts. Each boy, for example, is getting a large Hot Wheels fantasy set as well as extra cars and a stunt car as well as a three-piece set of pants, shirt and sweater.

But somehow, although I love shopping for the local underprivileged children — and there are far too many who will find little Christmas joy in this year of economic woes -- I’m having more fun imagining the opening of the box of dollar toys in Chiapas, and especially the reaction to the three new Barbie dolls.

1 comment:

Mary Ryan said...

Joan, This is a very interesting and exciting read. I mostly LOVE THE PHOTOS. Regards, Mary Ryan