That afternoon of coupon collecting is dearer to my heart than any prolific conversation could have been.
Article by: Cinasee Pollett
Sometimes you don’t need many words to communicate, just a few key phrases in Spanish. Specifically, “cookies for me, cat food for you.”
That’s what I experienced during my time in Baja, Mexico.
Now, when most people hear “Mexico,” their minds flash to refreshing Pacific waves, lively markets doused in a rainbow of color, and delicious tacos from amazing street vendors.
I think of Antonio.
During my week in Baja, I volunteered at the wonderful Door of Faith Orphanage. I spent my mornings pulling up stubborn crab grass, my afternoons on the playground, and my evenings praying on the mountainside.
While on the playground, I discovered that some games, like tag, are universal. As I was taller than most of my competitors, I fared pretty well. But one day, while sprinting across the gravel to escape the grasp of a five-year-old, I noticed an older child sitting alone under the dining hall pavilion. I stopped short and was tagged. I quickly flagged down a fellow volunteer, tagged them into taking my spot, then stepped into the shade of the pavilion.
I waved to the lone child and gestured to the bench he was perched on. He gave me a nod, and I sat down next to him. I introduced myself in Spanish, then asked him his name.
“Antonio,” he mumbled.
He turned back to scanning the newspaper in his hands.
I smiled. It was nice to know he’d be content communicating in single words – I had just about exhausted all the ones I knew.
I glanced at his reading material. It was a page of coupons, printed in colored ink, and already expired. I squinted at the pictures, found something I recognized, and pointed.
“Galletas,” I said, excitedly.
Antonio nodded, the corners of his mouth twitching upward. With a combination of finger-pointing and Spanish, he conveyed that the cookies were for him. I could have the coupon for cat food.
Me, eat cat food? I made a sour face then we doubled over in laughter.
And just like that we had invented our own game. We never laid out the rules, we just instinctively knew how to play. We picked the best-looking coupons for ourselves, while leaving the silliest (or grossest) coupons for the other person until we had gone through the entire page. Who got cupcakes and who got dog food was almost as hotly debated as the cookies and cat food!
That afternoon of coupon collecting is dearer to my heart than any prolific conversation could have been. I think it meant a lot to Antonio, too.
On my last day in Baja, the staff were calling the children for dinner, and I was being called to my bus. Antonio hugged me tight, then walked backwards to the dining hall, waving at me the entire way. I walked backwards, too, keeping my friend in sight for as long as I could.
It’s been years since that wonderful week, but I still pray for my friend, wherever he may be on the road of life. I think of Antonio often – especially when I shop for cookies and cat food.