Don Clementino

There are days when living here just feels like you live in a dream land. You shake your head and say “how did we get so lucky?” The weather is perfect. Cool, tropical breezes balance the sunshine and then there are the star lit nights. Wow. Yesterday, I bought a string of fish from a local boy (about Ben’s age) out on the road. There were about 30 small (8”-10”) fish tied up with cabulla – the local string that is used for everything – around his handlebars. He was riding up and down the road – looking to sell his fish. I purchased them for about $5.00. I’m quite sure that I paid at least double what he was hoping to get for them, but I just didn’t feel like I could bargain with such a little kid; surely it would be taking advantage of him.  So, I preferred that he “take advantage” of me. With the fish in the back of the pickup I headed home to clean them up and get them in the freezer. We have an outside sink, so cleaning them up was easy enough – the boys had already “gutted” them and done the hard part of the cleaning. Our gardener Don Clementino* came over and joined me at the sink as we removed the heads from the fish and cleaned them up. Suddenly something amazing had happened. We had connected.
My family and I have lived in this house now since Thanksgiving (so about four months) and, as is the custom here, the house “came” with a Gardener already in place. My understanding is that he has worked here since the house was built around four years ago. He is 78 years old, about 4’10” tall and might weigh 95 pounds soaking wet with a blanket wrapped around him. He is the quietest, meekest, most soft spoken man you’ll ever meet. He bikes about 10km (6 miles) to work each day, across one river, and then walks up the very steep hill to get to our house. As a North American, I can tell you that it is very uncomfortable and a little embarrassing to have “employees” here where we live. Although it is customary for “gringos” (white folk) to employ a gardener and a housekeeper, it is very contrary to the North American mindset and at times, very uncomfortable. The double blessing here is this: we are blessed with a beautiful looking outside area around our house that is much safer for Benny to play in (short grass means no snakes) and a 78 year old man stays employed and can support his family. Words like “social security” and “retirement age” don’t exist here. All of this background to say that it is difficult to have employees around doing things that in the USA, we would do for ourselves. It feels rich and snooty and weird sometimes. So while Don Clementino is always kind, always eager to do anything that I ask of him, I have been very uncomfortable being his “boss”. I don’t really tell him what to do; I just ask him how he is and get his aspirin or cold medicine if he tells me he isn’t feeling well. When it is rainy, I put him in the truck and take him home. Every Friday I give him his pay and that is about it.
But now, here we were at the sink, both doing something that we knew how to do – cleaning fish. I’m not sure that Clementino or I will ever feel like we really know each other, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to know him a little better. I’ll let you know how the fish turn out.

*”Don” is not his first name, the word Don here is a title that is given to married men. It is used mostly to denote respect give to “older people”. I say “older” very gently because the title “Don” is used with me sometimes and I can’t possibly be that old!