I was just leaving the upscale restaurant in La Paz after a wonderful dinner with friends when I passed the man on the corner selling tamales. Seeing the huge pots of steaming corn wrapped in husks brought me back to a memory of my first Christmas in Baja just two years earlier.
It was just two years ago on Christmas morning that I was walking my dog Bruce through the neighborhood of Loreto Bay in Baja. It had only been 3 weeks since I had moved here and didn’t really know anyone. I had a budget of 1,000 pesos a month to spend on food (which broke down to about $20 U.S. dollars a week).
The week before I had made my first trip to the grocery store and spent nearly all my allotted money for the month of December since I also had to buy laundry soap and cleaning supplies as well as groceries. As I was walking Bruce, my mind wandered to Christmas’s past. I thought about times spent with my children when they were little running to see what Santa had brought them, spending the day with family and lots of wonderful food. I didn’t realize how lonely I was until the tears started falling down my cheeks.
I was lost in thought and didn’t hear the old pickup truck pull up beside me. The wife rolled down her window and spoke to me in some English but mostly spanish.
“Senora, would you like to buy Christmas tamales to take home to your family?”
She was probably my age, but due to living a hard life she appeared much older.
“No, gracias, lo siento, no pesos.” I replied, afraid to even ask how much one tamale would cost.
“Senora, I made these myself, you can’t have Christmas dinner without tamales.”
In my broken English I told her I was alone for Christmas but maybe I could find the money and buy one tamale.
I looked at her and her husband in their old beat up truck which seemed like it should have been in a junk yard and not on the side of the road looking for people to buy their tamales.
I saw the hard work and knew that no matter how poor I was, I didn’t know what poor really was. I knew that my pesos would help support them and their family.
“Un momento,” I said, “let me go to my casa and find some pesos, I will buy one.”
I walked down about a hundred yards to my casa and started looking for some change. I remembered I had a few pesos left from the shopping trip the day before. I looked for change and grabbed what I had, even if I didn’t have enough for a tamale I wanted to give the money to them.
It probably took me 15 minutes to find the money and return and as I walked around the corner they were still there waiting. I wondered to myself how long they would have waited, but then I remembered I gave them my word that I would be back and your word is your promise in the Mexican culture. They smiled when they saw me and I showed them the only money I had left in my hand.
They opened up the back of their pickup truck and inside a large beat up silver pot were stacks of tamales. At that moment I wish I would have had money to buy them all from them so they could go back and celebrate Christmas with their family.
I handed the man the money and he said, “gracias, senora, Feliz Navidad, now you will have the best Christmas ever.”
The wife put two tamales in the little plastic bag and gave me a hug.
“One for you and one for your perro, Feliz Navidad!”
I walked away from that experience a changed person. I had little to give to someone who had even less.
Their faces may have been worn and tired but their spirit was alive and shown through their eyes.
When I returned back to my casa I put the Tamales on a plate and Bruce and I had the best meal we both have ever eaten.