Hard Call

A Tomball woman took on street waifs to find the truth: Comfortable can't compare to comforting

Doña Paula was scheduled to have cataract surgery, so last Saturday, Eduardo and I went to visit her in Lagoona, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tela.Martha, the mother of the Castro Paz children, was to go with Doña Paula. They're not related, but Martha has a heart of gold and takes care of her own six children and Doña Paula, who has become completely blind.

When we arrived, Doña Paula was semi-conscious and Martha was standing by her bed mechanically flipping a towel trying to keep the large black flies away. She stopped occasionally to try and give Doña Paula some juice from a spoon. Then the fanning started up again. I wondered how long she had been standing there. It was obvious there would be no surgery in two days' time.Martha showed me what was left of one of Doña Paula's toes. During the night, a rat had gnawed away her little toe on her left foot. I was horrified, and reluctant to look, but to these people, this is not uncommon. Eduardo and I decided the best thing to do was pray. We got down on the dirt floor, and first I prayed, and then he prayed. Then we left to get some supplies.

Martha was still mechanically fanning when we got back.Martha watched as I first used hydrogen peroxide, then Betadine, then Neosporin, which was like water because of the heat. I covered the stump with a Teflon pad secured by surgical tape. I told Martha to try to do the same a couple of times each day.

Elizabeth Ann found her calling after raising five children of her own.
Elizabeth Ann found her calling after raising five children of her own.
Elizabeth Ann found her calling after raising five children of her own.
Elizabeth Ann found her calling after raising five children of her own.

Eduardo and I left with sadness and many questions. How could Martha cope when she has so much responsibility? She has six children and goes to homes to do washing. How does she do so much with so little education, living in such small quarters in extreme poverty? Children over here are not sheltered from the reality of suffering and death and learn to deal with things at a very early age. Her calmness put me to shame. Martha's problems are greater because her husband drinks, and he is little help.

I was not surprised when two of the children arrived early Monday morning to tell me Doña Paula had died the night before. She would have to be buried within the next few hours but they didn't have a coffin. I felt they must need more than this so went to Allan's office to call Eduardo's mother. She promised to take a message to Eduardo that I needed his help for the day and would meet him at Allan's.

Arriving at the house, she found Martha still flipping flies. It was as if she had never moved, but she had prepared Doña Paula in a white dress, probably better than any dress she usually wore in life. Martha had changed her own dress, and her hair was combed. She was softly playing her cassettes with her favorite hymns. She desperately needed help. There was no food in the house. They needed permission for burial. Her husband and two other men were already digging the grave, but no one had gone to get permission because they didn't have the money. The pastor was away in San Pedro, but we found someone else to fill in. Eduardo used his stepfather's pickup and took the coffin to the house and later drove it to the cemetery. I presume the few people there were from the church, but Martha was alone. I stood by her during the short service and soon realized she was sobbing quietly. Her husband and his friends had the large hole ready, and he was waiting at the bottom to receive the coffin. He could hardly stand. His two friends had both passed out from their drinking. Merlin, her eleven year old daughter, cried as they covered the coffin with the red clay dirt. I gave Martha a hug, and Eduardo, Marvin and I left. There was little we could do.

Throughout all this experience, Marvin was with me. To him it was normal, and to be honest, he didn't want to miss anything. He declined staying with a friend on Monday morning. When I wrote last I was expecting Marvin to be in Hogar de Fe by now, but he is still with me. The wife of the orphanage director overruled the decision made in her absence. I was devastated at first. The reason didn't really make sense. She was right when she said that Marvin is ahead academically for the children they have. He is also possibly a few months older, but we don't have birth records, so don't know his age for sureThere was no point in arguing.

Please continue to pray, especially for a good home for Marvin. He is getting so used to living with me that it will make it harder on him to be in an institution than if he had gone sooner. -- Elizabeth Ann Gilderson, October 10, 2000

The children sit in a room in the Christian Education Center at Good Shepherd working on their English lessons. Ledy Reyes, 12, her sister Melissa, 13, Belkis Cruz, 18, and Kevin Andrade, nine, look like any other kids you'd see in a Houston school. "These clothes are all borrowed," Gilderson confides. Their education is being sponsored by private donors.

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