“But you can’t do that,” gasped Alvaro, “it is your niece’s wedding and the money should go to her and her husband.”
“Why?” I replied. “They don’t need it. When my nephew Curtis and his wife Trish got married on New Year’s Eve this year, I donated the same $100 to Educate a Girl in Cambodia and they thought it was a great present.”
“The $100 dollars would cover a restaurant meal or a haircut for Matt. It will go a lot further in Colmbia and it will be given with the explanation that it comes from Jessica and her husband, not me.
Marie is an older woman who lives in the barrio. She doesn’t have much money. Many people – including me – feed her as she is far too dignified to beg and just graciously accepts.
Her dream was to get a tango dress and shoes so she could dance at Malagar and make a bit of money that people give the dancers. The venue doesn’t allow sneakers, so shoes were essential.
We arranged to meet Marie at a local store/restaurant/bar/junk-food-place. As she ate her tub of yogurt with cereal, Alvaro explained that my niece’s wedding present to her was 100,000 pesos (about $50) for her dress and shoes. When I handed her the cash — which she quickly stashed so as not to get robbed — her eyes welled up with tears.
Then she hugged and gave me so many signs of the cross that I started to worry that I might end up next to Mother Teresa.
Looking for Quisera
Next, we were going to buy a cane for el senior Quisera. He is a down-and-outer who sells candy in Boston Park. He had a stroke and ambles along with a heavy pail of sweets and struggles to get anywhere slowly.
His eyes always light up when he sees me as I will give him 50 cents and take one small package of gum. Taking the candy is important as that way he is providing a service and it isn’t charity.
Quisera was no where to be found at his usual haunts, so we went to a street shop where I know he hangs out and asked if anyone had seen him. Stephan – a darling clerk who climbs down ladders when he is stocking top shelves to serve me as I am his preferred customer – was horrified.
There was a bit of a conference in the store and the rest of the staff joined in the conversation. Yes, Quisera has it hard, but giving him a cane wouldn’t help. He gets drunk most nights and the cane – along with his plastic pail of sweets – would be stolen shortly. He had also broken a window in the shop when he was angry about something.
Good advice. So I will just continue to pay inflated prices for his candy that I collect in a bag and give away as I don’t eat any of that crap. But, as mentioned, I always take something to keep it as a business exchange.
Donating to Alvaro
So, all of a sudden, I had more money to give away than I thought.
At 67, my friend Alvaro is a retired chef with two bad knees that he has to keep bandaged so he can walk with a cane. Since there isn’t a welfare system in Colombia, he is totally dependent on money from family and friends.
He had run up a bill at a local store and the wife of the owner was hounding him to pay the full amount. Since he was short of cash, I slipped him 75,000 pesos (about $38) to keep up his credit rating up so he could eat while I was away.
Spending the rest
When I returned to Medellin I still had 25,000 ($13) wedding present pesos to spend. Vamos – let’s go.
So I dolled it out in dribs and drabs: a meal for a street musician, , a contribution to a shoe shiner – which will come back to haunt me as he will expect the same amount every time –
an a capella singer who belted out a song written by Miguel Herrandez who is a legend, and an old, skinny beggar woman.
After all of that I still have some money to spend that will bring happiness in the neighbourhood as Jess and Matt’s wedding present. There is no lack of people in need; I am so good at donating other people’s money.
So on behalf of the needy in Medellin, we all send Jessica and Matt the best happy marriage wishes. Your present may well become part of the legend of the neighbourhood.
So anyone else who decides to get married in the future, don’t expect a crystal candy dish from the registry list from me, as I will give away your present.
Thank-you and gracias.
More wedding photos: