If you know our cook Elena, you know that she is perhaps the spunkiest of Nicaraguan women. She is sassy enough to keep the dogs in check , patient enough to put up with our 10-people-who-just-got-out-of-college messiness, and just crazy enough for spontaneous fully-clothed swims. Last week, we gave “Mamita” a day off from our home and made a visit to hers.

The ten of us piled into the micro at 9am Friday morning, excited to make the journey up the carretera to kilometer 34.5. The ride was bumpy, to say the least, but we arrived at her humble home soon enough, our stomachs grumbling. (She’d promised us a delicious brunch!) Elena ran out and greeted us warmly, showing us her kitchen and introducing us to her children and nephews and nephews’ children and children’s nephews…

As Elena began to cook eggs over the fire, her daughter Ana taught us how to make corn tortillas from scratch, rolling the white dough in a circle and then slowly flattening it out. We helped stir pancake batter and squeezed oranges for juice, laughing at the fact that we felt like we’d entered Colonial Williamsburg. The kitchen was set apart from the house, a small room with a dirt floor and holey walls. Plates and knives and various unidentified metal tools hung from the cracks in the wooden planks. Yet Elena was in her element, playfully smacking her daughter with a spoon and laughing at our gringo naivete.

So we ate a fresh breakfast and held some fluffy chicks, walked the land and heard about growing up in rural Nicaragua. Again and again, I’m blindsided by the joy of this place and the gracious nature of its people. Elena and her family live hand to mouth. They cook over an open flame. They sleep four to a room and bathe with a bucket and claim plastic lawn chairs as their only furniture. Yet Elena enters our spacious house three days a week, prepared to cook our expensive food and clean our rooms that are cluttered with excessive clothing and superfluous technology. When we stumble into the kitchen at 10am, headed straight for the coffee, she has been up since 4:oo – serving first her own family and then making the trek here to serve our messy family of gringos. With no judgment, no resentment, no bitterness. Elena’s service to us here is a lesson in grace and humility.

Until next week,