Tuesday, May 15, 2012


When we first visited Lecheria in 2006, we met Licen. He was an elderly man who had come to Lechería with his family in back the 70's to cut sugar cane. The work had battered his health and left him slow to walk and weary. But the good Sisters had given him a custodial job around the clinic and school, so we always saw him emptying trash and sweeping (and resting).

It was difficult to understand his creole-tinged spanish and his quiet voice, but he had a great sense of humor, so I was always engaging him in silly antics. For example, we had this thing where we would greet each other with, "Amigo!", while sizing each other up and down. Then, we would peek in each others shirt pocket, pull out an item, and ask if it was a little gift (regalito).

During the past February's visit, while playing our "regalito" game, I found that he had an old wallet with 3 moth-eaten (mice-eaten?) U.S. dollar bills in it. I asked if they were of any value or use to him (I didn't think that they would be). "No", he said, while pursing his lips the way Haitians and Dominicans do to indicate they have no interest in the whatever is being talked about. So, I checked my pocket and found a $200 peso bill (about $6 U.S.) and asked if he'd like to trade. His eyes lit up and he looked at me with that "are you sure?" look (he obviously knew it was a good trade for him). "Sure", I said, thinking I'd trade them in to the bank when I got back to the States, and at least get an even swap. So, we were both happy about our trade. Well, needless to say, back in the states, it took a trip to two banks before I could cash my trade in. I'll bet Licen had a much easier and more lucrative experience with his end of the trade.

Licen has a very large family - a wife and countless children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Most of them live directly across from the clinic, and, at meal times, they would often be seen gathered at Licen's porch with Licen, like the grand patriarch, sitting in the middle. The joke was that half the people of Lechería belonged to Licen's family!

It seems that with every visit we brought some gift to Licen - a hat or sunglasses, or I would leave him my gloves or shoes or some other clothing. He always gave me smile and sincere thank you, and he would seem to have a burst of pride as he walked away. I always had the feeling that if I wanted something from Licen, even something I found in his pocket during our "regalito" game, he would give it to me. There was that trust that God would provide no matter what. After all, Licen and his family had been provided for all these years. When I said goodbye to him each day, he would reply, "Si Dios quiere!" (If God wills it).

During my last conversation with Licen in February, he said to me, "Mi compañero por el camino" (My companion on the path). I was very honored that he would think of me in that way. This man, who had traveled a much harder and poorer road than I, actually saw me as being with him on part of that same road. Wow! I still haven't taken it all in. Maybe I never will. It makes me wonder how many others am I travelling with on a road, yet I don't realize it? Thank you, Licen, for planting that question in my brain.

This past March, Licen passed away.  I'm sure it was sad for many in Lechería. It was sad for Cindy and me. He'll be missed, especially when we visit. We'll miss the sound of the shuffling of the old, sandaled feet and the dragging of trash cans around the clinic. We'll miss that sly smile from his slightly cocked head. I will miss mi compañero por el camino.

Hasta mañana, mi amigo...Si Dios quiere.



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