South America, Travel Stories

La Madre Soltera

     ¨Are you married?¨ she asked me. I look up to respond and the first thing I see are her eyes. They are a light hazel, unlike the others in her community. ¨No,¨ I respond. She is quiet and shy, not someone you would immediately notice, yet I automatically feel comfortable in her presence. She is watching me inquisitively as I write out a Bible verse in markers to help teach a class. ¨Oh, you`re soltera. Yo tambien. Soy madre soltera.Soy presidente de la comunidad.¨ She doesn`t look older than twenty-five. Her face is sun-worn with a fair amount of dirt settling in the tired crinkles, blending in with her cafe colored skin. Her nose has a small scrape across the bridge, an accident from hard work in the fields. But her eyes. Her eyes smiled before her mouth caught on; they shone with humility and kindness.
       I wondered at the information she had just shared. She was a single mother? And the president of the community? How…? This was my first visit to an indigenous Quichua village but from what I had gathered single motherhood and female leaders were somewhat of an anomoly. I marveled at this young woman who had been elected by her friends and family to represent the needs and values of over 160 families. This was no small feat. The community we were honored to teach was in the middle of completing a clean water project and had its fair share of disputes and tension. After our presentation about sanitation and latrines, many arguments and discussions broke out among the people gathered in regards to the hard work they were undertaking to finish the irrigation ditches. Not only were they required to do the manual labor necessary for installing the pipes, digging trenches down the mountain, but they also had to continue the strenous work needed to maintain their fields and agricultural businesses.

         As the debate became heated this small woman, la madre soltera carefully stepped to the front of the crowd and watched as the offenders made their acussations. Her voice quiet and confident she redirected the strife and brought the meeting to a close. As the conversations died down my friend offered to pray for this community and the challenges they faced. As she prayed everyone rose in unison, humbly took off their hats and stood in solidarity, bowing their heads to a God who is more powerful than the discord and opression they were facing within. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I felt the immense joy and privelege of sharing the same faith in the same God with a people not so different from myself after all.

       This past weekend I went to a hospital team-building retreat that focused on leadership. We each took a self-evaluation to determine our natural tendencies and style of leading others. There is a part of me that so badly wants to be a motivator, the kind of charismatic, engaging person people flock to magnetically, enamored by their inspirational words. I wish I was more of a visionary, so confident in my own dreams that I pursued them single-mindedly and attracted others to pursue my goals alongside me. Instead, I usually see myself as a follower. I will wait until everyone else has rejected a role of leadership before I will shly raise my hand, volunteering to fill the vacant position. I am usually shocked when approached to fill a need, to teach, to share what I know, thinking myself inadequate and not ready to fulfill the requirements of leadership. Apparently, my style is collaboration, working alongside and with others to attain a mutual goal. This is not the most glamorous or obvious form of leadership. It is not noisy or attention seeking. It`s the kind of leader that doesn`t recognize itself as worthy to lead. It`s the single mother who humbly accepts the desire of her community to step up, to quietly listen to the needs of her friends and family, to lead by example and not by force. I hope one day I will have the courage to become this kind of leader.


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