As I looked over my shoulder I suddenly realized I had no idea what to do. I look straight into the limpid brown eye and at the big head blocking out the sun all of a sudden… and I’m stumped.

Are cows allowed inside?

I really have no idea. Glancing around the living room I find myself trying to reason it out! The floor is dirt and easy to sweep and there is a bit of straw so maybe its ok that she’s there. She certainly seems confident. Then again the table and chairs have beautiful lace cloths over them that I wouldn’t even trust a dog around much less a cow. But if I try to get her out the door and she’s supposed to be there, would that be rude?

I really have to make a decision here because she’s most of the way in the door now. Alright this room looks too small to have a cow in it so I’d better do something…wait how do you get a 1200 pound animal to move where you want it to?

I’m about half way between sitting and standing when I see the swirl of purple skirts out of the corner of my eye.

“Shoo! Shoo!”

Ah that’s how. Here is Maria with the water, deftly managing to balance the enormous pitcher while swatting the cow with her towel.

Her purple dress fits the home perfectly, careful stitching holds an elegant collar stiff against her neck, touches of lace have been added to the shoulders to make them stiffer and add some flare. The one spot that might have once been a tear in the fabric of the hem has been not only repaired, but neatly embroidered over with a beautiful lavender colored flower.

As she finishes chasing our bovine invader back to her small shed on the side of the house, she flashes a huge smile and carefully pats her pure white hair as if to check that no stray hairs have gone out of place. With her rosary, her dress, her mannerisms and attitude she could fit in at any church in America, and reminds me of nothing more than the times I would sit with my Grandmother and her friends as they prepared to go out and sing in the choir on Sundays. Never underestimate those smiling old ladies, they can move mighty quick, especially if you take their brownies without saying thank you!

She sweeps back into the room and carefully serves each person water, repeatedly thanking us for coming. You would never know that it was she that should be receiving the thanks. Because today was the day we were visiting a special group of people; five people to be exact. Five people who had volunteered to donate plots of land for the water project. Maria’s was one of the last we were visiting. At each site we had been told of the positions the person held in the community. Council members, community elders, land owners, the movers and the shakers had offered up their land.

But, as we stepped off Kibos road and walked behind a small little fruit stand and around the corner into the equally small little yard of a well-kept home, mud walls carefully plastered and sealed, I could tell that this visit was going to be different.

She sat across from us in her finest dress and I listened as she told us about the three boys she took care of; one grandson and two orphans that she had adopted and taken in as her own. As she talked about their successes in school, with that satisfied look that I’m pretty sure only mothers have, I couldn’t help but wonder how hard it must have been to put three boys through school, especially on her own.

But, not being one to dawdle, Maria has us up and out the front door. We’re almost moving as fast as our friend in the shed, who is happily chewing her cud and giving me a once over look that could easily be saying “See…you were too dirty too.” Or maybe that’s just my subconscious worrying that I’ve left a smudge on those fine lace clothes.

We pick our way over the dirt path beside the shed to a small field that can’t be bigger than a high school soccer pitch. Enclosed with a fence made of sticks woven together you can see the care Maria takes even in the way she tends her crops. Out ahead of us she excitedly begins showing off the area she has marked off from her small little piece of land. She carefully walks out to a stick and paces off the area a water kiosk would take up. Then she keeps going and shows us the EXTRA space she can donate for a small garden where women can come to learn how to use drip irrigation and other farming techniques. As she stands by the fence and shows how easy the access to the road is and explains how she and her boys can clear away all the plants where ever we think is best, I can’t help but be humbled by this amazing woman and her willingness to so completely share what little she has.

As we wrap up our short little tour I ask her one last question.

“Why put the kiosk near your house?”

And with that same big grin she had when she so deftly handled our uninvited guest, she replies “So I can chase off any thieves.” And, with that, I suddenly have to wonder if Maria has the same wooden spoon in her kitchen as my grandmother. Somehow I think I’ll just say Thank You.

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