I met generosity yesterday. We shook hands in the small town of San Francisco De Asis, just an hour or so outside the city I’m staying in.
I wanted to remember everything about this day: the way the wind whipped my hair around my cheeks while we coasted, the long dusty road that led us to him. But the air was thick and hot and muggy, wrapping around me like a lengthy fur coat. It was hard for me to remember breathing, much less take in the details and render them permanently in my brain.
We drove down the red dirt road, pulling into a cacao plantation. Cacao trees are essentially trees that grow chocolate. I couldn’t imagine anything that could possibly be better.
With perspiration beading endlessly on our skin, we followed the chocolate farmer through his trees, and he explained to us the kinds and the differences between them. The language barrier is tricky and I didn’t understand most of what he said, but Tat translated for me. He began to chop off many of the cacao pods that were fully ripened, and then he turned to us, each at a time and smiled, holding out a gorgeous pod in his sun-kissed fingers. “Señorita,” he smiled and handed one to me.
As we walked, he chopped off many more, giving each of us plenty. These pods are huge and we held onto them tightly in our arms. They were astonishingly vibrant, too -- their colours like the fall trees in my yard back home, and I couldn’t help thinking that autumn had found us here in Peru. It just looked different than what I was used to.
The chocolate farmer went to a couple of guaba trees and cut some pieces off. “Comer,” he excitedly urged us.
“He wants us to eat,” Tat said.
We scooped the guaba from the piece he held out. It was soft and sticky, and had a similar texture to cotton balls. But it tasted like the sweetest cotton candy I’ve ever had.
Everywhere the chocolate farmer went, he gave us gifts. And each time he handed us something, his face held a huge grin with a laugh soon to follow.
He was living generosity. He was kindness personified.
While we drank water and ate apples after our tour through his plantation, he asked me what my name was. I told him, then asked him the same.
“Curi,” he replied.
“That’s a good name,” I told him. Tat translated and Curi laughed. My Spanish is dramatically limited, so I told him the words I know, which just so happen to be “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
He asked me if I wanted to see the tigers that live on his plantation.
“Si,” I replied jokingly. But he took my response seriously so we got up and followed him, on a jungle scavenger hunt for tigers.
He took us into the thick of the Amazon rainforest. It was everything I had thought it to be and nothing like what I imagined: hot and green, and stunningly beautiful, and utterly terrifying. I was in awe of the rainforest, in awe that I was in the rainforest, and in awe that I was in the rainforest searching for tigers.
Curi showed us his water system that he had built with his own two hands. It was remarkable. Soon we grew hot and tired and we climbed back up through the jungle and to the farm. Much to my relief, we didn’t encounter any tigers.
I carried my film camera with me, and thought about what my friend Nick said as he gave it to me the night before I came to Peru. “Name your camera,” he had said. “Find someone who matters to you there and name it after them.”
I held my camera within my hands and looked up at the man who lived out generosity, the man who kept me wondering how I could shape my life similarly to his.
Now I have a camera named Curi.