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Oatmeal and Tomatoes


Editor’s Note: Missioner Catherine Sullivan relates how sharing a Christmas party with two of the Bolivian women who work at the Cochabamba market has brought her to a deeper recognition of the blessings of their friendship.

Every Saturday in Cochabamba is market day. In the outdoor markets of the city, things are cheaper, more vendors are selling, and many more people are buying. So naturally, Saturday is also the day that my fellow missioner and I shop. After helping with the children at a local soup kitchen, we make our way to our weekly vendor stalls and always shop at the same ones every week. Each vendor knows us, by name and by purchases, and we know them as well. Our spices vendor always reaches for the vegetable-broth cubes, the garlic powder, and the olive oil as we arrive. Our dairy vendor (who tends to be more chatty when his wife’s away) reaches for the milk, butter, and strawberry yogurt. We have, little by little, gotten to know them all. However, Dona Juana and Nanci are the two that have become like family to us.

Dona Juana is our vegetable vendor. She is a hard-working, beautiful, older woman with four children and ten grandchildren who all live in the area. She often spoils us by slipping an extra eggplant or cauliflower into our bags, and she teaches us about the weather and how it affects the harvest and prices of produce.

Nanci is our dry goods vendor. She is a spirited, kind, enthusiastic young woman with a 2-year-old son named Aaron who we have also come to know. She is a social butterfly and very fashionable, as well as a wiz at math!

This year, my fellow missioner Allison and I decided to throw a big Christmas party for all of our friends here in Cochabamba! We invited both Dona Juana and Nanci but since they have no time off – not even Christmas day – we knew that they would likely be too busy. However, when the day of the party finally arrived, Nanci and Dona Juana were the first two in the door. In fact, they came early! Nanci brought her son, and we spent an hour – just the group of us – chatting and laughing and eating Christmas cookies and taking holiday pictures together before any of the other guests arrived. After that, they stayed another two hours, chatting with other guests and friends.

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When we went to see them at the market the next day, Nanci and Dona Juana told us that they had closed their stalls for that afternoon just to come to the party – a huge sacrifice and gift to us. On top of that, they each gave us a Christmas present. Nanci gave us a box of oatmeal and Dona Juana gave us a bag of tomatoes and yellow onions (our most constant purchases). From two beautiful women that have very little, this gesture was the perfect representation of the widow in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke 21:1-4) who donated two small coins – all that she had – to the Temple. It was a touching gesture that has deepened my love for each of them.

Every Saturday is a day to look forward to here in Cochabamba – a day to see family and to grow with them, share stories with them, and maybe do a little bit of shopping as well!

Reflection Question: Take some time today to remember the moments and meals you shared with family and friends over the holidays. How have you been blessed by your friendships?

Catherine Hope Sullivan is the youngest of five children raised by a sassy Italian and a historian of world religions. Thanks to them, her younger years were filled with new and interesting people from every walk of life. Forever a Belle, Catherine graduated from the all-women’s Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, with degrees in English writing and Italian (and an unofficial degree in female empowerment). Catherine has a serious passion for world travel because of the amazing people and traditions one encounters in every part of the world. She chose overseas mission to serve and learn from every person she meets. She has been in Cochabamba, Bolivia, since January 2016.