A Bowl Of Fruit

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

By Tyrel Nelson

It was mid-January, but no snow was on the ground — an odd sight for Minnesotans. The 17 of us were actually in the verdant highlands of Panajachel, Sololá, Guatemala. Teammates on a Global Village trip, we were offering our time and sweat on behalf of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity (based in Minneapolis). And I had grown to admire the volunteers who had been at my side the past seven days. Coming from all ages and walks of life, these compassionate individuals left their loved ones, missed work, used vacation time, and spent their own money to help a pair of families in need of decent, affordable housing. Not only was I proud to have met such good-hearted people, I was honored to stand before them.

The hot afternoon sun was blinding, but that wasn’t the reason I was wearing shades. I was hiding behind them. I had been in this situation a couple times before. It was the end of the week, and I was to speak; always an emotional time. I knew what to expect, so I focused on my teammates. Their smiles mirrored mine. However, when I glanced at the Guatemalans, who had also been working alongside me, the tears started to flow. I couldn’t go on.

“Un momentito, por favor,” I said with my head down. A moment please.

It was hard saying goodbye. Staring at my feet, I tried to compose myself. I reflected upon the last handful of days. These people had nothing, but gave their everything. They chiseled holes in cinder blocks, mixed cement, and carried heavy buckets of sand with us. But they also, sang, danced, and laughed with us. They put forth their best effort and, most importantly, their friendship. By week’s end, our newly-formed Minnesota family believed it had become part of a Guatemalan one, too.

Eventually, I gathered myself. I slowly lifted my head. I faced Diego, Estela, Eva Tomasa, Isaías and Jaime (the masons), Manuel, María, Patricia, and Rudy, and thanked them for the kindness they had shown us. I also expressed my hopes to return someday to visit them in their new house. They circled me when I was done. We all exchanged handshakes, hugs, as well as kisses on the cheek.

On my way back to the van, I noticed something in the corner of my eye. Rudy was waving me over to the decrepit, smoky shack his family had been living in for so many years. He said his mother wanted to see me. Following his open hand, I squinted into the far corner of the house. I could barely see María’s silhouette in front of a wooden table. It appeared as if she was preparing something. Suddenly, she turned around and began walking toward me; her stout figure more visible with every step. When she finally emerged from the darkness, she was sporting the ear-to-ear grin I had grown accustomed to during the week. In her hands was a bowl of fruit. She handed it to me.

“Gracias por todo,” she said with a teary smile. Thanks for everything.

I was too choked up to talk. The only thing I could do was give her a huge embrace before I sadly exited her home.

Constantly replaying this moment in my mind, I wept on the way back to the hotel. I gazed at the bowl of fruit, truly struck by María’s generosity.

Turned out this assortment of bananas, strawberries, and oranges was the reason she had disappeared earlier in the day. Putting her hectic household duties aside, she made a special trip to buy this gift for my team — even though she hardly had the money, if any, to spare. A bowl of fruit may not have seemed like much for some people, but it meant the world to me.

Having been on a few Habitat International trips, I’ve noticed a recurring result. Teams go with the purpose of building houses, but construction isn’t all that happens. Invaluable learning experiences take place and intercultural friendships are formed. Everlasting memories are created as well. And even the smallest gestures, like an offering of fruit, can leave the deepest impressions.

* For more information on how to join a Habitat for Humanity International Global Village trip visit their website here.


Tyrel Nelson has spent much of the past decade exploring Latin America. Documenting his experiences along the way, he published his first book, “Stories from Ecuador: A Collection by Tyrel Nelson,” in 2009. He currently works in St. Paul, Minnesota, coordinating tutors and mentors for a public secondary school.

“Stories from Ecuador: A Collection by Tyrel Nelson” can be found on Amazon or Barnes & Noble:


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