Hearts at Work

A Column by Jim Tipton

“Charmed back to a forgotten World”


pericosSome years back while I was wandering around Peru, early one early morning I stepped onto a bus and began a journey down the coast. As the bus maneuvered south through the grey city of Lima, made even greyer by the fog that wrapped around the city like a sad skirt, I looked toward the ocean and toward what seemed to be miles of drab, one-room concrete houses standing side by side, near the grey beach, homes built by the Peruvian government to house some of the poor.

A sewage ditch ran between the houses and the highway. I watched fascinated as hundreds of young women flowed out from those grey doorways.  It was time to catch the buses that would take them to el centro, to downtown Lima, to their jobs as secretaries and receptionists, sales clerks and assistants, where they often earned less than $50 a week.  They were dressed fashionably, elegantly even, in stylish skirts and colorful blouses, with hair groomed perfectly, as if they were headed to tea with the king. 

They held tightly to their clean high-heeled shoes as they carefully stepped bare-footed over that sewage trench to climb up to the highway and the waiting buses.  They carried themselves as if they were young upper-class women stepping out of their homes in Miraflores to head toward some secret rendezvous or simply to meet each other for coffee at some fashionable city café. 

I had done a lot of volunteer work with a community library in western Colorado, and one of our commitments was a literacy project: teaching people to read.  Regularly I delivered brochures about literacy programs to the local welfare office where I would study the young women, generally obese, slouched in their chairs, often smoking, impatient with a dirty infant or two, waiting for their government checks—which of course were many times larger than the checks those poor Peruvian women were receiving each week for their many hours of conscientious work. 

What a contrast to those poor young Peruvian women!  

Here in Mexico young women often model themselves after the stylish women in the fashion magazines. They appear in public wearing lovely jeans, embroidered and bejeweled, topped with blouses or shirts carefully selected. They are invariably clean, and their hair is almost always well groomed.  Much of the clothing these women purchase is used clothing in good condition brought in in giant bales from the United States…things tossed away by Americans, often after a single use. 

A few years ago a dear (and beautiful) Colombian friend was visiting me in Colorado.  Gloria was struck by how no one in the US dressed up to go shopping, or to work, or to church, or to restaurants, or to parties.  Gloria’s culture still believes that one does not leave the house without “looking good.”  

A dear old friend, Kermit Turley (who passed away a few months ago), was putting together a dinner party (“come as you are”) for Gloria and me and for several other couples. I mentioned to Kermit that Gloria was frustrated that she had not been able to wear her stylish black cocktail party dress and her black high heels with cords that coiled in lovely fashion around her shapely calves.  Kermit said, “Let’s all dress up like the old days” (meaning for Kermit and most of us here at Lakeside the days that ended around the mid-sixties in the United States).  Well, we all did just that.  We all “dressed up like the old days.”

That night we looked at each other through renewed eyes, and sweet Gloria, whose every gesture was filled with some ancient feminine strength, smiled at us through her own dark Colombian eyes.  She was fully aware of the powerful sensuality that lurks just inside of grace and elegance, and that evening she charmed all of us back to a forgotten world.

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