It was October 2005, in a historic and folkloric town of El Carmen in Chincha, Perú; the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture where I was getting baptized in the Spanish language in just another one of my bold attempt at Spanish fluency. I was staying with a well-known, musical family, the Ballumbrosio family, where the father, the late, great Maestro Amador Ballumbrosio, played a key role in bringing back to life Afro-Peruvian music and dance, which are now national treasures. One warm evening, I was alone in their living room working on my laptop, when a thrilled three-year-old drifted in from next door. I didn't know if she was lost, or what. I tried to shoo her away by bribing her with some of my sugarless candy from Walgreens. As she so eagerly accepted the candy; as she so sweetly told me her name, Daniela, I was suddenly struck by strong feelings of attachment. There was something about her spirit that said she simply wanted to be loved. From that moment, Daniela held a special very place deep in my heart.
I was staying with a well-known, musical family of the late, great Don Amador Ballumbrosio who played a key role in bringing back to life Afro-Peruvian music and dance.
Like every good vacation, this one, all to quickly, snapped to a close. As I began to roll my luggage down the rocky road to catch the next thing smoking out of El Carmen, I noticed Daniela, sitting on the curb in her bright rose-colored dress following me with her eyes. I dashed over to give her my last hug and a kiss goodbye. Little Daniela became my little taste of joy.
Daniela, now 7, going to school with her next-door neighbor Alma, the granddaugher of the late-great Don Amador Ballumbrosio. Alma can "PLAY" some soccer!
I planned on returning to this friendly and neighborly town of El Carmen de Chincha, Perú the next year on vacation; instead I wound up in Kaiser Hospital on my death bed with a killer infection in my arm and chest. The surgeons, in their best beside manner, told me that my number may be up. Like a video screen, precious memories of my life flashed before my very eyes. I even thought about Daniela as I last saw her sitting on the curb in her bright, rose-colored dress. The Kaiser Hospital medical staff was ecstatic and astonished that I came out of surgery alive and in one piece. A year passed before I got off disability. Another year passed before I found a job where I've never been happier. In fact, during the interview, I got little beside myself rejoicing when I learned that this company offers 30 days of vacation per year. I started planning my trip back to El Carmen de Chincha, Perú to get that thrill of being thrust into a new language and culture.
Daniel (left) and her cousin Yomira
I was so thrilled that I began making calls to people in Perú, especially to Daniela. Hola, Daniela, es Guillermo ¿me recuerdas (Hi, Daniela, it's Bill. Remember me)? Sí, cuando viene (yeah, when u comin')?. Lo mas pronto posible, nena, porque tu eres mi sobrina/as soon as I can, baby, because I've got to see my niece. ¿Puedo ser tu hija (can I be your daughter)? Can she be my daughter? That question stuck in my mind and heart like glue as I recall the void I felt, as a child, not having my mother around. It was so easy for me to slip into Daniela's tiny, little shoes who doesn't have her father around? What a divine delight for me to refer to Daniela as mija/my daughter. Abrazos, mija (hugs, my daughter)! Abrazos a tí tambien. ¿cuando viene? (Hugs to you too, now u comin')? Lo mas pronto possible (as soon as I possible) was the best answer I could give while gathering the vacation hours to make this trip.
My gifts were no match for the father-daughter relationship that I felt Daniela deserved.
This time, it was November 2009, when I stepped, once again, into the home of Peru's famous Ballumbrosio family. They greeted me, showed me my room, and sat me down to chat, when suddenly, like jack-in-the-box I popped up stating, yo quiero ver a mi mija (I want to see my daughter). I went next door, Daniela, now seven, came towards me with her bright eyes and sunny smile, calling my name-Guillermo. It was bonding time. I even brought gifts, but my gifts were no match for the vital gift of a father/daughter relationship. I had a taste of joy reading storybooks to Daniela. I had a taste of joy teaching Daniela to tell time. I had a taste of joy taking Daniela and her little friends out for ice cream and chicken dinners; to parks and playgrounds hearing them scream with excitement; seeing them pleased as punch. Those simple, memorable words of my co-worker, "children are a joy," went from my head to my heart.
Catching a bus back to Lima where I will catch my flight out of Perú
Like all good vacations, this one, all too quickly, snapped to a close. I said my hearty good-byes to the men, women, and children I met in El Carmen de Chincha, Perú, vowing to come again in 2010. But to Daniela, I said to her what I've been saying every day during my stay, and what I still tell her today; yo te amo mija. My daughter, I love you. Daniela is a taste of joy.