Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Courage In The Streets

Written by Karen.
The sun wasn't going to be denied by the shade of the purple jacaranda tree much longer.  It fully intended - as it did every day by 10:00 a.m. - to reclaim the entire community plaza with its unrelenting heat and bright sunlight. 

I moved two feet closer towards the still cool concrete steps of the outdoor pavilion as I waited for my Zumba instructor, Fabiola, to gather her things.  My mind drifted off as I gulped down my lukewarm bottled water and tried to regain my breath.  Despite not having any mirrors around, I knew that a full hour of fast-paced Zumba dance moves had left me breathless and blotchy red from the physical exertion. 

I had stumbled on this outdoor morning Zumba class on our third day in Puerto Vallarta, and had fallen hard for the Latin-based dance moves and physical exercise, the great music, the freedom of being outside with no mirrors, and, the interesting mixture of locals and ex-pats that comprised the class.  I loved the entire package.  

After several weeks of trying to learn the salsa-based Zumba dance routines, I was keen to start at the beginning and really learn the dance basics - first things first.  

"Ready?", Fabi asked. I nodded.  We crossed the plaza, trying to stay in the remaining bits of shade as we headed down the sidewalk towards my rented apartment just down the street.  It was only about a five minute walk.  

We casually chatted in Spanish and English about our recent Zumba class.  I asked how long Fabi had been teaching Zumba classes.  Fabi's tone suddenly changed and she slowed down and pointed to her ankle and upper arm. For a few moments, I simply didn't understand.  The transition was too quick.  The words she uttered were too damning.  

I had heard that something had happened to Fabi a little over a year ago from some of my Zumba classmates.  No one had communicated all of the details, but the stories that I previously heard from my classmates were almost unbelievable.  In broad daylight, Fabi and her young son had just gotten off the bus when some indiscriminate street violence punctuated with grenades and machine gun fire broke out along the neighborhood streets.  In fact, it all happened only a few blocks away from where we were now standing.  And, it always seems that indiscriminate and senseless violence catches the innocent in its crosshairs and crossfire.  Fabi and her young son were included on that tragic list of innocents about a year ago.  

Fabi continued to tell her story, stopping from time to time to make sure that I was following along.  I repeated back the horror to her in shocked disbelief.  Fabi and her young son took a lot of flying shrapnel and random bullets that day.  They were both seriously injured and stayed in the hospital for a long time.  At one point, her doctors had wanted to amputate Fabi's badly damaged foot and arm.  Her son had suffered a serious abdominal wound, and he faced a difficult recovery himself.

In Fabi's mind, amputation wasn't an option for her. How could she dance and teach Zumba for the community if she didn't have her foot and one of her arms anymore?  Fabi then pointed out some of the scars on her body - large, small, deep - that had been caused by flying shrapnel and errant bullets, locating them for me quite matter-of-factly. These scars were now permanently part of her, a part of her personal story.

I thought then what an extremely brave and strong woman she was.  To look at her - without knowing her story - you would never guess that she has fought back to gain her mobility, strength and physical grace in such a short period of time.  She dances and exercises at a very high level now.  Seeing her dance, you see someone with the divinely gifted ability of a professional dancer.

However, when our conversation veered back towards her young son, she lost her matter-of-factness and the emotional horror of that day ominously wrote itself again on her face.  You could hear it in her voice as she spoke in brief sentences.  Thank God.  He is okay now.  He smiles again.  I am okay because my son is okay.  It is a gift from God.  That's all that she said.

She pats her heart with the hand that should not be there any longer and raises it in thankful prayer towards the heavens.  She continues to speak.  I am blessed.  I am grateful.  My son is okay.  It is a gift from God.  

We walk up the steps to my apartment with my head spinning.  Somehow we make the jarring transition to learning dance moves in the combination kitchen/living room during a private lesson that I asked Fabi to give me earlier in the week, before I came to discover her story.  I am more determined than ever now to learn these dance steps.  I can only be inspired and motivated by Fabi's strength, grit and determination to overcome her injuries.  

Fabi starts the Mexican pop and salsa songs on her mp3 player and we go over and over the same steps, again and again. Her smiles fill the room with encouragement as she turns to start the dance routine once again after she coaches me along. We dance and laugh and try again to bring me up to speed doing dance steps that seemingly defy the culture that I come from.  

I often think about Fabi and her inspirational story.  Especially when I think about taking the easy way out and not doing my morning exercise routine on a particular day.  I remember how Fabi just loves to dance.  How she smiles from ear to ear when she teaches Zumba.  How grateful she is to have her son recover from his serious injuries.  How hard she had to work to get to dance and teach Zumba once again.  How happy she is to be doing what she loves to do.  How she's not seemingly bitter at the random violence that nearly derailed her life plans.  That she and her son get a second chance is all that matters to her.  

I think about these things and find myself rolling out of bed a bit more eager to give morning exercise another go.  I am still inspired by Fabi and what you can do when you set your mind to it.  I'm also reminded that you can meet the most amazing and courageous people when you least expect it.

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