Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 8, 2016

From complete stranger to mother

By Steph Tahtinen

By STEPH TAHTINEN

Mt. Pleasant News

As I was trying to figure out what I was going to write about for this week’s column, my mind immediately went to Mother’s Day. However, after being told by my intended subject that she did not want to be featured in my column, I had to come up with something different.

So then I started to think about Mother’s Day itself, and I came to the conclusion that it is ridiculous to only celebrate one person on this day. I know that in my life I have had several women who have either played a mothering role in my life or had a significant impact on the person I have become – grandmothers, aunts, my sister, teachers, friends.

As I was thinking about this, my mind conjured up the image of a Peruvian woman who was my mom for a month when I was far away from home and outside of my comfort zone. She helped me realize that even though you may be strangers from opposite hemispheres who speak different languages, you can still be family.

I met Marita shortly after arriving in Cusco, Peru for a month-long study abroad program the summer after my freshman year of college. I was standing in the courtyard of the Spanish-immersion school I was attending while the school director called off our names from a list to pair us up with our host families. One of my classmates compared the experience to an auction at an orphanage.

Marita ran out of the crowd and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek– a custom I wasn’t used to. She then took hold of my hand and I waved goodbye to my traveling companions as she whisked me off to the crowded city streets. I momentarily thought how strange it was that I was getting into a car with a stranger – something my own mother had warned me about since I was three.

Marita would not be a stranger for long, though, and she quickly became an overprotective mother, much to the amusement of my friends.

My first week in Cusco whenever I was in public with Marita she was holding my hand. I’m not sure if she thought I would wonder off or get lost, but I was fairly confident that at 19 years old I could walk down the street by myself. My friends all teased me about it, though, and when the family’s dog started following me to the park every morning where I met them to catch a cab to school, they joked that Marita must have sent him along to keep an eye on me.

One night I had a bit of a flu bug, and when Marita found out the next morning that I had been sick, she was convinced that I must be lactose intolerant because of the cheese on the lasagna I had eaten the night before. It then became a house rule that Stephanie was not allowed to have any dairy. I was even denied a piece of my host sister’s birthday cake because there was dairy in it. Instead, I was served a small dish of Jell-O.

Although Marita’s over-protectiveness may have been a bit smothering at times and it was definitely comical – I remember her sending somebody running down the street one day to fetch my professor when I commented that it was harder to breathe in the high altitude; she was convinced I was going to die or something – I really appreciated the love and support she gave me.

She took her role as my mother seriously. I didn’t have much of an appetite because of altitude sickness, but yet she kept trying to force food on me to make sure I was well fed. She once voiced a concern that if I didn’t eat I would go back home all wasted away and skinny and my mom would think that Marita was a horrible mother.

In reality, Marita was a wonderful mother, and she helped make the slightly terrifying experience of living in a foreign country one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. And although I have not spoken to her in years, I know that this Mother’s Day, I’ll be thinking of her and picturing her down in Cusco, holding another adult’s hand as they cross the street.