Facing Insurmountable Odds: The Papalo Cure - part 1




Maria peered again at the bus timetable, the ink smudged somewhat by the damp, tight grip of her perspiring hands.  She had been staring at it intently for the last hour of the car ride, willing the numbers to be different from how they appeared.

Against seemingly insurmountable odds, she was going to make that bus!  She had known it was a long shot when she paid her bus fare.  But she was determined all would work out.  She HAD to make that bus.

Maria had been busy weeding between the rows of her vegetables when the phone rang. Hot and dirty, she had taken her time answering.  When she did, she was surprised to hear the voice of her abuela.

"Maria, como estas?"  Her grandmother greeted her in Spanish, then switched to English. She had lived in South Dakota for so long that her second language came to her quite naturally.  Maria had been raised bilingual, so it didn't matter to her what they spoke.

"Thank goodness you answered.  I was starting to panic," her grandmother said.

"Why Grandma - what is wrong?"  Maria could tell her grandmother was really upset.

"It's your Grandpa.  His stomach pains are worse, and his skin is yellow.  The doctor says it is his liver.  You do still have Papalo growing along the edge of your garden, don't you?"

"Of course Grandma, I wouldn't dream of being the first generation inn centuries to let it die out.  But what about Grandpa?"  Maria felt impatient. Her grandmother had shared news of her grandfather being ill, and now she wanted to chat about an ancient herb.

"The papalo is why I am calling.  Your grandpa is convinced it will get him well, and that without it nothing the doctors do will help him.  They want to operate in a few days, and he is refusing to have surgery without first having some papalo.  When he was a boy, his mother used to tell him all about the medicinal properties of papalo.  Like us, she would put it on sandwiches - cemitas.  But her mother ate papalo every day when she had liver problems, and then lived another 20 years. Your grandpa is convinced it will help him in the same way."

Maria was starting to catch on.  "But there isn't any papalo in South Dakota.  And you want me to bring Grandpa some."

Her grandmother confirmed this.  They both knew the herb was indigenous to Mexico, Central and South America, and lower parts of the United States.  The only way her grandpa was going to have some was if Maria brought it to him.  It would take too long by mail, and it would need to be kept cool so it was fresh on arrival.  Maria realized there would also be an issue if she was caught bringing a live plant into the United States.  She didn't have enough money for plane fare, so she would have to travel by bus.

"Okay Grandma.  I will call you when I know the bus schedule."

Maria booked her bus ticket as soon as she got off the phone. There was only one bus that day, and the bus station was three hours away, on the American side of the border.  A friend drove her to the bus station, and they would have had enough time, except for the car trouble.  Fortunately a helpful guy was able to fixed the car, but it took awhile.  Then, when they were less than an hour from the border, her friend realized he must have dropped his passport at the gas station.  He wouldn't be able to cross the border.  They decided he would still drop her on the Mexican side,and she could walk across.  This was generous of him, considering how he needed to get back and find his passport.  Maria had learned the distance between Customs and the bus station was about a half a mile. 

Nearly as soon as the car stopped, Maria jumped out and ran to the end of the line of people walking into the United States.  She tried to appear calm - the last thing she needed was for a customs officer to search through her bag and find the papalo hidden in the lining!  She explained she was entering the US to visit a sick relative, and then finally she was through Customs.  The bus was scheduled to leave in just a few minutes.


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