I am working with Alcita to help her with this project. It is a fun way for us to spend time together and it has always been a pleasure to listen to her stories. This second post continues the first story we included for this ongoing project.
Just a small note: I actually made a flan following the recipe included in this episode. We served it to some new friends and it was a hit. Ok, if I can do this, so can you. Read and then give the recipe a try. As always, your feedback is the greatest joy for us both – especially Alcita.
Let me refresh your memory. I received a very important letter, an answer to a specific prayer, and went to wait for Donald, my oldest son, in front of the company where he worked. I was excited to share the news with him. We were returning home and my thoughts drifted to the past, when we were praying for a house, and Donald, four years old then, showed his faith by planting an avocado seed to take to our new house. Here we go.
The wait continued. Everyday, on my way to teach English to the women, I’d drive my Beetle beside Bela Vista, the neighborhood Usiminas was constructing. It covered two hills and a valley in between. I’d look at the many houses without roofs. Workers, like ants, kept busy going up and down in their labor. A few days later, I’d see young trees planted by the sidewalks. Every time I passed there, I’d pray, “Please, Lord, reserve one of these houses for me. You know my needs. You are the owner of all the riches of this world. Everything belongs to you and not to humankind. The earth, and the good things that are on it, belongs to you and they exist for us to use them and take care of them. Make it possible for me to live in one of those houses and call it mine. Only you, God, can turn this dream into reality.”
The following year, after the Carnaval, the big boss, Mr. Coelho, made an opening day speech at the school. Besides other subjects, he said, “I am very happy to announce that for the first time in the history of St. Francis, the teachers who don’t own a house can sign up to buy one. You will compete with the hospital and Usiminas employees. Your time in the company, level of income, and number of children are going to be taken into consideration.”
He kept talking and my thoughts drifted into prayer. ‘You see, Lord, the longer the worker has been with the company the more preference she or he has. This is my first day on the job. The higher the income, the better their chances are. I am starting with just a few classes; therefore, I’m going to be making little money. Some workers have many children. I have only two. It is not humanly possible for me to buy a house. Nevertheless, I believe in Scripture. For there is nothing God cannot do. You can change this situation.
Working at St. Francis meant passing by Bela Vista even more frequently than before. The red tile roofs of the new houses glowed in the sun. The smell of the paint on the walls and of the hot asphalt spread on the streets would reach my nostrils. An army of workers kept busy everywhere. With wide-open eyes, and paying attention to the traffic, I would pray, “I believe that you have reserved one of those houses for me. This neighborhood belongs to you and not to Usiminas. According to your will, permit me to have one of them.”
One morning, my husband called me excitedly.
“Alcita, come here, hurry!” They were announcing on the local TV news that Bela Vista was finished and the houses would soon be distributed among the many departments to allocate to the workers that had been selected.
I called Maria and asked, “Where is your husband’s office? I needed to talk to him.”
“You don’t need to go to Paulo’s office to talk to him. Come here at lunch time.”
“No way, Maria, I don’t want to bother you.”
“You are a friend. I’m going to ask the maid to put one more plate on the table. Come, have lunch with us and talk to Paulo today.”
“Well, if you insist, I will.”
“I’ll be waiting for you then.”
I drove up the winding road that ascended to Castelo, the rich neighborhood for the engineers. This time, not to teach English to the managers’ wives, but to have lunch with one of them. I parked in front of this enormous two-story house, with a second floor balcony that ran the entire length of the building. Four white columns resembling an ancient Greek temple supported it. I could hear the buzz of the bees going from flower to flower in the garden bordering the path as I walked up to the front porch. I could smell the sweet scent of roses. ‘This is a castle, compared to my humble rented house,’ I thought, as I pressed the bell on the front porch. A maid in a blue uniform welcomed me in. She guided me to a spacious living room where Mr. Coelho and Maria waited for me.
After the greetings, Mr. Coelho said, “Alcita. I don’t have much time, so let’s go to the dining room and eat right away.”
We had beef stroganoff, rice, and a mixed salad of lettuce, palm hearts and tomatoes. While we ate a fluffy flan for desert, Mr. Coelho said, “So, Alcita, Maria said you wanted to talk to me. What can I do for you?”
I took a deep breath, while praying in silence, ‘Put the right words in my mouth, God.’ Then I started my small speech, “My husband worked for Usipa Club for 5 years and never had a chance to buy a house from Usiminas because Usipa’s workers are not considered Usiminas’ employees. But, we at least had a house to live in for free. Then they fired him. We had to move away from that house, and pay rent. For more than a year, he was unemployed. I had to make ends meet with what I earned giving private English lessons. Recently, he started teaching at the Methodist School, but as you know, most teachers don’t make enough money. We desperately need to buy a house to stop paying rent.” Mr. Cordeiro had a wrinkle of concentration on his forehead. His attention was only broken for a few seconds when a humming bird entered through the window, flew around the room and left.
I continued, “I heard your inaugural speech the first day of school and noticed that according to what you said, I am not qualified to buy a house. In my opinion, the person who created those rules forgot to take into consideration the workers with the greatest needs. If they had, I would certainly qualify. I know you have the power to make decisions concerning this matter. However, I also know that you have rules to follow. I just wanted a chance to share my situation with you and ask if there is a small possibility for me to get a house this year. If there is not, I understand and will wait for another opportunity. I’m sorry to have bothered you at your lunch hour.”
Mr. Coelho looked at Maria and his expression softened then he turned his gaze and spoke to me.
“Alcita, I understand your problem perfectly and don’t be embarrassed thinking you are bothering me. I would do the same if I were in your situation. I am not going to promise anything, but you came at the right moment. I’m leaving now for a meeting where Bela Vista’s houses are going to be distributed among the many departments, to be allocated to their workers. I’ll see what I can do.”
On my way back, as I drove by Bela Vista, I prayed again, “Lord, I did everything I could. The rest I lift up to you.”
Next morning, the principal of St. Francis’ telephoned, “Alcita, could you come here now, I need to speak to you personally.”
I entered my Beetle and, passing by Bela Vista, I prayed, “God, keep one of those houses for me.”
I kept wondering what urgent subject the principal wanted to discuss with me. Could it be that the daytime English teacher, who had most of the classes, had gone to the hospital to deliver her baby and the principal needed me to substitute for her immediately?
In his office, he beat around the bush in the Brazilian way. Finally, when I was wondering why he was taking so long, he came to the point. “Alcita, yesterday in a meeting where the ownership of the houses in Bela Vista was decided, only two were set aside for the teachers: one for the full-time teachers and one for the part-timers. The one for the full time teachers was chosen by lot and Mr. Medina got it. As for the one for the part timers, Mr. Coelho said it was for you. So, I need to confirm with you if you want that house.”
“Of course I want the house,” I said, my voice choked with emotion. “I’ve been praying for it for more than a year.” Then he showed me the plan of the house, its value, and the down payment. I could barely see or hear him as my thoughts floated above it all. Nothing seemed real, though I was conscious of one thing: I didn’t have the money for the down payment. However, I knew that at the right time, God would give me the resources to come up with it.
“Go to Usiminas’ central office to get your house key. You can move in whenever you are ready. Later, when Usiminas calls you to sign the papers, you must pay the 20% down payment. Congratulations to you on acquiring a brand new house!” He got up, came around his desk and shook my hand.
My eyes flooded with tears as I drove back by Bela Vista. “Thank you, Lord, for guiding me to talk to the right person at the right time. I praise you with all my strength and gratitude. One of those houses is mine. I give you ten thousands thanks!”
That same day, with great excitement, my husband, our two children, my mother-in-law, the maid and I squeezed ourselves into our Beetle and drove through the empty neighborhood. We looked for the address written on the tag attached to the key. We all laughed nervously as we searched for our own, new house.
“Here it is,” my husband said and parked the Beetle.
“Great!” I said, after getting out of the car and taking a quick look. “It couldn’t be better located. I’m so happy that it is on a corner with a big space in front for a garden and a spacious back yard for the boys to play.”
“And we can plant my avocado tree,” Donald said with a big smile.
I kept talking excitedly to myself, “The house’s walls are white and the doors and window sills grey. A brand new house and it belongs to us. Unbelievable!”
Exploding with joy, I put the key in the lock, turned it and opened the door. My heart skipped a beat at what I saw. I yelled, “God answered my prayer in its smallest detail – the vinyl floor!”
We moved the next day and brought with us the avocado plant that had sprouted and was about two feet tall. We called it the Avocado Tree of Faith. My husband dug a hole, and planted it. The ground was hard and dry but with care the plant kept growing. It was a reminder that God is merciful and cares for our needs.
1 can sweet condensed milk (14 oz.)
1 can milk (measured in the same empty can of condensed milk)
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup hot water
Make a caramelized sugar syrup first. Pour the sugar in a saucepan and set it on a medium high burner for 13 minutes. Stir three or four times. When the sugar is completely melted, dark and boiling, remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly pour in the ½ cup of hot water. Stir well. Return the saucepan to the burner and bring it back to a boil. Let it boil and melt for five minutes on medium heat. Set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 260 degree.
Mix the eggs, milk, condensed milk, vanilla, cornstarch and salt for about 20 seconds in a blender.
Use half of the syrup to coat an appropriate flan pan or a 10 in. wide, 2 in. deep glass pie pan. Pour the blended mix into the coated pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the flan becomes light brown.
Remove from the oven, let it cool and pour the left over syrup on top. Cover it with aluminum foil and refrigerate it.