After a long debilitating illness, my dear friend, Hope Cassiday, died this third week in March 2020. There will be no service for a while because of a pandemic sweeping across the country. But when there is a service, it will be huge because Hope more than lived up to her name. She touched so many lives, serving brain-injured people in her own community, and raising funds to meet urgent health and education needs through a Simple Supper fundraiser she founded. Simple Supper survives to this day.
As I think about Hope, I am suddenly reminded of another March day, in 2006. A fierce wind, bare trees, dust swirls and scruffy pale grass greeted Marcia Benfica and her five-year-old son, Ruy when they arrived in Colorado, invited by Hope to speak at the Simple Supper fundraiser in Greeley.
I came to know Marcia when I was in Mozambique. I was a failure when she tried to teach me Portuguese, but we became good friends, translating African folk tales into English. She took me to a Mozambican wedding where I was the only white person. We laughed when one of her friends asked her why, since I was American and no doubt wealthy, wasn’t I better dressed?
Marcia is African, but firmly planted in three worlds: rural Mozambique where she grew up, Maputo, the capital of her country where she attended university and earned a degree in languages, and in Lansing, Michigan where she cleaned motel rooms, became proficient in English, and gave birth to her son while her husband earned a graduate degree in 2000. In 2005 they returned to Michigan so that her husband could complete his PhD.
Meanwhile, Hope had committed the Simple Supper funds raised in 2006 to help in completing a kindergarten in Mozambique. I realized that Marcia would be the perfect spokesperson to add authenticity to the project.
“Of course, I’ll come,” she said. “But what is this fundraising—what does it mean?”
I was thrilled and told her that if she would speak about the importance of education to Mozambicans and the extreme shortage of kindergartens in her country, that would be enough.
She spoke so eloquently that no one at the Simple Supper could have questioned the need or her sincerity. Nearly $7,000 was raised in a single night and the dollars continued to trickle in later, making the goal of $8,000 a reality.
Despite fickle March weather, Marcia and Ruy had a week to remember in Colorado. They visited Rocky Mountain National Park, the capitol in Denver, took a tour of Cheyenne, saw a puppet show, and went to a pizza birthday party.
“Oh no, its too cold,” Marcia pleaded when I suggested a late night dip in my hot tub.
“Just try it,” I insisted.”
Little Ruy slipped in clutching his inflatable crocodile and Marcia followed, gingerly at first.
“Soft water,” Ruy said, swishing his hands across the bubbling surface. Sinking into the deliciously warm water became a nightly ritual for the rest of the week.
Marcia went back to Michigan with a collection of recipes, measuring cups and spoons, and Ruy went home with a couple of books, a few marbles and a collection of dinosaurs given to him by new friends who learned that he loved them.
When they departed, there were only tiny buds on the trees, no leaves but small sprouts of green were emerging from the winter-brown grass. A cold wind blew but Spring was around the corner.
Back in Mozambique, fall, the dry season was on its way. By winter, a new school would be complete and would soon be filled with small children taking their first steps into a wider world.
When Marcia goes back home, she will visit the school and tell them about Hope and a windblown week she spent in Colorado.