Day 4 -7am
I am sitting outside my room and before we leave for El Crucero at 8, I thought I’d write some practical observations since Vince has asked about these…..
I am lucky to be staying in one of the two small “suites”. Sr. Debbie thought it best since I am up late blogging each night and didn’t want to keep the others awake in the dorm room. This small room is cozy and has a private bathroom. The floors are tiled and clean when we arrive. Within a few hours of being here, and after leaving the windows open to feel the cool breeze, the floors and everything else are covered in a thin layer of dust. It’s a dusty country.
My suite is on the left
The water in the shower is not hot, not even warm. That’s just the way it is and you get used to it. So showers are bracing and I do a little dance in there each morning trying to allow the water to run over my body but not get too wet at the same time. It’s a skill, you learn it here.
My mattress is like all others here, about 6 inches of foam covered by clean and pressed sheets. There is a woman who takes care of all the cleaning and supplies for us and she does a good job. I feel welcome. Come on in Gringo White Lady, buenas tardes!
My visitor last night
There was a big black flat spider on the wall last night when I got into my room. I didn’t want to squish him – although Sr. Debbie surely would have – so I tried to swipe him out the door with my magazine. I’m not sure if he made it outside but I couldn’t see him anywhere and went to sleep hoping that I wasn’t going to wake up with him on my face looking at me for breakfast.
The breeze is cool this morning as I sit outside my room and type. When I first walked out today, Debbie and Kathy were standing outside on the veranda watching birds. STOP! Debbie said in that commanding nun voice that she has and so I did. “There! On the branch is a guarda barranco! Don’t Move!” Of course I moved anyway and he flew away but not before I could see his 8 inch scissored tail and his brightly colored blue body. This bird is the national bird of Nicaragua and very beautiful. Not so rare but this is only the second time I’ve seen one here. They live in small dirt holes on the sides of hills and roads.
There are all types of other birds here and Sr. Debbie rattled off very excitedly the several she had seen today; blue parakeets, a guisse, an oriole like bird and a few others. Sr. Debbie (who is in the room next to mine) just loves birds and takes some amazing photos. She is a bird magnet.
Nicaragua Blue Jay
Many of the birds are very noisy and the constant bird sounds – chirps, long tweets, whistles – are always with you. It’s a nice sound, each distinct, many long and involved. It’s almost like they are talking to you. But I don’t speak Spanish so I don’t know what they are saying to me. So I just say “hola, thank them for visiting and wish them a happy day of fruit and seeds and worms.
The sun is shining brightly, the sound of cars, birds and dogs ever present but distant. It’s a beautiful day in the Nica neighborhood.
I’m going to take more pictures for Vince since he asked me to take them of my surroundings. Then we are off to El Crucero.
I declined to go on the trip to visit some of the poor barrios. I needed space, I needed time and I needed to think.
The El Crucero trip went very well.
Me and Allison
Although there were only about 12 children there, I finally saw my Allison after almost 2 years, she is 8 now. She has grown taller and still has her beautiful smile and bubbly personality.
Hugging my girl
Madre says she is an excellent student (no surprise, her intelligence is apparent) and although “hyper” (which is the same as bubbly in my book), she is a happy child. Her mother comes into her life at times periodically which is not a positive event but luckily it is infrequent. Her mother is poor and ignorant and I don’t believe has Allison’s best interests at heart. While she may love her, she is not good for her. Her needs come before Allison and I am always afraid that she will stifle Allison’s intelligence and joie de vivre. Madre told me that when they do send Allison home to visit, they send her with her best clothes but they never come back with her. Madre said that Haydelina (Allison’s mother) had been seen wearing them, stretched to fit on her adult body.
The first child who ran to me was Ashley Maria. I remembered her name and although she is taller I easily recognized her as I know her and her 3 siblings here for the past 5 years. These children have a heartbreaking history and again, a mother who is not good for them. The nuns do what they can to protect them and limit contact.
Allison, Ashley and me
Saying hello to Ashley
Ashley wrapped herself around me and we walked like conjoined twins into the building where I was greeted by several other children I knew plus some that I did not. Madre Griselda came to me with her big crinkly-eyed smile and gave me a big hug. She seemed genuinely happy to see me and I her.
I asked for the other children and this was when Allison came running and blasted into my arms. Since Ashley still hadn’t let go, I felt like a Child Tree with the two of them as the branches. Chaos as other children came running over, everyone talking and touching me, many smiling faces that I remembered by name which really seemed to please them.
I saw Joseph and Josue both much bigger little boys now, Kenneth with his green glasses, Carlos with his lopsided smile and a scrape on his nose, Alexis, another of the puppy dog boys and Veronica, one of the older girls. There were several that I didn’t know but they were just as free with their hugs. They seemed to crave the loving embrace and I was happy to give it to them.
We gathered our group (we were 7 people today) and went inside with the children for the giving of the presents, the official opening act. As Kathy, Olympia and I spread out the gifts, the children waited until told before choosing something.
Kids love presents
Some of the children had special gifts from their sponsors which I gave out and took pictures of to bring home with me. And too my surprise, Spanish starting coming out of my mouth. Maybe it was divine intervention but somehow I was able to tell the children we had presents from their sponsors, talk to them a little about themselves and in general communicate with them without a translator.
Kenneth blowing up a balloon
This was wonderful for me as it’s always a big frustration so this was better than usual.
Dave and Carlos
The children went off to play with their presents and most of the group with them. It was the first time for some of them and a particularly windy and cool day and I hoped they wouldn’t be blown away, both actually and figuratively. There was another group visiting, which seems to be common here, of young American nursing students who were playing basketball with older children from the village. Our group melded in with theirs and I left them to it.
Suzanne, Kathy and Allison
Kathy, Dave and Susanne also did me a huge favor by taking the “official” photos of each of the children that I want for their sponsors. Not always an easy job – think of herding cats that speak Spanish – but they got the job done and I was most grateful.
Kathy, Olympia and I met with Madre in the small dark office where we have met so many times before. A few raggedy chairs and Madre’s desk are about all there is. Sufficient for our needs but I wish I could make it less gloomy although it probably doesn’t phase Madre at all. We talked about the children, several in particular. Updates were difficult as there is good news such as the children being excellent students (Allison, Nayleth, Mileydis), there is more bad as she told us of their family situations which seemed to do more harm than good. One in particular was so dire, I am still trying to figure out what to do about it. This young girl, who I will not name, is so smart and so vibrant has a prostitute for a mother. The mother wanted the girl, who is now 14, to come with her to “meet” her “friends”. Obvious red flags went up and Madre spirited the girl away to another facility but she can’t hide her forever, she must return to school. I am so worried about this child, she is one of my favorites and we must do something.
Alexis doing a puzzle
Madre also told me that she knows of a family of 8 children, ages 5 – 10 with a set of 7 year old twins, who live with their grandfather in dire poverty. Even she seemed frantic about their situation as she said they have absolutely nothing and they are not going to school. She wants to go to the home – although it is not a home, it is a hut in a patch of dirt – and take the children to the orphanage. To do this, she needs a family member to sign off. I wholeheartedly asked if I could help in anyway and as I type, I am waiting to hear. She said she would contact Mauricio directly and let me know.
This influx of 8 more children will swell the numbers at El Crucero. This is the case in San Fernando as well as more children are coming in.
Kathy playing with the children
I will receive (hopefully) the reports in February letting me know who has officially returned after vacation and who has not and also will include these new children. We will need more sponsors.
Talking about OHP U
After our meeting, we met with the 4 older girls to talk about OHP U. I knew three of the four and one of them was another of my favorites, Katherine. She is only 14 but I wanted her to hear what I had to say about school. She too has had a heartbreaking history and struggles with the aftermath. She has been close to making some bad choices with men already but the sisters have been able to stop her from doing this for now but it will not always be this way. I so hope that she discovers her self-worth which has been lost in her childhood and finds a way to a healthy adult life. The chances are slim and I know it. It breaks my heart. When I asked Katherine what she wanted to do, she told me she wants to sing.
Katherine and me again!
The girls were open and eager to listen and the conversation went well. Of the 4, two are already graduated high school and applying to UPOLI, a college in Managua. Entrance exams are later this month so I will follow up with Madre to bring them into the program.
More OHP U Talk
We toured the facility to get a list of repair jobs needed, not as bad as San Fernando but we made a list and took pictures. I left Dave, Chico and the others to do this with Madre and walked around a bit by myself.
I was really pleased to see a computer room that is being set up in a separate building behind well secured, iron-barred windows. Although they won’t have internet (it is not possible with the winds and high elevation here), they will have computers to learn on. This was a big dream of mine and my dear friend Syed for the last 5 years. I plan to talk to him about how we can improve this experience for them as I know he will have wonderful, brilliant ideas – he always does. My friend Syed has such a big heart.
Me and Katherine
At one point, Katherine came up to Olympia and whispered something in her ear that she wanted to tell me. I was surprised when it turned out that she wanted to know if she could have my suitcase that I had brought the presents up in. Without hesitation, I said yes and the big big smile on Katherine’s face was wonderful. Before I knew it, she had taken the suitcase, put her presents in it and was happily wheeling it away.
It was time to leave and many hugs and kisses later, I made my way to the waiting van. Some of the girls were finishing up letters to their sponsors and as I waited for them, I heard the impatient honk of the truck. I heard a “Barbara hurry up!” shout as well. This really bothered me as we had only been there for 2 hours and there was nothing pressing that couldn’t wait another 15 minutes on our schedule. I had a total of 2 hours in El Crucero and 2 hours in San Fernando. 4 hours with my children is not a lot of time. People just don’t realize that I am only here once a year AND THIS IS WHY I COME HERE. I don’t rush anyone else and I am frustrated (and angry) when I am rushed. Next time, I will do this differently.
Me and my kids at El Crucero
Back at the compound, the others left for a barrio trip but I declined and stayed back. I needed to de-compress and to get ready to meet with Johanna later in the day. I de-compress by writing this blog. It is a place to “put” my emotions. And there were many.
I was also able to Skype with Vince. I felt much better after this as it’s his strength and support that are integral to my being here. Seeing him and Gwenna too, made me feel much better. I miss him and our puppies a great deal. I also Skyped with at least one of my girls, Alix. It was good to talk to her as well and to see Ian and Brendan my grandsons. While Brendan didn’t say much, he’s only 4 months old, it did my heart good to see how he’s grown in 3 weeks time already. And of course when my darling Ian said “Baba (that’s his name for me) come my house?” I almost lost my schnizel but I felt recharged and grounded.
Chico returned at 3 to drive me to Managua. With my halting Spanish, we discussed children, dogs and marriage. It was pretty comical.
Chico dropped me off in front of the Juan Pablo II Foundation headed by Johanna and Guillermo Pedroni. I had met Johanna on my last visit and we really bonded right away. An intelligent compassionate woman with drive and dedication AND who spoke English, we have been communicating by email for over a year. My goal was to talk to her about OHP U Trade Skill training but the conversation took a sharp right turn that I am still processing.
I arrived before she did so sat waiting in the lobby of the clinic. Momentarily I thought about the fact that if for some reason she didn’t show up, I had no ride, no phone, not much Spanish and was in the middle of downtown Managua. But then I said hey, I’ll just deal with it.
Johanna and her husband Guillermo, who I had not met before, came in and after heartfelt greetings, were pleased to show me the progress on their clinic. It is a fully functioning clinic with pediatric, maternal, physical therapy, psychological and dental services provided to the poor women and children of the city. Much of the equipment – hospital beds, machines, exam tables and the dental chairs – were provided by the Mission of Hope as they told me repeatedly. She kept telling me “We love the Mission of Hope!”.
We returned to her office to talk and I explained to both of them what I was trying to do. But before we could get to the trade skill discussion, they both told me emphatically that it was more important that the girls learn English than any other further education or training. Full stop. So how was I to accomplish this – I can’t “make” the girls do anything….so we talked about the challenges and I am still trying to wrap my mind around a solution. Johanna also said that in her years of dealing with the poor women of Nicaragua, she is often frustrated by their lack of drive or determination. She explains this is a product of the communist/socialist government who say they will provide all needs but in reality they don’t. But the women have been taught to expect this and therefore, don’t feel they need to help themselves, it will be done for them.
In my meetings with the older girls earlier, I stressed this to them – they must help themselves, no one would do it for them. I wondered now how they took that statement. No one questioned it but I am worried that they don’t comprehend it.
Another issue is self esteem. Poor women have less than non-poor women and this too is part of the challenge. How do you teach a woman she has value if she has been told she does not? While Johanna deals with this for every woman they try to help, I am not ready to believe that my girls are beyond changing. The loves of the nuns, a secure environment and education have to count for something.
We talked and talked and before we knew had to leave to meet the rest of the group at Johanna’s lovely restaurant, La Piazzerria. We continued our discussion in the car, her riding in the back with me so we could talk more easily. Guillermo drives like a crazy Italian person (Johanna’s words, not mine) and we both were bumping and bouncing in the seat.
Dinner with Johanna at La Piazzerria
We met the others and had a really nice meal with everyone finally relaxing and enjoying the service and food. Johanna ate with us and it was a real pleasure to have her as she is gregarious and talkative – soon everyone was laughing and relaxed. At the end of the meal, I asked Sr. Debbie to tell everyone her mouse on the windshield story which reduced everyone to a paroxysm of laughter; I had tears streaming from my eyes from laughing. It felt good – and was good – for us all.