Monday, September 3, 2012 – the rest of the day
Breakfast in Matagalpa
Breakfast outside on the tiled terrace was very nice and we were in the car by 8:45. 45 minutes behind schedule as we knew we had another long day of driving. The time passed relatively quickly as Chase and I worked on the hundreds of pictures that he had taken, choosing the best ones to tell the story. It really is a big help to have someone work with these photos. It’s a very time consuming job and I can use the help. Just like I can use some help when I return home to sort out all of the children and sponsors!
The orphanage at Juigalpa
We arrived in Juigalpa, the other of the two orphanages newly added to the OHP. It was definitely an exercise in extremes. This orphanage was beautiful. Clean, well-tended, new. Did I say NEW? There was nothing broken, a lot of light and brightness, open airy rooms with intact and matching furniture. I couldn’t believe it. So different than any others I had visited. I wish they were all like this. The kitchen alone was a marvel; fully functioning with a stocked refrigerator and freezer and working stove. The chapel, as expected, was the most beautiful room of all. Apparently, the difference here is that this orphanage is supported by the local bishop. What a difference a little positive attention from the church can make.
Kitchen at Juigalpa
We spoke with the Sisters and then they took us on a tour of the girl’s dorms and outside areas. Their Dorms were in an older portion of the facility but were still neat and tidy. The young girls were still in their school uniforms and were happy to show us around. I commented on how nice and neat their rooms were and they smiled. Then they were tripping over each other to show us the rest. I asked if there were any boys and was told no. We found out later that this particular orphanage, with only 12 children, is specially for the girls that are the most troubled or have special psychological issues. That’s why I was stunned to see a young girl that I knew from El Crcuero who had been “missing” for over a year. She had a very troubled and desperate background and I had wondered often at her fate. To find her here was such a wonderful surprise and the big smile on her face told me that she was doing much better.
The Girls at Juigalpa
The children have a pet parrot that is hand-trained. I liked holding him until he decided to take a peck at my cheek and not in a good way. And then there was Scooby Doo. A tiny ugly but cute dog (I know Becky, they are ALL cute!) who was covered in fleas. I noticed them immediately but Chase did not and petted and touched him a bit until he realized that those little black specks were hopping off the dog onto him. The fleas jumped on Chase, then got on Fabricio and my shoes and socks when the dog decided to come near us. The girls and nuns were laughing at us as we all took off our shoes and socks to try to get rid of the pesky buggers. We were itching for hours.
Flea bitten Scooby Doo
Inside to give out gifts and again, we had enough to go around. The littlest one kept following me and looking in the suitcase for a muneca, or doll. I managed to pull one from another child’s bag (a lot of swapping goes on in the chaos to try to make everyone happy) and after that, she was satisfied.
Donde esta mi muneca?
It was brutally hot and humid and we were all sweating profusely. That combined with the flea problem and we were ready to leave. This was an orphanage that was clearly doing fine. What a welcome surprise. We left and got a quick lunch for the car (more Tip Top) and were back on the road around 2pm. Plenty of time to get to El Crucero by 5. Or so we thought. And then the adventure began.
Mud Pits Flats
Buzzing along the highway, returning on the road we had travelled, we were suddenly faced with a complete dead stop in traffic. Just so you know, there is no a plethora of roads in Nicaragua. There is one main highway that runs north and south and a few more that run east and west and then there are the back roads for animal carts and farmers. And this was our only alternative. These dirt roads are usually dry and dusty unless they are a mud pit instead.
Mauricio talked with a local man who was watching the traffic jam and he offered to show us the way around by taking these back roads as a short cut. For 50 cordoba, about $2, he hopped on the back of the truck and guided us to a road that should have taken us back out to the highway ahead of the jam. But this was not to be as we started to encounter one mud pit after another. And I do mean mud pit. And in almost every one of them, there was a truck or van or car stuck up to their axles in brown oozing mud. The roads were like a maze and I quickly lost my sense of direction. Our guide had left us by now and we all became one mass of humanity in our own four wheels trying to escape.
Mud pit #1
We would travel a short distance and stop. Then we would get out again and all the men would congregate, look at the stuck truck and then point and shout and shove and push or tow with another vehicle so the caravan could continue to move forward. Chase and Fabricio were right in the thick of the action, while Mauricio remained cool and calm in direct contrast to the young guy’s excitement. Boys and mud and trucks. Need I say more?
Stuck in the mud
Although I was fretting about getting to El Crucero, I found myself watching all of this testosterone in action in a detached way and with a smile. It was really fascinating to see all these men pitching in and helping each other. No anger, just cooperation. Who would have believed it? Not in the USA I wouldn’t. A local guy showed up with a heavy chain that he carried from mud pit to mud pit as we lurched along from one to the other, allowing the 4 wheel drive trucks to help the others out.
Tractor stuck in the mud
Finally, the last trench was conquered – and it was by far the worst one. A giant farm tractor and the hay bailer it was pulling were stuck in the mud up to the middle of the tractor’s giant wheels. It made the road completely impassable so a local farmer cut the barbed wire fence so we could all detour around it. Of course there was mud in the cow fields as well and one after another, trucks and vans got stuck and had to be pulled out. Chase was completely engaged at this point, standing in the mud, pushing with his long arms and reach, completely dwarfing the Nicaraguan men. He was very excited and was smiling from ear to ear. When it was our turn, Mauricio gunned the engine and took off flying to make it through. The three of us were outside of the truck and when I watched him rocket through the detour and over the hillocks in the field, I was glad I wasn’t in the truck. My bladder would never have survived.
Back in the truck and Mauricio is driving like a bat out of hell. Chase and I are hysterical with laughter in the back seat, banging, bumping, heads hitting the roof. At one point, we were both airborne and I almost landed in Chase’s lap. At every bump, little whooshes of air escaped from my mouth despite the fact that I was trying to hold them in. I felt like someone was squeezing my breath out each time I slammed into the seat. I giggled at myself knowing again, that I was such a girl. The guys weren’t grunting. Finally free of the mud, Mauricio was in a hurry. The energy and excitement in the air was palpable and we were all laughing. And then we got to the highway. And full stop. Again.
The Jam of all Jams
I had never seen a traffic jam like this one. We had not come out in front of the jam, but instead right in the middle of it – after all that effort to avoid it! We crawled along on the side of the road, on the left side I might add, and then when it was possible, crossed over and through the mass of traffic to the right side and then, full, stop, again. The people driving north out of Managua – which is where we were trying to go in the southbound lane – had taken up all 4 lanes of the highway meaning that the northbound traffic was taking up both north and south bound lanes. There was no road left; it was a parking lot. Everyone was out of their cars, looking, talking, groaning. We sat for over 1 ½ hours without moving. We had run out of water and drinks and had four packages of crackers to our name. This was not looking good. The trip to El Crucero was really not looking good. Just when I thought I would have to come up with a back up plan (I HAD to get back up there before I left) miraculously, traffic started to flow. We were diverted off onto the side of the highway, literally on the grass, and all southbound traffic – that was us – was allowed to move forward. Although it was stop and go, we were moving for the most part. And so, it was after much excitement, we reached El Crucero only 3 hours late.
Finally, El Crucero
Fabricio called Madre to let her know we would be getting their later than planned and we asked that the children be available for photographs and gifts. We arrived, tired, very dirty (did I mention that I had mud up to my ankle on one leg?), hungry and thirsty but that didn’t matter as the guys were all determined to help me carry out this last piece of my mission. I was so grateful. Not one of them complained.
The children started to swarm once word spread that we had arrived. I asked right away for my Allison and was told that she was very excited to see her madrina. As I turned to look, she was running straight at me and jumped into my arms with a laugh and that big beautiful smile that I love so much. After a big hug, I held onto her and gave her her gift. She was all smiles as I had her put on the funky zebra striped hat I had brought for her. She went off to play and check out what everyone one was getting while I went back to giving out gifts. Mileydis, one of my favorites, had come to find me again and I asked if she could help me as she had done two days before. She read each child’s name off the label and handed them out for me or told me they were not there at the time. It was so much easier with her help. Mileydis is a very bright young girl and there is a very good possibility that she and her brother Carlos may be adopted. I hope so desperately this happens as she is another one that will flower given the chance.
I also saw little Andrea, who my niece Becky and her husband Brian sponsor. Andrea was a baby when I saw her last and she was now a walking, talking toddler. She was very tired however, and it was obvious she wanted to go to bed. I gave her the light up doll that Becky and Brian had sent for her and off to bed she went.
Chase and the boys
Chase was doing a great job taking pictures of the children. In between the chaos, he found his own sponsored child Sergio and his brother Yusab. We had the boys put on the WVU t-shirts (the university where Chase is currently studying) that Chase had brought for them and when you look at the picture, you can’t miss the joy on their faces. It was very touching moment for me as I knew that Chase completely and passionately understood what this was all about and why I did what I did. When one of the children (or all of them) pull at your heart strings, they just don’t let go.
Chases’s little brothers
The children were leaving to go to bed, it was 8:00pm and past their bedtime. I reluctantly said goodbye to my Allison, not having had nearly enough time to spend with her. The other girls all shouted goodbye to me, saying my name as they did so which made me feel the connection even more. I shouted “ I love you” to all of them as they went out the door.
We spoke with Madre for a little while and I was very pleased when again, I told her that we must communicate regularly by email and said she would. She gave me the name of the Sister that she had assigned to do this. I reiterated that I needed to know changes of children in and out, moving between facilities, special problems any might have and anything else of note. I also asked for a summary of the monthly receipts she provides to Mauricio in order for the monthly allowance to be transferred to their account, following the OHP process we had set up the year before. Madre assured me that I would begin receiving this and I am hopeful.
A few more questions about some of the children. Was Allison’s foot ok after her surgery earlier this year? Yes she was doing fine and getting ready to go into 2nd grade after she completes 1st this November. She is doing very well in school which didn’t surprise me at all. However, her mother is a poor and unstable influence in her life, and the Nuns will try to limit this as much as possible. Sound harsh? Not really because whenever Allison comes back from visits with her mother, she is confused, unhappy and angry. I agreed to their intent and also reminded them that Allison must stay in school despite her mother’s very infrequent requests to have her come visit, especially during the school year. I asked why little Kevin was at San Fernando and was told that he is closer to where his mother lives. I had become used to the fact that many of the children have some family however; their interaction with them usually ranges from poor to awful with the occasional happy exception. And Xiomara, the teenage girl that I was surprised to see at San Fernando is there because she is having trouble at every facility she stays at. They are moving her around to see where they can find a best fit and keep her in school.
Madre and me
Madre gave me the letters that each of the children had written to their sponsors as I had requested. I was very pleased that she had followed through on this and then it was goodbye to Madre and the remaining nuns after a few more pictures. The picture of Chase towering over one of the nuns and a young girl that had been staring and smiling at Chase all evening will make you smile. I did. I told Madre I would be back next year but would be very glad to communicate during the course of the year.
Chase and friends
End of the day
Exhausted, drained and probably pretty stinky, we all piled back into the truck and stopped at a nice restaurant for some pizza and salad. I was extremely grateful for that glass of white wine that went a long way to helping me to slow down. My brain was in full melt down mode. As physically exhausting as my ambitious agenda had been, it was nothing compared to my mental exhaustion. I needed to unwind so I could think coherently again. And I don’t even know how Mauricio was still standing after the many hours he had spent driving the truck.
Mauricio and me
Back at NiCasa, I said a grateful and very fond goodbye to Fabricio. He had been terrific and I told him so. In turn, he said this was the most “special” mission he had ever been on. And then he added “all that mud!” with a big smile. I encouraged him to stay in touch and I know that he and Chase will be. They really made a connection on this trip, two young guys the same age, so different in culture and personality, but kindred spirits none-the-less.
Mauricio y Fabricio
After a very, very welcome shower, I felt human again. Chase and I got everything ready and packed up to leave at 5am the next morning for the aeropuerto. Poor Mauricio! I didn’t get much sleep as I was still pretty keyed up and that damn rooster must have known it was our last night since he kept at his crowing ALL NIGHT LONG. Ah, Nicaragua.
I am writing this on the plane and we are already close to landing in Atlanta. Here is where I will say goodbye to Chase, reluctantly. I feel he is part son – part compatriot and definitely a very special friend. He knows he will be welcome in our home and on mission whenever he likes. I’m sure Vince is in full agreement with this.
In my heart
And me? I’ve got plans baby. Any of you that know me, know that I do. I’ve got ideas both short term and long to help the children. I’ve got tons of paperwork to do, children’s letters to mail, phone calls to make, reports to write….you get the picture. And it is ALL so worth it. I feel invigorated as only a trip here can make me feel. Seeing the children, holding them in my arms is the one sure way to get me refocused and re-energized. Forcing me to remember that no matter how busy my life is at home, these children are still a priority for me. They are always in my heart.