Friday, Feb 18

I woke early the next morning to the sounds of the girls getting ready for school. I hadn’t slept well but knew this was not going to be a “vacation” anyway so it was not an issue.

Sayda Chevarria wants to be a nun

Sayda, the young girl that is planning to be a nun, led the other girls in their morning prayers which they sang out loud. Their young teenage voices were soft and sweet and surprisingly reverent.

Now that the sun was up, I could see more clearly what the facility looked like. Everything was old and in terrible disrepair. Although the girls swept and mopped, the years of accumulated dirt had built up in the corners and I tried not to look. There were no sinks with running water, the 2 toilets had broken pieces and the floor was covered in water that slopped out of the buckets. I cleaned up Allison and myself with water from these buckets as there wasn’t another alternative.

Allison had opened up the yogurt we had bought when I wasn’t with her and managed to get it into her hair. As I tried to comb her hair out, she didn’t flinch or complain as I tried as gently as possible to pull out the tangles and knots. She contentedly played with my little flashlight – which became her favorite toy for the next few days. As she didn’t have a toothbrush, I let her use mine which she was thrilled about.

Breakfast with Sr. M&M

The girls ate breakfast of cereal inside their dorm at a long table that they use for all purposes: eating, dinner, homework, gathering. Allison had a bowl of cereal with them and then the four of us walked over for breakfast to the room where we had eaten the night before. Breakfast was rice and beans. I managed to ask for “agua calliente” for the tea I had brought with me. I had to ask for milk, as they had hidden much of the food we brought the day before. I asked for an orange for Allison, as I wasn’t sure when they made these available to the other children but wanted her to have some since we had brought it for that purpose. I believe that they put the food in different locations to keep the thieves from wiping them out should they break in. Allison wasn’t interested in the orange for some reason but did eat a full helping of rice and beans and finished it all. I watched her as she purposefully and carefully slid the last piece of rice on her dish onto her fork. She has a very good appetite.

Afterwards, Sr. M&M gave Allison a shower and washed her hair. I was amazed at how Allison stood still while cold water was poured over head to rinse off soap and shampoo; she didn’t complain at all. Nor did she complain when Sr. M;M combed her hair to get knots out. Not a peep out of her. She continually amazes me with her adaptability.

We then met with Sr. M&M to discuss all of the children as this was also a big part of why I was there. We listened for 3 hours to stories that ranged from happy (one child was adopted, another had found her mother and gone to live with her) to sad (a young baby had been placed back with his mother and the Nuns were working with her to accept and care for her child) to heart breaking. M&M told us of a 10 year old girl who was no longer at the orphanage. This young girl had been sexually abused by her father and a neighbor and told one of the nuns that her mother said she would beat and kill her if she talked about what happened.

A court case is pending but in the meantime, this little girl is in terrible danger. The nuns are going to try to find her, as they think she may be living on the streets. The legal system and the child welfare system that had returned her to this environment despite the pending court case, have clearly failed her. I cried as I told M&M that we would continue to follow up with her in the desperate hope that they would find this young girl.

After this grueling meeting, we went for lunch, more rice and beans. They were beginning to look less appetizing each time I saw them and I longed for a green salad. I still hadn’t seen much of the food that we had brought up with us.

Haydelina, Allison and me

Sr. M&M had contacted Allison’s mother to ask if she could come up to El Crucero with me, her madrina. Her mother approved and then I was told that she would take the bus from Managua up to meet me. When she arrived, Allison was very excited and happy to see her. Her mother’s name is Haydelina and as she and I talked, I told her that I thought Allison was a very special little girl, and very intelligent. She smiled graciously and thanked me.

As I had been concerned that the mother might not want Allison to come up to El Crucero when it was time for school because it is far from where she lives in Managua, I was surprised and pleased when she said she would be very happy for Allison to come to school and graduate from here. I told her that once she did that, I would make sure that Allison went on to University. I promised her that I would do this, knowing full well that Vince would be fine with my making this decision. University in Nicaragua is for four years at a cost of about $300 per year. Something we could afford and the money would be well spent in helping Allison to meet her full potential.

I asked her mother about Allison’s health and she told me Allison needed foot surgery to remove and extra toe on her left foot along with correction to other small bones in her foot. Also, she is flat footed and will need orthopedic shoes. She has had kidney problems since birth and is only well enough now for surgery. Haydelina said she did not have enough money for transportation to the doctor so I gave her $20. It is important to note that she did not ask me nor did I feel she was manipulating me any way. She promised to keep me informed of Allison’s medical condition and was going to set up an email address so we could communicate. Allison was very upset when her Mom left, and I had the unenviable task of having to bear hug her as she had a full-on temper tantrum, throwing her little body against the door and screaming and crying at the top of her lungs. She settled down afterwards but it was difficult to watch. I don’t know how often she sees her mother but she is obviously very attached to her.

Although Allison has settled in, she is still overwhelmed by the largeness of El Crucero compared with what she has known. She whimpers at times but then gets distracted. I still think it was a good decision to give her the opportunity to see this and I am happy for it.

Next on our agenda was to take new pictures of all the children which they really enjoyed it. The each took turns jumping into the chair and holding up their names signs all watching each other and encouraging them to smile.

Kevin Ardon - Sr. M&M's nephew

We all went to mass in their beautiful little church, completely intact and well kept. I wondered where did the money come for the upkeep of this building given the state of the rest of the facility. Mass was nice, even though I couldn’t understand the priest speaking in Spanish. Not being able to follow what he was saying gave me the opportunity to look around and observe all of the children. I was amazed at the behavior of them all, even the very little ones. Joseph who is 2 and had been battling a fever since we arrived, sat quietly with his head nodding and eyes closing as he tried to stay awake without complaint or direction.

Allison knew when to stand, when to sit, make the sign of the cross and hold out her hands, palms up in benediction. I was stunned! She is going to be 5 in April and has the presence and understanding of a child much older. A 4 year old in the U.S. would never have behaved this way. After mass, she ran up to priest, shook his hand and then hugged all of the nuns.

Dinner was rice and beans plus eggs. Now, I am heartily sick of rice and beans! After dinner, I met with Sr. M&M to review the Orphan’s Hope Project Understanding document, another big agenda point for my trip. This document outlines a shared understanding of responsibility on both sides; for us in the MoH/OHP and for the nuns at El Crucero. While not a legal document in anyway, it does make clear what we expect from them in terms of communication, receipts and efforts on the part of the children in return for our monthly and special project funding. Unfortunately, Helena had left and without a translator the meeting was painful. While we stumbled along using hand signs and my Spanish dictionary, I was sure I conveyed only a portion of what I wanted her to understand. But as she would not attend tomorrow morning’s meeting due to school, I wanted to at least try to get some of the information across to her since she is my main contact person at the orphanage. At the end, I think she “got “ most of it albeit without the details.

The girls had wanted to give us a special performance and in a large room next door, that shockingly had lights on, we went over to see their “perform”. Most of the children were up on a small stage dancing to current Nicaraguan music. Although some of the moves were a bit suggestive – think swiveling hips and rocking chests – they were having a wonderful time letting off steam and acting like the teenagers that they are. I had to remind myself that this is a cultural way of expressing themselves and my American sensibilities did not apply here. The little children were eager to dance along, even the boys jumping and spinning in the air.

Barbies were a big hit!

They asked Mariel and I to come up to dance with them for a bit which we did. Sr. M&M took pictures of both of us (which will never appear in public or on Facebook) and the kids appreciated that we joined them. I left the stage to sit with poor Allison who was terrified by the loud music and yelling. I’d had enough of the pounding music by then also so we sat on the side and waited for them to be done. Afterwards, I gave out presents to all. Everyone got something and it went well. We took pictures of the giving of the presents from the sponsors and then asked the other children to come up and choose something from the table. M&M let them select what they wanted. The donated Barbies that I had brought were a big hit.

Thank you for the presents!

Dinner was at 8:30pm. Rice and Beans but this time with scrambled eggs that we had brought. I was pleased to see a change in the cuisine but hoped that the children would also see some of these eggs. It was very late when we ate and Mariel and I were dismayed at the lack of coordination. The children were running all over the place, and their dinner was haphazard. The children never seem to eat all together. I am very anxious but hopeful that Madre Griselda will put structure in place that is coordinated and scheduled. This oversight, not only for meals, but play time is very badly needed.

To bed tonight and sleep is illusive. This has been a truly a great and terrible trip, in equal measure. I am still processing what I have seen. We leave El Crucero tomorrow for the “real” world of Managua and the MoH compound. I don’t think I will be able to talk about much of this yet as it is still tightly woven in my mind and I’m afraid all that would come out is tears.

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