Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friday morning and we are off to build home shelters. I had done this on my first mission trip with Vanessa in February 2010 but didn’t think I would get to participate this time. We all bounced along in the back of the pick up truck; the Mission volunteers and the family and friends of the people that would get a new home shelter that day. I love riding in the back of the truck; it’s not exactly something you have the opportunity to do back in the States. The blowing wind cooled things off for a little while at least.

Riding in the back of the truck

We arrived at the first home shelter site and hiked up the hill. We met the young mother who was to receive the home shelter and was there to help along with her two children. Right next to where the new foundation of concrete blocks had been set was the structure they were all living in now. I took a family “before” picture of their current shelter with it’s rusted aluminum sheet walls, plastic bags and bits and pieces of wood holding it together and would later take another picture of them in front of their new home.


And after (with Colleen, home shelter sponsor)

The mother and her young son were helping the others build while we did a lot of watching. This felt very uncomfortable however; I understood that the reality is, most of us would just be in the way. At least I know I would. I was happy to help carry things around but I know from past experience that banging the hell out of those nails still doesn’t send them into that Nicaraguan wood! It is incredibly hard and dense. So I kept myself busy by looking for any children that might be nearby.

In a shelter next door, there was a young boy, about 2, playing in the dirt. I went over to him and knelt down to say hello. He had one of the dirtiest little faces I have ever seen; literally covered in dirt as was the rest of him. He had a wary look in his eyes so I smiled and asked if I could take his picture. When I showed it to him afterwards; he broke into a fit of giggles that surprised me and made me laugh as well. He thought the picture of himself was just hysterical and I was pleased that this small thing could make him so happy.

Sweet dirty little boy

His laughs brought other children over and before I knew it, I was snapping one picture after another, just to make them all laugh. I might not be helping too much with the home shelter but at least I had done something that made these little people happy for a time.

Happy children

Diana, our 13 year old translator was a real treat. I had met her at the compound and her English was so good, that I actually asked if she was an American. There wasn’t a trace of an accent. Since I knew we would be without a translator on our home shelter expedition, I had asked if she might be allowed to come and she was thrilled with the opportunity. During a lull in the action, Diana and I talked about her dreams for the future. She shared some things about her family, in particular information about her mother which led us into a conversation about the types of choices Diana would make for her future. I reminded her that whatever choice she did make, it was hers to make. She had the right to say “no” and to choose when she wanted to have children. I encouraged her to work hard in school and to go on to university. But in reality, she needed little encouragement from me as she already knew that she wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. Although she wanted to visit the U.S., she planned to return home to Nicaragua to practice medicine with her people. I felt very heartened and hopeful that this young woman was an example of the next generation that will bring positive change to her country.

After the second home shelter was completed, we rode back in the bed of the truck again but this time it started to rain and rain hard. Within a few minutes, we were all soaked through, our hair and faces streaming with water. I thought it was all pretty cool since the rain washed off the sweat and dust and cooled us off. Since we had a one-shower per day limit at the compound, I felt getting drenched by the rain as a good thing.

Diana had done such a fantastic job translating, that I called Sr. Debbie to ask if she might come with us to Juan Pablo later that afternoon. I knew that I would be talking with Sor (Sister) Andrea and the language barrier would be a real problem. Diane was delighted when we received word that this special request had been approved. I suggested that she continue to offer her services to the MoH, especially at the medical clinic and she said she would be happy to.

Once back, I dried off and re-grouped since I had to pack to stay overnight at El Crucero once again. I needed only to bring a few things plus my notebook and folders but it always takes a while to make sure I have it all. So I was late for lunch – again. Bev, a true lunch-lady of the kindest sort allowed me to get some food. I appreciated her help AND that she didn’t scold me. I was pretty tired of being scolded about one rule or another. I seemed to be continually breaking them despite my efforts at compliance. There are A LOT of rules on mission and a lot of Type “A” personalities that feel the need to enforce them.

About 6 of us drove to Juan Pablo with Chico the driver in one of the rented vans. When we arrived, Sor Andrea let us in through the iron barred gate that was a necessary security protection. She seemed to remember me and greeted me cordially. Sor Andrea is not the warmest of the sisters I have met on mission but she has an incredibly hard job that I cannot imagine doing. She is responsible for the children 24/7 in a hot, old, small building populated with up to 30 children all under 7. There are two other nuns who help plus some of the older girls from El Crucero. Still, it is unimaginable to think of doing this – what goes through her mind when she wakes in the morning? She is kind to the children though and does a wonderful job of teaching them so by the time they move up to El Crucero for school, many of them are already reading at 5 years old.

Sor Andrea

Juan Pablo was quieter than I had ever seen it. Since it was Saturday, the day care children that are dropped off during the week were not there so only the “internals”, the children that lived there permanently were there, save one little boy dropped off for the day.

I immediately looked for Allison and found her sitting in a small chair. She was unusually quiet and a little shy when I greeted her and although I think she knew who I was, she didn’t talk to or engage with me. I left her alone so that she might get used to all of us being there and Diana and I went off to give out some of the beautiful handmade dresses that Bev had given me before we left. Then I wanted to talk to Sor Andrea about the children and the status at Juan Pablo. The other ladies that had come with me were all enthusiastic about playing with the children and before I knew it, they were all mostly on the floor keeping the children occupied. I was happy to see this as there wasn’t much going on before we got there so I presume that this play time would be the highlight of their day.

Playing on the floor

When a street vendor went by selling ice cream, I ran out and bought ice pops for everyone, children, the missioners and the nuns. We all enjoyed the cool treat although the littlest ones needed to be washed from head to toe when they were finished as they were covered in sticky, melted ice pops!

I had brought a large floor puzzle that kept them everyone busy and when I was done talking to Sor Andrea, I began taking pictures of the children. Orquidia Guadalupe or Lupe, my daughter Vanessa’s sponsor child looked so pretty in her new dress, as did Rosita, the little fireball and Allison who had gotten involved in the activities. Also there was Josue, Rosita’s little brother who had gotten so big since I last saw him and Jose, a new baby that was only 5 weeks old. His 17 year old mother was also staying at Juan Pablo.

3 new dresses

I asked if I could take a picture of the two of them together and although she said yes, she refused to look at the camera. When I showed her the picture, she smiled but I saw the tear tracks that ran down her face. My heart broke as I realized that she might be embarrassed to have her picture taken and I reached over to stroke her face and tried to tell her it would be all right. I had known in advance that she was there and knew also that her story was difficult. I wanted to do something to comfort her though and with Diana’s help talked to her a little about her plans for the future. I encouraged her to go back to school and to finish her studies. She didn’t seem to think this was necessary but I persisted until she smiled in what I hoped might be agreement.

Aracelli and baby Jose

I made a tour of the facility, looking at the kitchen and living areas. At this point, I had been there enough times that I felt I could go into these private areas; I was looking for improvement and areas that needed help. Unfortunately, I was not pleased to find that there were cockroaches in the kitchen and the refrigerator was not full of food.

Madre Griselda was scheduled to meet me at Juan Pablo at 4pm to pick up me and Allison but she surprised me and arrived early. The others from Mission left with Chico and Madre and I began our attempt to have Allison come with us. But she seemed to sense that something was going on, because she had become sullen and quiet and was sitting in her chair quietly clutching her little bag. Madre asked her if she wanted to come and then the drama began.

She ran to the back room and into her bed crying and wailing that she didn’t want to go; she wanted to go home to her mama. I let Madre talk to her as I didn’t think I would be much help; it was the Nuns she knew the best. Madre was so patient and gentle with her; not once did I see her get angry at what was effectively a temper tantrum, no matter how understandable. This attitude of kindness and patience is something I have seen over and over again and it amazes me. I’m a mother an know how challenging and trying children can be; these women never seem to lose their patience. Incredible.

In the meantime, I asked Sor Andrea if I could bring Allison’s things – clothes or toys – with us. She said she had nothing to bring. The impact of this would hit me later, after the drama had subsided, as I realized that this little girl did not own a thing. No toys, no clothes, not anything that did not belong to the communal whole. The unfairness of this infuriated me although I realized that it was a consequence of institutional living but I didn’t have to like it.

Allison was not calming down so drastic measures were called for. Arelyis, the mother of Rosita and Josue had to physically pick her up and put her into the truck, while Allison was screaming all the while. Madre had also decided to bring Rosita with us in an effort to placate Allison but also because Rosita would be moving back up to El Crucero in the near future as well. She, Allison and Lupe were all the same age and would begin school soon.

Once in the truck, Allison continued to whimper although the screaming and the tears had stopped. It is very difficult to communicate with an upset child when you don’t speak their language very well so since I couldn’t say anything that would help, I started to sing quietly instead. I sang all of the verses of Mary had a Little Lamb three times and the Mockingbird song (you know the one, Mamma’s gonna’ buy you a mockingbird…). And when I ran out of words, I made them up. I don’t really know if it helped but it didn’t hurt. We played with the few random toys that we had brought with us and eventually, both girls started smiling.

Smiles at last

By the time we left the city and started driving up the mountain, Allison and Rosita were both eagerly looking at the window at the scenery. While Rosita had been back and forth quite a few times, Allison had not made the trip as frequently so it was exciting for her; I could see it in her face. This made me happy since the whole point of making this change was to give her new experiences.

Once we arrived at El Crucero, Madre went about her business and I went with the 2 little girls to the dormitory area. But first, Allison ran around the courtyard in the brilliant sun shine whooping with delight. The picture of her big smile and her hair flying as she ran is frozen in my mind. This is what I wanted her to have, a chance and a place to run.

By now, the other little children had come to greet the 2 girls and they were running around in a pack. The rest of the afternoon passed and as I walked with the various little children to another building (there are multiple buildings in the compound), I was surprised to see Mariel and Elena. While I knew they were there on Saturday, they had not planned to stay overnight. However, the older girls had begged them to do so and I found them all watching a movie on Mariel’s laptop. I was happy to see them and really happy that we would now have Elena as a translator.

After dinner with the older girls and Sor M&M, I was asked to come see a special Powerpoint presentation that Mariel had helped the girls prepare for me. Each of the slides had a picture of one of the children followed by their age, birth date, favorite hobby or sports team and their dreams for the future. Each child read their own bio out loud and it was sweet to see who would read shyly and who didn’t. I really enjoyed it and told them all I was very proud of them. I then asked them to prepare one for me for my next visit that included how they planned to make their dreams come true.

That night, after the children had gone to bed, I sat in the other room writing in my journal. Sor M&M joined me and we had a conversation using my little yellow Spanish-English book when we got stuck on a word. Since Sor M&M has no English and my Spanish is limited, this was quite often. I asked about her family and her health and felt that our conversation was between two friends that were getting to know each other a little better. She then talked about her vocation and her belief in God, or El Senor as they refer to God, and how she was always searching for answers. I told her that I found my answers to God in helping the children. She smiled at that.

Allison had settled in for bed although she had asked me numerous times when she was going back to Juan Pablo. I told her “No se”, or I don’t know, which wasn’t true but we had decided to hold off on telling her the full story for a little while longer. So we lay in the small bunk – wow, was this thing hard! – and I waited for her to fall asleep. Once she did, she tossed and turned only a little but a few times, she rolled right into me and bonked me in the head. Little children sleep the same way all over the world.

Sleeping and dreaming

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