Sunday, July 31, 2011

The next morning was Sunday and mass at 7am. I had not been to a Roman Catholic mass in a long time. As I have said, the chapel is truly beautiful and I was looking forward to attending despite my own beliefs about the religion. All of the children were in attendance as were the Nuns, Mariel, Elena and I. The beautiful part of it was you could tell that the children wanted to be there. They seemed to find a sense of tranquility and safety here as was evident by their participation. It was a real treat when one of the Nuns began to play the guitar, Madre played the tambourine, and everyone began to sing. The little boys kept time by banging the pews on beat with the music, using them as an impromptu drum. I smiled at Carlito while he was banging away and he returned huge grin. Although I couldn’t follow the words, the mass was similar to my own Episcopal services so I didn’t feel out of sync. And while I didn’t understand the priest’s sermon in Spanish, when everyone began laughing at something he said, it was evident that he had a sense of humor. This was refreshing and I was glad to see that religion need not be “mucho serioso” all the time here.

After mass and a breakfast of scrambled eggs (yes, real scrambled eggs made by Sor M&M!) we left for La Finca, taking Allison with us. The drive was pleasant and I saw different areas of Nicaragua that I had not seen or known before. We drove through a city on the way, Jinotepe I think, and stopped briefly at a large church there. Madre spoke to someone and then hopped back in the truck. As we moved out of the city and back into the country, closer to the farm, we stopped to pick up three more nuns. We were already packed into the truck so two of the nuns sat on Madre in the front seat and the other squeezed in with the 4 of us in the back. Apparently these were the same nuns that lived at La Finca and they had walked into town for Sunday mass. They were easily 2 miles away from church when we found them on their return walk with another 1 mile to go; can you imagine a 6 mile trip to attend mass? That’s impressive!

Allison & me

The main farm building was not what I expected. It was large, open and spacious. And while it was not new, it did not seem to be in the same state of disrepair so evident at el Crucero. The nuns living area in the center of the building was pristine and the surrounding areas had terracotta floor tiles swept clean and large windows.

La Finca building

Allison had recognized three nuns and went happily off with them. Madre then took Mariel, Elena and I out for a tour. What I saw brought a huge smile to my face. This was a working farm! There were many types of produce and fruit being grown in orderly and well tended gardens. There were hundreds of tomatoes plants staked with strong branches and string, squash, peppers, rows and rows of red beans, watermelon, pumpkin, corn, and guava, mango, orange, mandarin and spice trees. And a few fruits I’d never even heard of! I was amazed and told Madre so.

Hundreds of tomato plants

She said that there biggest problem was not enough manpower to harvest and in the past, they had local workers do this for a 50/50 split of the produce. Her new plan was to hire a local family that they knew that would live and work at the farm, tend it and harvest it Then the Nuns would sell the produce at local markets and supermarkets. With this much produce; this would surely reap good profits. This woman was a dynamic business woman as well! I told her this and she laughed and hugged me.

At one point, Madre stood holding a shovel that consisted of a strong tree branch and a shovel head tied on with twine in one hand and talking on her cell phone on the other. The incongruousness of this made me laugh out loud.

Madre and shovel at La Finca

We worked our way back to the house, stopping to see what was left of the animals that the boys hadn’t sold out from under them. A herd of something that looked like a cross between a sheep and a goat ran by and there were also a bunch of chickens walking about eating what they found on the ground.
Once inside the house, the Nuns served us a refreshing cold drink (they had a working refrigerator) made of juice from one of the nameless Nicaraguan fruits on the farm. This was the same small yellow fruit that Madre had asked me to take a bite out of while we were walking. I did so and although I didn’t eat it, I didn’t mind the taste. The fruit drink was very good.

Mariel, Madre and mangos

Mariel and Elena went off to collect guava and mangos to bring back with them. I took this opportunity to take a walk by myself back up in to the fields. As I walked, I discovered Allison with one of the Nuns and our driver, trying to get some small fruit down from a large tree. After throwing sticks at the fruit, the driver climbed into the tree and began shaking the branches. As the fruits fell, Allison squealed with delight as she ran around helping the Sister to pick them up and put them in the bucket. I left her happily helping.

Allison collecting fruit

Farther up I encountered a pathway created by rain runoff with an army of ants marching up, each one holding a small piece of a leaf. There were thousands of them going by, oblivious to me or anything else. They were so industrious and I stopped to watch.

Marching ants

The tranquility of this place had seeped in and I felt a peace that I hadn’t known in a while. The sky was a beautiful blue, large white clouds and a comfortable temperature provided a different picture of Nicaragua. There was so much potential here; and it seemed that Madre was well on her way to reaping the benefits that would help them all. I let the peace of the place and the knowledge that good things were happening restore me.

Chapel at La Finca

Spending more time than I realized, I returned to find everyone waiting for me. We said “adios” to the 3 Sisters and piled back into the truck. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the coffee farm in Masatepe. This was an added bonus as we didn’t know we would be traveling here as well. Madre had some business to take care of here but before she did so, she gave us a tour.

This facility is where the Novices come to study to be a nun. It is also a retreat center used by visitors who pay to do so, a coffee bean farm, and the local church. It was clearly self-sustaining. The retreat area was lovely with plants purposely planted for beauty and appeal, a gazebo to enjoy the gardens and immaculately tiled floors on the walkways. There were numerous buildings including a large chapel/church that was beautifully maintained as all chapels in Nica seemed to be.

Retreat Gardens

Madre left us to walk around, while Allison was again happy to play with people that she knew. Two of the young woman that had been at El Crucero and at Juan Pablo were there, Olga and Iveth, and she was happy to accompany them. Apparently, the nuns, the children and young adults all moved between facilities frequently.

Mariel, Elena and I walked through the coffee bean trees. I found it fascinating as I had never seen coffee growing before and the small green beans, not yet ready for harvest, covered every tree. The plants were strong and healthy-looking and well tended. I asked Madre later on about selling coffee which I know she planned to do. I also asked if she would have decaf available since this was not easy to find and she said yes. She explained that her brother had a coffee farm and he had given her guidance on what was needed. I know we will be able to help her sell this when it is harvested.

Coffee beans

We were served a lovely lunch of chicken, rice, cabbage slaw and plantains. After a while, Madre came to collect us and we started our return trip to El Crucero. Once there, Madre told us the driver would bring me back to the MoH compound and would also drop off Mariel and Elena. We went to get our bags and I began to say goodbye to the children. I didn’t like this part at all.

Unfortunately or fortunately, there weren’t many of them around but a few of the ever present little boys were. Kenneth, a serious little boy with pretty eyes and a shy smile, came up and put his arm around my waist and demanded to know when I would return. The tears I was trying to hold back started to come anyway and I choked out a “no se” as I really didn’t know when I would be returning. He wasn’t happy with that answer and started to press me further. “Enero?” January? “Febrero?” February? Again I told him I didn’t know as my mind reeled with chaos. When could I return? I just wasn’t sure but I didn’t like to think about not seeing all of them for a long period of time. Of course, I couldn’t convey any of this to him so I smiled down at him, squeezed him hard and kissed his forehead.

Kenneth

Sor M&M had been busy making cards with the children to give to their sponsors. I had given her a list matching each child up with their sponsors. In a few cases, due to attrition and non-renewals of sponsorships this year, there were some children without sponsors listed. I intended to re-shuffle sponsorship assignments when I returned home as we now had a number of new children to add to the program, but in the meantime, Carlito didn’t have a sponsor next to his name. Sor M&M questioned me about this and when I started to say, I would be assigning a new sponsor, I stopped and looked at Carlito’s hopeful little face. When I saw what began to be a crestfallen disappointment, I knew I needed to come up with a better answer. Luckily, Mariel solved the problem by volunteering that her mother Rita planned to sponsor a child and the issue was resolved. Carlito was very happy to know that his Madrina’s name was Rita.

Madre had suggested that I not say goodbye to Allison as this would most likely upset her. Not so much because I was leaving but because she wouldn’t be. I understood this of course but was disappointed not to be able to give her a kiss and hug until next time.

The truck was waiting and the three of us began to walk over to the main house to say goodbye to Madre. Sor M&M was going to follow shortly as she was still working on the cards. She seems to enjoy making them and was painstakingly cutting out flowers when I left her.

Madre was waiting by the door but she was not going to make the ride with us as it would only be a waste of what was left of the afternoon. I was not looking forward to saying goodbye to her either. As we hugged each other, Elena translated for me as I told her that I was so grateful to have been able to stay with her and so happy to see all of the progress that she had made. I promised that I would continue to try to help as much as we could. She then surprised me and said “none of this would have possible without my help”. Now, I know this is absolutely not true as she has been a whirlwind of progress and determination since February however, I was touched that she felt I had helped. I was full on crying when we hugged again.

Sor M&M arrived with the promised cards and I said another difficult goodbye. It is very possible that she will not be at El Crucero when I return next year and I may never see her again. This reality was in the back of my mind and I hugged her and the tears that had stopped, started up again. She smiled her beatific smile at me and we hugged one last time and I jumped in the truck. I will trust to God as to where our paths will lead us but she will be one of those people that I will never forget.

I said goodbye to Mariel when we dropped her off; she too will not be here when I return although I am sure we can keep in touch. I thanked her for all the good she has done the children; it has been a real blessing to them. Elena rode with me to the compound so she could instruct the driver and I said goodbye and thank you to her as well as I got out.

Once in the compound, a few people asked about my latest visit and I was happy to tell them. My agenda on these trips is such that I operate outside of the norm and this is puzzling to some people. I appreciated the opportunity to explain what I do and why I do it and especially what my goals are for the children.

After a very welcome shower, I sorted out my packing as I would be leaving with Sr. Debbie for the airport early the next morning. Later that evening, I sat with the group at our nightly meeting and my mind drifted to everything I had experienced on this trip. I was feeling much better than I had anticipated. Originally, I had been anxious about coming as I had begun to feel that we were making little progress. But now I felt that progress was indeed being made after all. (Vince had said just this to me before I left, I should have listened to him.) Most of the progress was due to Madre’s efforts but in a small way, I hope that we have helped also. This re-energized me for the work I would do when I returned home.

And I was ready to return home. The next morning I was packed and ready by 7am and we left at 8. I rode in the back of the truck (love that!) and enjoyed the sunshine and breeze while having some alone time to say goodbye to Nicaragua for a while. Hasta luego! I took a cab from the Caritas building where Sr. Debbie had her next meeting so that I would arrive at the airport with enough time.

Once at the airport and through security, I sat at the gate for a few hours which I didn’t mind at all since they had free wireless – who knew? I was even able to Skype with Vince for a little bit. I boarded my plane to Houston and without any complications arrived in Newark at 10:30pm later that evening. I was very happy to hug my husband who was waiting for me. And one of the first things I asked him was – will you come back to Nicaragua with me the next time I go?

Me and a little one

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