I’m going to make a serious effort to blog more often, really for my own sake. I am trying to capture all these memories that happen everyday! So in the last week or so, I’ve had several fun moments and realizations with the kids.
Andrew and I have been spending a lot of time in the reading room upstairs in the last couple of weeks. We are training one of our new teachers who was previously handling the reading room, so that task now falls to us until we hire another person. I am very much enjoying my time in the reading room. It is quiet and peaceful… most of the time. Sometimes you have to lay the smackdown. I love when kids, usually around 10 or 12 years old, come in and ask how many minutes they have to read. They so clearly know the rules and that the minutes of required reading is based on what grade they are in. What they are hoping for is that I will not know this tidbit and say a number less than what they have to read. So every single time I answer with a significantly higher number and watch them gasp. Suddenly they say “No! Mentira!” and then tell me their real number. I am amazed how many times this has actually worked on them. Nearly every time.
Just today in the reading room as I was writing this blog, Andrew and I were sitting in the reading room after lunch monitoring the kids. Andrew silently lets one rip. Unfortunately, the smell hit the air instantaneously. I turned around to the table behind me to see if anyone had noticed. One of the many Cristhel’s we have here looks back at me with this puzzled look on her face. Oh no. Then suddenly we hear all kinds of disgusted grumbling from the far table. What a great day to have all the windows open. The wind just carried the smell throughout the entire room. Andrew almost got away with it too. The kids at the far table were about to blame it on poor Yaron. That kid looked mortified. As they all had their shirts pulled up over their noses, they started to ask “quien fue??” I wasn’t going to let Yaron go down for this, I immediately said “fue Andrew!” accompanied by arm outstretched and finger pointing. We all laughed a bit (OK, I was crying I was laughing so hard) and then got back to the reading.
In the reading room, some of the little kids want to have a story read to them because that is how they get the cookies each day. But there are always some that just want to read stories with you. There is a little girl named Nazareth who is in my preschool class. She is easily one of my most favorite children here, though there are too many to count at this point. She is about 3 years old, maybe 4, but tiny. Her voice, body, facial features… all so tiny. Naza is known for finding me on the playground and in her sweet little voice that you can barely hear, she says “un cuento?” (a story?) Whether there are cookies involved or not, she wants me to read a story to her every single time she is here. If possible, multiple stories. She will sit with you as you read to her for as long as you are willing. There have been a few times in the past when I have thought to myself, ‘I’m just too busy to stop and read a story with her right now,’ or others like her. But last week the thought crossed my mind that I always had the luxury of having a story read to me as a child. When I was in the 3 or 4 year old range, I had two parents who were educated and totally literate. I had a brother around 12 or 13 years old, also literate. I had options! I cannot even begin to tell you how many parents here in Bajo Tejares cannot read or write at all. There are tons of moms here that would probably like to be able to read a story to their child, but can’t. Likewise, children that would love to be read to at their house, but don’t have the resources. If one of the reasons that the little ones love coming here to the mission is to be read to, then that’s incredible. My realization last week was that something I always took for granted growing up is the same thing I need to make time for here at the mission for all of these children. I’m not too busy for that.
Last Friday was our first “tienda” day of the year. There was actually significantly more hype around the store than I would have expected. I will admit, we have some really awesome stuff in the store to start this year off. Teams have brought us a lot of great items and totally restocked us with heaping piles of candy. On top of that, we had a volunteer from one of the Beach teams that reorganized everything and made it look quite fabulous. So anyways, throughout the week leading up to Friday, I fielded countless questions from kids of all ages on when they would get to go buy things and what was in there. I love watching their faces when you tell them how much chocolate is in there. It’s the simple things in life! Any who, Allison was able to buy a few things last week since she is at the beginning of the alphabet. I saw her in the tienda doing her shopping. They are allowed to buy up to three items with their accumulated points. There was a pair of dress up heels that she had to have. Thank God she could afford them. When I was walking around the campus a couple of hours later, Allison comes prancing down towards the classrooms in her heels. By far and away, one of the cutest things I have seen in a long time. That girl pranced all around the playground in those heels. It might have taken her four times as long, but she did it. Sometimes when I think about the reality of what the future could be like for some of the younger kids, I want to remember them in moments like this. I am very aware that we have serious problems with drugs, prostitution, and teen pregnancy here in Bajo Tejares. I know that some of these little angels are going to grow up to make decisions and fall into paths that I would never want for them. But for me, nothing will tarnish memories in my mind like Allison being so excited to buy her dress up heels and show them off by prancing around the whole playground.
Since there was so much excitement surrounding the tienda, I positioned myself on the playground right up by the third classroom. The idea was to keep a little bit of order with all the kids lingering in the area to get a peek. Of course, every single child that Yohan knew got the same request screamed at them as the entered the classroom where the tienda is… to bring him a piece of chocolate. Poor kid has to wait until the fourth week since he’s at the end of the alphabet. So as I am trying to stop kids from climbing all of the railings to look inside the classroom, I notice that Yohan, Hierguth, and Kenneth are up to something. I admit, sometimes all the mischief can get aggravating. But more often than not, it still brings a smile to my face to see young boys like them acting so mischievously, plotting and scheming like normal little boys would anywhere else in the world. I guess for some reason, it makes me feel like they have a chance in those moments to have perfectly normal childhoods. That the troubles they face nonstop in their families and homes don’t exist in those pockets of time. Anyways, I walked over to them and asked what they were doing. Hierguth very coyly says “estamos hablando” (we’re talking). Before I could even say anything, Kenneth turns around towards me and says the same thing. And a split second later, Yohan turns around with a jump and his arms folded across his chest and says “Si! Estamos hablando!” It was like a 5 year old version of The Three Stooges. They looked so cute. Naturally, they tried to get me to guess what they were talking about and asked if I wanted to know. I of course said no, just to have some fun with them. I had my phone with me so we spent the following 15 minutes taking crazy pictures of all of us together. At some point in time, I am sure I will make a scrapbook of our time here. I am sure those photos and this short bit about that day will make it in there.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with the preschoolers, as usual. We have been learning the alphabet and making letters. I have them make the letters by gluing things like cotton balls, tissue paper, or beads onto their piece of paper with the letter already traced on it. The items go back and forth from easy to more difficult items requiring greater fine motor skills. Nonetheless, I have a little boy named Joseth in the class who is 3 years old. He’s the baby of the group and still learning how to behave in a classroom with other children. Today we were working with beads and the letter ‘M’, and by ‘we’ I mean 19 preschool aged kids and myself. I was hustling! After they use their finger to trace the letter in glue, they normally call me over (freaking out in many cases) to get the glue off their finger with the rag. Joseth didn’t do that today and started picking up the beads right away. As you can imagine, the beads started sticking to his fingers. All of a sudden, I looked over at Joseth this afternoon and he is ferociously slinging his hand back and forth over his head and beads are flying in the air all over the place. While this is happening, he is also screaming “ayuda!” over and over again. This is a glimpse into why he has earned the nickname Mr. Ayuda long before today ever happened.
So that is my crazy life as of lately. I’m enjoying all of these little moments that will still bring a smile to my face years from now when I look back on it all. That’s all folks!