Blogging Away!

Our Lunch Date August 24, 2013

I’m pretty sure at some point, I promised myself to blog more as our time here winds down because I know how much I’m going to cherish these posts and memories later in life. Or come January… when I’m heartbroken over not seeing these people each day and my new reality has set in. Anyways, on to the story.

Last weekend, we took our sponsor child, Hierguth, out for lunch. I walked him home on Friday to ask his mother if it were OK. He told me I had to or she wouldn’t believe it otherwise. His mother seemed utterly unenthusiastic and merely asked what time to send him to the church. I said 12:00, if it was fine with her. I think I could have said I was taking him to the next country over for a week and it would have been all the same to her. Nonetheless, as I left and told Hierguth that I would see him the next day, he was grinning from ear to ear.


On Saturday, our doorbell rang at 11:58 a.m. with Mauricio standing there looking puzzled. He cautiously told us that Hierguth was here to see us and was waiting at the gate. We confirmed that we were expecting him so the guard let him through. He stepped through the gate and took off running towards the apartment when he saw us. His smile was priceless and he was bubbling over with excitement. He handed Andrew a picture he had drawn with some words written on it, including his name. When Andrew showed it to me, I told him we’d be keeping that little piece of paper forever.

He was wearing the new shorts we brought him from the states in July and the new tennis shoes we bought him. He hasn’t been wearing the tennis shoes to the mission so we’ve never seen him in them outside of the day we gave them to him. Whenever we ask about them, he tells us his mother won’t let him use them unless he is going out so they don’t get messed up. I wish I could find a way to politely tell her that they are meant to be used and we will buy him another pair if it means that he gets to wear these more. But we don’t want to overstep our bounds. Nonetheless, Hierguth looked quite adorable and even had his hair styled with gel.

While we were waiting for our taxi, we talked about where we were going to go for lunch. I think initially, he may have though we were eating lunch at the apartment. When the taxi arrived, he seemed quite inquisitive. He asked a million times where the mall was and how long it would take to get there. As we passed by various places, we would point them out together. I said “look, there’s the big church,” as we passed through town center. He responded, “the church of San Ramon?” I just laughed and said “yes, we are still in San Ramon.” Mind you, this is only about an eight minute cab ride from our side of town to the other. As we neared the Instituto (the high school), I pointed it out to him. Right across the street from the high school is the Tribunales de Justicia, or the courthouse. I really didn’t think to point that landmark out, nor did I think he’d recognize it. But as we passed it, Hierguth told me what it was and that his uncle was there. I would bet my entire savings that Hierguth’s uncle is not an attorney. I’ve already been told a little of his family’s story so I understood what he was referencing. His mother is the niece of one of the more infamous drug lords of Bajo Tejares. He’s in jail, but Hierguth has merely been told that his uncle is at the courthouse.

The cab ride alone seemed incredibly entertaining for Hierguth, but arriving at the mall took our fun and his excitement to the next level. We walked in and passed the arcade on our way to the food court. His eyes lit up like an American child on Christmas morning. He asked if we could play there and we told him that we could, but after lunch. As we turned the corner and saw the food court, we asked him if he had ever been to McDonald’s. He said no. I’m by no means a fan of McDonald’s, but I would suffer through my dislike of it in order to get Hierguth his first ever Cajita Feliz, or Happy Meal. While we were standing in line, I asked him if he wanted chicken or a hamburger. He told me chicken, but then he asked if he could have french fries. I said of course. A few seconds later, he asked if he could have a drink. I said sure. Then once we ordered and we were able to pick out which toy he wanted with his meal, his mind was blown. Clearly, this kid doesn’t know all the goodies that come in a Happy Meal.

Once we got our food, we sat down to eat. Hierguth said the cutest little prayer to bless the food and then we started to dig in. I brought my camera with me and had to resist taking pictures of every single moment, but I did get a few of him eating his chicken nuggets and sipping on his tiny kid sized coke. It was just so precious.



Midway through the meal, Hierguth said he was taking the rest home. He really had hardly eaten anything. When I asked him if he was still hungry, he said no and that if he eats too much his stomach hurts. Too much really translates to a normal amount of food for someone his age and size, but he is used to eating a lot less than what a child from a different socioeconomic status would be accustomed to.

After lunch, we hit the arcade. To us, this is just a rinky-dink, tiny little arcade with very few games in it. But to him, it was awesome. I can’t imagine what this kid would do in a Chucky Cheese. We bought ten tokens and began to play. He was quite fascinated with the fact that he kept getting all these tickets with every game that he played. He had no idea what they were for, but we just kept on collecting them. We played skeeball (my personal favorite arcade game), a racing game, a basketball game, and ended in air hockey. I’m not sure how many rounds we were supposed to get on the air hockey table for two tokens, but we all three played for probably ten minutes or more. It just kept giving us the puck, so we played and played and played. When we were done, we took all of the tickets to the counter and explained that he could pick out a prize with his tickets. Wouldn’t you know, they had marbles there. That is one of Hierguth’s favorite things to play with right now. He was able to buy 17 marbles with all of his tickets. Again, he was bursting with excitement.

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The taxi home seemed equally entertaining for him. Once we got arrived back at the mission, we let Hierguth pick out three pieces of candy to take home. One for him and one for each of his sisters. We walked him home and watched him give packs of M&Ms to his sisters. He showed them his bag full of marbles and his happy meal box full of leftovers. On our walk home, Andrew and I were on such a high. Never in a million years would I have thought a $20 outing could bring that much joy to anyone’s life. It cost us next to nothing but meant the world to him. And really, it meant the world to us to be able to do that with him. We are really lucky to be able to sponsor the kids that we do here. We are lucky to have relationships with them and be able to communicate with them. It’s going to be really hard saying goodbye to all of the kids, but especially our sponsor kids.

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The Roller Coaster Recap August 1, 2013

I know Andrew and I have both just written blogs, but here comes another post. I feel like this one showcases the variety of things that take place in our day. The highs and lows, the confidence boosting moments and the humbling ones. Moments that will melt your heart, and moments that have you crying because you’re laughing so hard. So here’s to a roller coaster recap of the last two days… Yes, just the last two days.

Yesterday after preschool class, I was walking around with Tamara and Sheryl looking for whoever was going to go pick them up. It’s mainly just to appease them as they tell me everyday they are not allowed to walk home alone. And everyday, they tend to get a little panicky when class is over and their mom/dad/aunt/uncle/sibling isn’t there to pick them up yet. So we walked all over the playground “looking” for Tamara’s uncle and Sheryl’s brother. As we were checking to make sure said uncle and brother hadn’t snuck into the air-nasium without us noticing, Tamara looked up at me and asked if I wanted to be her teacher when she went to kinder. She explained that I was her teacher in the preschool program now, so I could just be her teacher in kinder too if I wanted. I was so touched by such a thought. I didn’t really know how to respond besides just saying “Si” and trying to pull it together enough so their next question wasn’t “Ashley, why are you crying?”

In between doing the preschool classes twice a day, I try and get as much time in working in the classrooms as possible. This is going to sound like the dumbest accomplishment in the world, but yesterday I helped Hierguth with his first grade homework in its entirety without asking for help from Jenny or Yorlana. It’s first grade and I know that sounds like such an easy feat, but it’s in another language! And I’ll be honest, I asked Andrew to come sit with us and read over part of it because for the longest while I didn’t understand the first section. I actually had Hierguth work backwards so I could stall. As it turns out, when I flipped through his notebook, there were pages leading up to the homework that would have helped you. I’m just glad I found it on my own without having to ask for help with such an easy assignment. It’s things like that though that are so exciting, yet so humbling. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from a good university in the States and sometimes I’m fumbling my way through the simplest of tasks.

I was feeling really good about Hierguth’s homework when Daniella came in. I thought to myself, bring it on third grade homework! We got through the first two worksheets like it was nothing, child’s play. And then comes the C, S, or Z worksheet. This one has about forty words on it that are spelled with one of those three letters and you just have to choose which one is the correct letter for each word. Apparently this is a pretty tricky thing for kids in Spanish. The words are everything from zapatos to ciruela to siete and so on. I didn’t know maybe four or five words. To give myself a little bit of credit, I knew probably thirty-five of them. But in a list of that many totally random words, you have to have a rather wide range of vocabulary to know them all. I could ask anyone here, including staff who speak English, and they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you all forty words in English. Nonetheless, I had to defer to Jenny on this one. And even then, Jenny had to turn around and ask Yorlana one of the answers! What a setup that worksheet was.

After a long day of work in the education programs, we still had to do youth worship last night. Tuesdays are nonstop and tiring, but a good night of worship makes it all worth it. In theory, we like to open the gates at 6 and start at 6:15. I walked up to the gates several times and no one was here. Finally at 6:18, I walked downstairs to tell Andrew that no one was here and that we should probably start to pack it up. I was disappointed to say the least. I think this is our fear every time we do worship nights, that no one would want to come and be a part of it. Not a fear of how it reflects on us, but more fear mixed with a deep sadness that the kids don’t have that desire to worship like we so hope for them. Andrew said we should give it a few more minutes, so we did. When I went back up to check, we had four guys here. I let them come on in and peeked outside the gates. More were coming. Last night, we ended up having twenty kids show up to worship. We split up into three groups and picked youth leaders for each group to ask the questions and help direct the conversations. This is one of the smartest things we have ever thought to do. Give a small slice of responsibility to teenagers and suddenly you have leaders pushing their peers to take the bible study seriously. It’s one thing for Andrew or myself to call people out from an authoritative standpoint for not paying attention, but it’s a whole different story when you’re friend is sitting there saying ‘hey man, pay attention and stop messing around.’ Andrew sat with one group and I sat with another, but we both still let the leaders take charge. I was impressed by the conversation and discussion that took place. Even though I spent a fair amount of time looking up passages and coming up with questions in Spanish, some of our best discussion came from things that we asked each other and brought up on the fly. I can tell my Spanish is improving because of how much I was able to understand and legitimately be a part of the conversation. It was a perfect night of worship and bible study with the youth. I admit, I do feel like I have to report on every successful worship night we have because every single time it feels like a miracle. All I can say is God wants this for these kids and that’s exactly why He’s making it happen every time.

While we are doing any nightly ministry meeting here, there are adult education classes that are put on by the university taking place simultaneously in the classrooms. We use the heck out of this entire campus from 9 am to 9 pm pretty much everyday. Anyways, the classes are for people that are trying to get their high school diploma. I see a lot of the moms here each night trying to learn and it always impresses me. I’m proud of them for not giving up. One of my preschoolers sometimes comes with her mom. On Tuesdays when I’m doing recreation or at the end of worship, I’ll often let her hang around with me in the church instead of having to sit in the classroom with her mom. We normally color or read stories. After worship last night, Nazareth’s mom was bringing her back from the bathroom and she ran up to me asking me if she could stay with me. I said of course. Naza is still one of the quietest little people I have ever met, but she’s becoming more and more talkative. We were walking around outside and she caught a glimpse of Andrew playing the guitar with some of the guys inside the church. She pointed at him and said “Andew.” It was one of the most precious things I have ever seen or heard.

Today after lunch, Andrew and I were both in the classroom for the afternoon rush. I walked over to where Andrew was as he was typing some biology assignment up for Justin. In general, I don’t often help the teenagers with homework unless it’s English. Just go back and reread the third grade worksheet episode and you’ll understand why. Biology for tenth graders in Spanish is a big fat heck no! But I will say, Justin had some of his algebra worksheets sitting there and I was intrigued. I always enjoyed math in school, particularly algebra. Most of my degree is math based and much of the work I was doing at the bank was balancing relatively complex stock record. And I figured that numbers are numbers no matter what language they’re in, right? Wrong. They use words to describe things in algebraic equations here that we don’t use in the United States. We had five different people looking up translations and trying to explain back and forth between English and Spanish. I’ve never been so confused in my entire life. The last thing anyone needs is a bilingual conversation to explain algebra. At the very least, we all had a few good laughs from that disaster.

For this afternoon’s preschool class, I had lots of little ones. The classes seem to get bigger and bigger. I’m averaging at least twenty kids each day, often times upwards of twenty-five. That’s a lot. I recently introduced a video of animal sounds to them and they are obsessed with it, plus it’s invariably the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. An animal pops up on the screen and makes its noise and then they all try and make the noise too. I just stumbled across this video and showed it to them one day without even previewing it and it is awesome. It probably has twenty animals or more. Then afterwards, they like to go around and say which animal they want to be. There’s no real story here, I just think it’s absolutely adorable and I’m definitely going to get it on video one day. Perhaps I’ll share it!

Valerie came to class this afternoon sick as a dog. I’ve never seen a child cough nonstop so hard and still be able to breath. I’m really not sure why her mom brought her to the mission today, but oh well. There she was, two feet away, coughing all over me and the computer as well. At one point, some saliva or other liquid particle came flying at me and landed on my face. I wanted to stop everything and go shower immediately but I refrained. As if things couldn’t get anymore gross, Yosniel walks up to me during the craft/play time and says something along the lines of making caca in his pants. All I really heard was the word “caca.” Talk about being petrified. I turned to Laura, the teenage sister of Alejandra and Cassandra, and asked her what he just said. Man, her facial expression must have been a mirror image of mine because she looked completely mortified as well. Neither of us understood anything but the word caca. We watched in disbelief as Yosniel waddled out of the classroom holding his pants. As I write this now, I am literally laughing hysterically with tears rolling down my face. What an experience.

Just ten minutes after that fun, Yosniel’s grandmother Isabel asked if she could speak with me once all the kids had left. My initial thought was ‘oh great, she wants to discuss the caca incident… but it wasn’t my fault!’ Instead, Isabel wanted my advice on how to handle the childcare for women’s group. Now this is crazy but I just learned the Spanish word for advice two or three days ago. Anyways, she wanted to ask me for ideas and solutions to solve some of the issues we’ve been having with the babysitters. At times, I allow my doubts and fears to get the best of me. I let myself believe that people think I’m not very good at working with the kids, maybe I’m not very smart or capable, that I’m not that useful here since I’m not fluent in Spanish and there’s a million people that could do this better than me. So to have Isabel ask me for my advice on something meant a lot to me. It helped put me in a place of confidence when I often let a lot of things remove me from that spot.

My work day ended with an aggravating point of contention that we seem to be coming back to as a staff all too often. I will be very upfront with you in saying that I am always willing to fight the battles that will bring about positive change. I will never be the kind of person who says that it’s too much hassle and not worth it. Of course, between various cultures and personalities present here, we don’t all share that viewpoint. Sometimes bringing about change is painfully slow for me, and I’m just more of a band-aid ripper offer. Quick, definitive, and only briefly painful. Nonetheless, after work today I decided to go for a walk into town to blow off some steam and buy myself a Coca-Cola Lite. I lost my iPhone with all of my music on it a while back so now I’m forced to use my old iPod, talk about first world problems. Unfortunately, it’s not functioning so great anymore and you can no longer see the screen, only the fact that it’s lit. So I have to either have the order of everything memorized or I have to wing it and hope it’s what I want to listen to. I turned it on and just hit play. Somehow it was on a Christian playlist that I made ages ago. It would have taken me forever to get it changed to another playlist so I just let it be. Music surprises me with how legitimately up-lifting it can be. I was jamming out to all kinds of old school praise songs. By the end of my walk, my mind was at ease. Life is not perfect, here nor anywhere else in the world. I am extremely blessed to have all of these awesome moments to look forward to each and every day. Whether it be another caca incident, more first grade homework, making animal sounds, studying the Bible with the teens, or anything else in between… life is good!