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!