What a trip this is. Here I am playing Scrabble in Spanish with some of the teenagers during youth recreation and totally kicking butt. I actually came in the game four rounds late and am still winning. They have no idea how much time I spend playing Words with Friends and though we’re playing in my second language, I know how to play the game really well. It never ceases to amaze me how confused native speakers seem to get over certain letters and sounds in this language though. I’ve played with educated adults before and been correcting their spelling in Spanish. Amazing.
In any event, plans are coming along to wrap up our time here. I was meeting with Jenny this week to discuss Christmas party plans and she mentioned that this was the last week of programs. It took me by surprise big time. In fact, I would say that I was completely shocked. After this week, we will do two weeks of end of year exams to see where all the kids in programs stand and what progress they’ve made this year. And after that, it’s Christmas party week. Andrew and I have decided to stay another week following the parties to be able to say our goodbyes to everyone. When you have things on such a timetable like that, it makes things so real. Tomorrow, Mack has his appointment with the vet to get things in order for him to fly home. I remember thinking not too long ago that his appointment was way off in the future and would happen when we were close to leaving. Well, guess what? Now we’re close to leaving.
We did a small end of year celebration with our sponsor kids. Dulce excitedly ran up to me last week to tell me she had passed first grade. I told her we’d have to celebrate. That’s what started this whole deal. Andrew and I then discussed taking Dulce and Hierguth to celebrate the end of the year at the same time. And then Andrew came up with an idea. He came into the living room and said, “Now I know this will cost a little more money, but I think we have enough. Why don’t we take Hierguth and Dulce to lunch at the mall, plus their brothers and sisters.” We know them all well, so I felt comfortable asking them all to go. We made plans for lunch on Saturday with all of them; Dulce, Greivin, Hierguth, Ashley Tamara, and Cristhel. That’s five kids all under the age of ten. Telling them all was quite priceless. I gave a note to Greivin to give to his mother asking if they could go the next day. I explained to him what it said and told him to remember to bring it to her that afternoon when he left the mission. He was quite excited to go to the mall. When Dulce came in that afternoon, she ran up to me with a huge smile on her face asking “es cierto?” without ever mentioning what the ‘it’ was. I simply said, “si, es cierto!” When we told Hierguth, he of course was excited to return to the mall. He’s only asked a million times to go again since we went the last time. His sisters overheard me telling him. They were eavesdropping without trying to show that they were eavesdropping. It was quite entertaining. I told them that when they left the mission that day at lunchtime, I would go with them to ask their mom if it would be OK. They must have asked me what time it was a dozen times. There’s no way they were going to let me forget to get permission from their mom. Everyone was set to go to the mall on Saturday.
All the kids arrived looking cleaner than normal. They all had their good clothes and shoes on. Dulce was excited to show me her new boots that her mom won’t let her wear to the mission normally. Hierguth was wearing his nice tennis shoes we brought him from the US over the summer. He’s also not allowed to wear those normally. But this was a special occasion. The car ride alone seems fascinating to them. Their families don’t have cars and they probably walk most everywhere in town. We had all five of them in the backseat with the windows down. I so enjoyed looking back in the rear view mirrors and see their smiling little faces sticking their heads out the windows and letting the wind fly by them.
When we arrived at the mall, it was obvious that there were a lot of people there. We could hardly find a spot to park. Once we got inside, we realized that there was some kind of Christmas presentation happening in the food court which eliminated nearly half the seating that there normally is. I wish I’d known it was going to be that crowded at the mall. I probably would have chosen a different day to go. We decided before we ever even got to the mall that we’d just do happy meals for everyone instead of trying to let them pick which place they wanted to eat at and then coordinate everyone’s orders. Andrew and I asked them all whether they wanted a hamburger or chicken. They certainly made it easy for me because I had five votes for hamburgers. Andrew walked around the entire place looking for a table and came up empty-handed. As he was heading back towards where I was waiting with our crew, I was starting to think that maybe it was just too busy and we might have to go home. Just then, a group of people got up from their table right as Andrew was passing by. We weren’t the only people scoping out a free table so we were lucky to get this one. Andrew took them all to the table while I ordered the food. I was probably in line and waiting for our food for ten minutes or more. It’s not exactly the most efficient operation here at McDonald’s San Ramon.
The kids sure were delighted to see two trays full of food coming their way. I gave everyone their happy meals and let them discover all that was inside of those boxes. As I was dispersing everything, a man came up to our table and asked me if we belonged to an organization that worked with children. While I didn’t understand what he said the first go around, when he repeated it, I understood and said yes. He smiled and said to us “God bless you for the work you are doing.”
I said a simple prayer to bless the food and we all started eating. I think everyone’s eyes would be opened to so much if they took the time to share a simple meal like this with a child from circumstances like these. It’s really difficult for me to rap my mind around. We watched them all eat their french fries and drink their sodas. When I asked Greivin if he was going to eat his hamburger, he said no. He was going to bring it home. I asked Dulce why that was and she said because their mom really likes sandwiches. She went on to save her packet of fruit for her father. Ashley Tamara, Hierguth, and Cristhel all saved their hamburgers to take home. The only one who ate the hamburger there at the table was Dulce. There’s a good chance that a small amount of food is all they are used to eating at one time. They could be saving some of the food for their next meal. There’s also a really good chance that they are bringing some back to their parents. I had kind of hoped that bringing all the brothers and sisters would eliminate the need for Hierguth and Dulce to feel like they needed to bring home food for their siblings. I guess I didn’t expect them to also want to save things for their parents. It’s not a bad thing, just different. I’ve never met children in the US that would do these same things.
After lunch, we took pictures by the big Christmas tree in the food court. We said no to the countless requests for ice cream. They didn’t know that I had already baked brownies and they were waiting for us at the house. But we did hit the arcade. I gave each kid ten tokens to spend. I think that out of fifty tokens total, forty must have been spent at the claw machine that drops down and hopefully picks something up. In this case, the machine was filled with candy and they just kept piling their winnings into their happy meal boxes. I could have just gone to the store and bought $20 worth of candy and we would have ended up with much more, but that wouldn’t have been as exciting for them.
Once we got home from the mall, we sat them all down in our living room to talk to them. Andrew and I explained that we wanted to do something special for them because Hierguth and Dulce are our sponsor kids and we wanted to celebrate the end of the year with all of them knowing how hard everyone has worked in the programs this year. I said something about each of them to tell them how proud I was of each. I told Cristhel I was proud of her for coming to program everyday with me and always behaving wonderfully. I have never had a single problem with that sweet child. I am proud of Greivin for practicing his letters so well and I told him I knew he was ready for first grade. Now is his future first grade teacher ready for him? That has yet to be determined! I’m just kidding. He’s a handful but if I can handle him, then his next teacher can too. I am proud of Dulce for passing first grade. I’ve studied with her several times and I know it’s not always easy for her. I am proud of Hierguth for always coming to read Pinocho and learning to ready very well. He comes in wanting to read with Andrew or I and we are always happy to do it, even the Pinocho is nobody’s favorite task. We will both miss reading with him next year. And I am proud of Ashley Tamara for always coming to do programs and constantly improving in her reading comprehension. She struggles greatly but I’m proud that she never gives up. On top of that, I’m grateful that we have all these programs in place to consistently work with these kids. They aren’t the only ones who struggle. We explained to them that we are moving back to the United States at Christmas and we won’t be here to do programs with them next year. Andrew and I told them all that we expected them to continue working hard so that Jenny and Yorlana can give us good reports when we come to visit next year. Then maybe we can all go to the mall again!
It was a really good day with them. Not too sad either, just a good celebration!