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Happiness and Sadness, Laughs and Tears November 25, 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I’m sure, but time is flying by. The days seem long which is normal here, but the weeks feel so short. It is already Sunday and we are ready to start a new week again tomorrow.

Last week was filled with all kinds of happiness and sadness, laughs and tears. It was the last week of programs. That came as a shock to me since I didn’t realize that until late Monday. Unfortunately, Jafeth (my replacement with the preschoolers) only got to do the program with me a few days. I know that wasn’t the best training he could have gotten. He will be OK though, he’ll just learn quite rapidly next year on his own of what works for him and the kids. On the last day of programs Thursday, I was standing in the bathroom putting my make-up on. When I am by myself, I enjoy praying aloud and talking to God as if he were standing next to me. So as I was thanking God for the opportunity of being the preschool teacher over the last year or so, I just lost it. There I was, attempting to put make-up on, while crying uncontrollably and having it all come right back off. When Jafeth and I started the morning program, Jafeth asked whether we should sing songs or not. I remember saying “it’s up to you Jafeth, the program is almost yours since this is my last day.” I almost teared up then at the thought of it. After our afternoon class, I went to bring my computer upstairs to the apartment like I always do. Instead of heading back downstairs, I just had to spend some time sitting by myself. I cried and cried and cried over it all. I’m someone who rarely cries and is not very emotional, but I knew this moment would come. The thing is, I know the kids will be in good hands next year. Unfortunately, right now all I can think about is how I am going to miss them like crazy. I hate that I won’t be here to see their accomplishments and improvements, to encourage them, to see them on their first day of school next year, etc. But it is what it is, and right now it is difficult.

Friday was a cheerful day, and thank God for that. We spent the day decorating the mission for Christmas. I have to say that while I may have been the one to buy the decorations and clearly I love how it all looks, everyone else thinks so too! Even though everything is garnet and gold, I’m not being biased here. The church looks the best I have ever seen it for Christmas. The morning of decorating kicked off with Jenny and I going to buy the Christmas trees. This is the wildest thing. I asked Jenny where we would go to buy the tree this year. She said it was pretty far and hard to explain how to get there. That’s when I decided to go with her so I could go ahead and buy our tree for the apartment at the same time. In my mind, I was thinking as soon as she said far and complicated that it must be the place Jessica took us last year to get our tree. Sure enough, that’s the place we pulled up to. I looked around and didn’t see any Christmas trees. The guy was on the phone when we pulled up so we sat in the car and waited. I told Jenny the story of going to this exact place last year and there being no trees left and we had to head to another tree lot back the other direction. I even jokingly told her that this guy was about to direct us to the same place as last year since there were clearly no trees here.

After he got off the phone, Jenny went to ask him where the trees were. I sat in the car waiting patiently and watching. When Jenny got back in the car she told me that he didn’t have any trees and that we could go to Los Jardines because they still had them. I asked her where that was and she said by her house meaning we’d have to go back where we came from and then some to get to this place. I asked Jenny if she knew what déjà vu was and she said “si,” and repeated the same thing back to me but with a Spanish accent. We started driving to this other place and the moment we pulled up, it was the craziest feeling. It was the same exact place that we bought the tree last year.

Once we parked the car, we hiked down to start walking through the maze of trees. Jenny and I were like two kids in a candy store. She asked the man to show us the biggest trees they had. We must have walked through dozens and dozens of trees. We saw several we liked but trying to back track to wherever those were was impossible. Finally, we picked two large ones and the guy started to saw them down. I don’t think we were really paying attention to size because the tree for the church can be as big as they come. But the one for the apartment was also quite large. I think we ended up taking a foot and a half off the trunk to get it to fit inside.

When we got back to the mission, Maiko asked if he should take the tree up to the apartment. I said sure, that would be nice. Let me start by saying that they don’t use tree stands here, they use five gallon buckets with rocks and sand in them to hold the tree. Last year, Pabel graciously did this for us. This year, that guy goes on vacation right at Christmas tree hunting time! Ideally, we would have set the tree out on the carport until we found our bucket and got everything together. Now I know Maiko was trying to help which is why I can’t get even slightly upset about this. Half an hour later after the tree was taken upstairs, I walked up to the apartment to see this ginormous tree laying in the middle of the floor with green sprigs and needles everywhere. We’re all quite fortunate that that was just his mess and Mack didn’t go nuts on the tree in that thirty minutes or so that it was left unattended on our living room floor. When Andrew came upstairs later that day, he actually asked me “what are the chances that we can just leave this like this until Pabel gets in on Monday?” Not good.

What I loved about decorating the mission this year was how many mothers and teenagers showed up to help the staff. Everyone jumped in to help do something. Jenny and I put Ronald and Vinicio in charge of getting the tree in the bucket and settled. Yorlana and Erika were going to start decorating the stage. Others started to unpack all of our Christmas décor to get organized. And Jenny and I were off to buy more stuff! Before we left, I did a quick peek at the unpacked boxes of decorations. I didn’t see the special ornaments that we normally put up. I asked Jenny to be sure we put them back in those boxes last year and she said yes. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I knew Larry and Cheryl’s matching ornaments were part of that group. We decided we’d look for them once we got back from the store. Neither of us said anything to anybody about it but when we returned and everything was sorted out even more, Jaikel came up to me and said that he couldn’t find Cheryl’s ornament, only Larry’s. Sometimes, with all the new staff and changes that have taken place this year, it’s nice to have some of the people who have been around for years to notice things like that. To me, it was quite thoughtful that he knew those were always special ornaments for the tree and he looked thoroughly for them. There was a genuine sense of disappointment when he realized one of them might be lost.

The afternoon was filled with more decorating. Everything truly looked wonderful and it was such a nice collaborative effort. I will say that I really only adjusted, or “corrected” if you will, a few minor decorations when people weren’t looking. I think that’s a pretty big deal for me since I tend to be a little obsessive. It reminds me of something I saw on Pinterest recently that says “I’m not really a control freak… but can I show you the right way to do that?” To have that many people decorating in all kinds of different ways, some putting ornaments in a linear direction on the tree, and others clumping things all together, I did really well with it.

That night, we had a sleepover for the tween girls. This was a nice end of year event to do with them and especially so since I won’t be here next year. We ordered pizza, played games, painted nails, made bracelets, and just hung out. Sometime after midnight, we circled up to talk as a group. The girl who was going to give the message that evening had to leave early on. While we were all together, I took the opportunity to share a couple of verses with them and give them my farewell message, if you will. I shared Psalm 139:14 with them because I think that’s an important verse for every teenage girl to learn and believe. Several of them are sixth graders who will go on to high school next year. I shared with them how easy it is to make decisions that are based on what everyone else is doing and not what God would have them do, so be careful. I encouraged them to stay involved, make good decisions, and work hard next year. For some reason, I felt the need to let them know that even if I come back to visit next year and hear that so-and-so is into this now or hanging out with the wrong crowd or whatever the case may be, that I would never give up on any of them. And I know that their leaders that will be here next year won’t either. I read Jeremiah 29:11 to them and told them that I would forever share that great hope for all of their futures and lives. I told them how proud I was of them and how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know them all. I let them know that I will always pray for them and love them from afar in the United States, but to always remember that they will always have people here in this mission who love them. At that point, half the group was crying, which was not my intent. So I said, why don’t we get up and do something fun? And everyone got up and started a dance party.

Tomorrow starts another week here, one of just a few left. There’s much to do before Christmas comes. I have to share this precious moment I had with Cristhel a couple of weeks back. We have a million Cristhels here but this one is Hierguth’s little sister so I am sure she has heard from him about what the inside of the apartment is like. We were sitting at a table one day in the classroom and she ushered me closer. This child whispers nearly everything to me that she says and is unbelievably meek. She has spent the better part of her short life living in fear. One day, if God gives me the go ahead to do it, I will share their family’s story as I know it would open many people’s eyes to real life here in Bajo Tejares. But for now, just a handful of us know what their lives have been like and we’ll keep it that way. Anyways, when I leaned across the table, she whispered in my ear “is it true that your house is filled with Christmas presents?” I smiled back at her and said “yes, yes it is!”


Recent Happenings March 15, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 1:56 am
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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!