Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Life, Death, and the Day-to-Day: November 30, 2010

Tonight, in our Casa Verde, life, death, and the day-to-day all converged at one point in time, as we commemorated, celebrated, and practiced each of these milestones simultaneously.
On Sunday, we learned of the death of a baby, just four days old, who was the son of two of Pete’s friends. This touched our hearts and we were deeply saddened for their loss; a life just begun.
On Monday, we learned of the death of a classmate of Pete’s from college, who died in a car accident on Thanksgiving morning. This also saddened us deeply for the loss of a life; a man so young and in his prime. 
Today, when we went to the store, I felt moved to buy to candles to light in their memory, so we did: two star-shaped candles, one red, one white.
Today, my friend from college turned 25 years old. I wished her ¡feliz cumpleaños! on facebook earlier today. My friend lives in the US but is of Mexican descent and is very connected to her culture and family here in México. Her birthday wish for me was that we drink a Victoria (beer) in her honor. Today at the store, we bought Victoria and a tequila con toronja (mixed drink of tequila and grapefruit soda) to celebrate her birthday. 
Tonight, in our Casa Verde, we lit the candles to commemorate the lives and passing of Emmett and Naeem. We toasted and drank to honor and celebrate Lorena’s 25 years of life. We also played our favorite game here: a Monopoly card game. We play this game almost every day, almost always multiple rounds. We first learned the game because it was given as a gift for the kids to play and we thought we would try to learn how to play it before teaching it to the kids. We found it so confusing the first few times we tried to play that we decided that it would most likely be too complex for the majority of the kids; not to mention that it would not work if cards turned up missing, which would likely happen soon after handing it over to the children. Once we finally grasped the purpose and strategies of the game, we were hooked. It is special to us because it is one activity that we do together--just the two of us. We understand it and enjoy it together often. It has become a part of our daily life, living in Mexico.  
I was struck by how we were celebrating life, commemorating death, and engaging in our daily practice all at once this evening. How symbolic? Doesn’t that say a lot about how life is? At any given time, it’s not all celebration, it’s not all pain, it’s not all monotony or routine. It’s a mixture of all of those things. I caught a glimpse of that truth in a very real way tonight. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Teaching Thanks-giving: November 25, 2010

As Pete and I were planning English classes for this week, we thought we would incorporate some teaching about Thanksgiving into the curriculum. Pete suggested that we find readings for our students about the holiday. I thought this was a good idea, as it would allow our students the opportunity to practice reading English, which we don’t have them do very often (especially since we do not follow a specific textbook or workbook.) Yesterday, I searched on the internet for easy-to-read (early elementary level) readings about Thanksgiving and was met with a challenge. Most of the readings were too difficult for our students’ English reading level. Most of them were also about the pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a big feast. I don’t quite buy into the story of Thanksgiving as it is often told and I didn’t feel it was worth my time or energy to explain the “traditional Thanksgiving story” and how it was problematic. That’s hard enough to explain to kids who have grown up celebrating Thanksgiving. These kids knew nothing about the holiday, so I came to the conclusion that I would just teach about the aspects of the holiday that are important to me: essentially, the idea of giving thanks, gathering with loved ones, and food! By the way, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so it is easy for me to transmit my enthusiasm about it to others. 
Per Pete’s suggestion, for my high school students yesterday evening, I decided to write a paragraph about the holiday on the board and have them write it down in their notebooks. We then took turns reading the sentences aloud. Here is what they wrote: 
“Thanksgiving is a holiday that is celebrated in the USA. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest season. People celebrate this holiday by gathering with their families and friends to eat a lot of food. Traditional Thanksgiving foods are turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. On this holiday, people give thanks for the blessings in their lives.”
At the end, I had them write, “I am thankful for: 1)...2)...3)...” and we each named three things that we’re thankful for. I led the same activity with my 4th and 5th graders this morning, although they wrote a simpler version of the paragraph above. 
Ultimately, giving thanks is the essence of Thanksgiving and that is what I ended up sharing with my students. 
Now for some personal reflections about what I am thankful for this year, at this moment. 
I am thankful that...
-we have purified water to drink. We recently discovered that we can buy the large 20 liter returnable jugs of water at the nearby corner store, which we put into our water dispenser for easy-access safe water. Before, we had been walking a few blocks away to Wal-Mart a few times a week to get 10 liter jugs of water. Now, our purified water lasts longer, the jugs are re-used, and we get to support the local corner store when buying water, rather than Wal-Mart. 
-my stomach has been healthy for a while. Following my two experiences with different versions of stomach illnesses during my first 3 weeks here, I have been relatively healthy, with my stomach and otherwise. Hallelujah!
-I am here with Pete. Pete is family. I cannot imagine living and serving at the Casa without Pete. The past two-and-a-half months have been so incredibly rich for each of us personally, and have allowed us to grow in our relationship as a couple. For one thing, we have time with one another, which is a huge blessing, especially after the crazy busy year we both experienced last year. The time we share this year is particularly special given that this is the year in which we are preparing to be married. Embarking on this experience of living and serving in a new environment together has allowed us many opportunities to see deeper into the way the other handles challenges, communicates across language and culture, and interacts with children of all ages; moreover, this experience gives us the chance to support each other through all of that. 
-we are able to live at the Casa “salary-free” for 8 months. Volunteering (at least in the way that we are) is a privilege that I realize not everyone is in the position to do. I am thankful for the window of opportunity in our lives to take time to do this and for the fact that we have minimal financial burdens, which also allows us to take advantage of this service opportunity. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Playing Pretend: November 11, 2010

Through working with kids regularly, my inner child gets to reveal itself at times--the part of me that loves fantasy, that loves pretending, that loves to be silly. I found that last year, when I was a teacher full-time and responsible for keeping my students “in line” for 6 hours straight, I was uptight pretty much the entire day at school. When I would get home, the inner child that really did enjoy fun came out, occasionally. I wasn’t the ideal teacher for my students last year in part because I hardly showed the fun, relaxed, real side of me to my students. I was too stressed out and under pressure all of the time. This year is pretty much the complete opposite. I get to show my whole, loving self to the kids, and I get to be that whole person with myself as well. That feels really good, a real relief. 
Two nights ago, one of my fifth-grade English students, a girl both Pete and I have become close to, approached me to tell me that she lost her tooth! I congratulated her and asked if she was going to put it under her pillow. She said that she was. Apparently, here it’s a ratoncito (little mouse) that comes and takes the tooth, rather than a fairy. One thing I love about this girl is her imagination. She’s 10 years old and has a great imagination. She enjoys playing with barbies and pretending her stuffed lion is a baby. Together, we’ve played other imaginary games with very few physical materials. I think I was a 10-year old like her. I encouraged her to put her tooth under her pillow and started secretly scheming how to be her tooth fairy (or ratoncito). 
The next morning, she was waiting outside of the library for me to arrive for English class. “The tooth is still there,” she told me. “Leave it there,” I responded, remembering that I needed to take care of that. “The tooth fairy/ratoncito can come during the daytime too,” I added. Around 5 pm that day, while she was at school and things were pretty quiet at the Casa, I snuck over and asked the Social Worker if I could get into the girls bedroom.  The Social Worker gave me the keys to the bedroom, and with the help of the girl’s older sister, I found her bed, where the tooth was laying on a little styrofoam plate next to her pillow. I took the plate and placed five pesos under her pillow. What do I do with this tooth?! I thought to myself. I quickly left the room, returned the keys, and took the tooth back home. Success! I wrapped the tooth in a little tissue and set it on my dresser. Maybe I’ll give it back to her when we leave in May. It will be ok then for her to discover my secret. 
Today in English class, she told me her tooth was gone. I gave her a thumbs up and a smile. “Do you believe the ratoncito exists?” she asked me. “I like to believe it does,” I responded.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Changing of the Seasons: November 5, 2010

The change of seasons has come to Colima! Starting yesterday morning, we could feel fall when we woke up. A cool breeze was blowing through the windows and I actually felt compelled to put on long sleeves in the morning. For someone who gets cold very easily in cool weather, it has been quite a change for me to not always be the cold one. The kids get chilly so easily because they’re used to such hot temperatures. They’ll often have on long sleeves or even a coat when I feel comfortable in short sleeves. Fall in the US (midwest and northeast) is my favorite season; I love the crisp air, the cool breeze, and the colorful, falling leaves. Although it still gets hot during the day here, in the mornings and evenings, I feel a taste of the fall I know and love, and I am so grateful for it. 
The changing seasons and cooler weather has brought an onslaught of dry, chapped lips. Yesterday at dinner, I sat with the youngest girls, who I love to sit and chat with over meals. One of them began to tell me how her lips hurt and then the rest chimed in and said theirs did too. I know how painful it is to have chapped lips and I love my Carmex, so I thought I would give them some that evening when I went to read stories to them. 
Now for a bit of a tangent, but one I’ve wanted to share about...
I have been reading bedtime stories to the littlest ones (in Maternal, a separate area of the Casa for the youngest kids,) twice a week. This is one of my favorite activities that I do here at the Casa. I love reading with kids and I love their excitement over books. The first two times that I went, I just took one or two books with me and then read them as they were lying in their beds or sitting on the floor listening. However, they kept asking me to hold and look through the books I brought, so I decided that I would take a bunch of books (20 or so) and give the kids time to look through the books, and for those who could read, read books to themselves and other kids. Then, after about 15 to 20 minutes of reading independently, (and I’ll also read one-on-one with kids during this time,) they’ll all get into their beds and I’ll read one last bedtime story. This has worked very well because they get a chance to read and handle books first and then they’re more ready to listen to the final story. They’ve loved The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein--so much so that they asked me to read it a second time last night. I highly recommend that book. Some have told me that they also liked The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, told from the Wolf’s perspective (he’s not such a bad guy after all...) During my bedtime story time, I’m also getting an idea of how some of them read, which gives me insight into whom I might be able to offer extra reading support to in the future.
Back to the chapped lips...
When I went to read bedtime stories, I took my little container of Carmex and a bunch of Q-tips. Right before they crawled into bed, I gave them Q-tips to spread the Carmex on their chapped lips. Word must have gotten out because today, another boy with super chapped lips asked me for some, so I gave it to him and other kids who happened to be around. I’m reminded that the small comforts, which I often have on hand and take for granted, can actually be quite important, especially if you are without them. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why are kids at the Casa?: November 5, 2010

Yesterday at lunch, a girl who is one of my English students, just about to turn 12-years old (tomorrow!) and is always very sweet and affectionate with me, asked me, “When you have kids, are you going to put them in a Casa [like this one]? Interesting question, I thought. 

“No,” I responded. 
“Good,” she replied, “because parents who do that are irresponsible.” 
Another girl who was sitting with us, who is very close to her mother (an only child like me:) disagreed, “No, that’s not true.”
I responded, “It depends on the situation. Some parents put their kids in the Casa because they want them to go to school.” The other girl agreed with me, feeling affirmed, I believe. I continued, “ and some parents put their kids in the Casa because they want to make sure they have food to eat.”
The conversation then began to shift to another topic; however, it stuck with me throughout the day. 

Why are kids at the Casa? There are truly a diverse range of reasons. Some, because their parents work at carnivals and they wanted their kids to go to school. They knew that wouldn’t be possible with the transient nature of their work, so by putting their children in the Casa, they gave them a stable place to live during the week and attend school. Other kids are here because their families do not have a home. Prior to coming here, they lived on the street or in someone else’s house. Their mothers wanted to make sure they had decent food to eat daily. Some kids are referred to the Casa by DIF (their Department of Children and Family Services) for abusive or neglectful home situations. Other parents don’t come for their children on the weekends. I really don’t know or understand their stories completely. 

What I do know is that sometimes it must be hard for a 12-year old to understand why she’s here. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Are you his mother?: November 3, 2010

On Sundays, Pete and I try to spend quality time with kids who are left here, who do not go home to family members. We’ve started a practice of cooking Sunday night dinners, (which Molly and Peter, our predecessors, did as well) or we’ll take the kids out for dinner. Sunday is a family day here in Mexico and so it is especially important to offer these kids special family time, even if with their surrogate family. 
Last weekend, we had a 5-day weekend due to el Día de los Santos, el Día de los Muertos and an extra day because the fair is in town. Therefore, the majority of kids did not return to the Casa until Thursday, and we were able to spend a few extra days with our special Sunday group. 
On Tuesday and Wednesday night, Pete and I read stories to two of our favorite little ones. They’re siblings, ages 6 and 7 (almost 8) years old. They’re here every weekend and we’ve grown quite close to them. On Tuesday night, I read with the girl and Pete read with the boy, and on Wednesday, we switched. On Wednesday, I was reading with the boy and another little girl joined us, who had just arrived back at the Casa from her weekend at home. The boy was sitting on my lap and we were reading a book together. The little girl asked, “Are you his mother?” Usually, I could just respond, “No,” but in this case, I really did not know what to say. “I’m his friend,” I responded. I had heard him refer to another one of his caretakers as ‘his friend,’ earlier that evening, so I felt that was a safe bet. The little girl later asked again if I was his mother and I restated that I was his friend and that I enjoyed spending time with him on the weekends. 
I think what made it so hard for me to respond is that I didn’t know what the little boy was thinking. Did he want me to say: “Yes! He’s my son!”? Did it make him think: “Where is my mother?” What was going through his head when the little girl asked me that? It was heart-wrenching for me also because we have grown so close to him and his sister. I wanted to say “yes, I’m kind of like his mother.” I spend more time with him, read more stories to him, cook more meals for him, and hug him more than his parents do right now. It’s also complicated because he does sometimes call Pete “Papa” and me “Mama” as does his sister. However, it’s not uncommon for kids at the Casa to give people who aren’t actually their parents those titles, because they care about them or because they’re just pretending, like playing house. If he were really feeling like we were his “Papa” and “Mama” figures, did my “No, I’m his friend,” answer disappoint him or break his heart? I didn’t want to say “Yes,” as if I were playing the pretend game, because I know we’ll be leaving in 6 months and if he were actually under the impression that we are like a “Mama” and “Papa” to him, then what does that communicate to him: that “Papas” and “Mamas” get attached then leave their children (as he’s experienced before)? 
Can you tell how much I love this kid and his sister? I just want them to know that they’re loved, which is why I guess it was hard for me to find an answer to the little girl’s question. No, I’m not his mother, but I love him very much. I’ve come to the conclusion that that was probably the best thing I could have said at that moment, but I couldn’t find those exact words.
See when you love kids, especially in a situation like this, it gets complicated. It's not always easy or clean. People--the kids and us--can potentially get hurt. Something tells me though, that if we love extravagantly, but are careful and thoughtful in how we treat these relationships, then the time and love that we share will ultimately do more good than harm. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reflections on Turning 25: October 25, 2010


I’ve waited my whole life for this birthday: 25 on the 25th. My GOLDEN birthday! I woke up this morning to a call from my mother. I can’t imagine a better way to start this special day. Tears of joy began to well up in my eyes. I am so happy, but also very reflective; maybe because I feel that this birthday is so momentous for me. It is not only my GOLDEN birthday, but marks a quarter century of life. The first stage of my life: childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, is wrapping up and the second stage is gearing up. I’ll call this next stage: “Real Adulthood.” This year, I’m looking forward to getting married for one thing, which is a huge adult step. First comes love, then comes marriage, and you know...
Last night I had a dream which included people from my past. I don’t always sleep very deeply here, so when I have a vivid dream, I know I’ve had a good, deep sleep. I think it was very apropos to have that dream last night. It was like my mind was processing people and interactions that have been important in my “first stage” of life. I woke up with the sensation to write to them and tell them that as I reflect on my first 25 years of life, they were important to me--in my growth and development; helping me to become the adult that I am today. 
There are so many people who touch our lives, even for a brief moment, and leave a huge, meaningful, imprint. I do believe that in some ways, we are like blocks of clay. God molds us in the womb and then sends people in this world who press and pull and prod us, leaving marks on our form. Today, I’m thinking about those people and thanking God for them by name. 

Living My Life like it’s Golden--A play-by-play of my day: 

Note: I wanted to record my day, just so I don’t forget it! It’s a long description, so if you skim it, please make sure to read the last one :)
  • I woke up happily to a phone call from my mother.
  • Pete serenaded me on the trumpet with “Happy Birthday,” then presented me with a drawing (which one of the girls had given to him to color) of a boy playing a trumpet for a girl.
  • A 13-year old boy gave me a white bear stuffed animal holding a rose, who was sitting on purple tissue paper, which he chose because he knew purple was my favorite color.
  • A co-worker presented me with a lovely pair of earrings, also purple because she knew it was my favorite color.
  • I received lots of warm hugs from warm children.
  • Those same warm children sang me “Las Mañanitas,” the Mexican birthday song.
  • I received lots of warm hugs from kind adults.
  • I laughed hard in the kitchen with two women in their 50‘s as I learned life lessons from them about joy and growing older. 
  • A woman who works in the office and her family gifted me a bag of mint-filled Hershey’s kisses--something I haven’t enjoyed in a while :)
  • As I sat in the library reading loving messages from friends and family on facebook, the whole morning staff entered the library singing “Las Mañanitas,” and presented me with a gift basket full of fruit and chocolates, along with a bag of Mexican coffee. They all contributed to purchase that gift. Amazing.
  • A 10-year old girl who I’ve grown very close to gifted me with a stuffed bunny, which looked well-loved, in a gift bag. I told her this bunny would help me when I miss my bunny at home ;)
  • The Doctor, who we’ve also grown very close to, gifted me a beautiful hand-painted clay mini-bowl along with silver earrings and a matching necklace pennant. She later brought me a nice floral arrangement for the house. 
  • I continued to receive warm birthday hugs throughout the day. 
  • Two girls created a gift for me together. It was in a wrapped silver box with a big bow. They wanted me to wait until I got back to my house to open it. Inside I found a stuffed doll, a stuffed dog, and a little stuffed animal, all also well-loved.  A little note on the stuffed animal read, “Te Quiero.” So sweet. 
  • I ran into an employee as she was walking toward the Casa to come to work. She greeted me with a hug and pulled out of her bag a wooden painted statuette of una Virgencita and gifted it to me.  
  • I shared a little cake with the seven youngest (kindergarten-aged) kids at the Casa after their dinner time. (They eat dinner earlier than the older, primary school-aged kids.)   I’ve grown closer to the youngest kids recently because I read bed-time stories to them two days per week, so I wanted to share something special with them. 
  • I taught English class to my high school students.
  • I shared two cakes (de tres leches) with the larger group of older kids after they ate dinner. They sang “Happy Birthday” in English and then, as is customary, before cutting the cake, one of the girls pushed my face into the cake. With a face full of vanilla frosting, I cut and served my birthday cake.
  • After dinner, Pete and I went out to dinner with Lupita, la Doctora, and two other Casa employees. We had a lovely dinner in which I ate a large, delicious salad. I especially enjoy fresh veggies whenever I’m able to eat them here. 
  • Lupita presented me with a ring, which she said was an engagement ring to the Casa, and then at dinner, bought me some roses. 
  • Pete presented me with a book, which he had put a lot of work into along with the help of the kids and staff at the Casa. It was full of notes and pictures from kids and adults wishing me happy birthday and saying nice things, many of which were in English because Pete had worked with kids in his English classes on this project. At the end of the book, Pete had written--get this: 25 haikus, in English, Spanish, and even one in French. They were so creative and beautiful. At the end, were the lyrics to a song that he had written about us, which he recited to me with the music in the background when we got home from dinner. The PERFECT end to a wonderful day. I went to sleep thinking that I am so incredibly blessed. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here right now and for the gift of sharing my life with such a talented, thoughtful, and loving man, Pete. 
Something I noticed is that when many people presented a gift, they said, “Esto es un pequeño detalle.” This is a little detail. To me, each “little” gesture of love and kindness felt huge, and each “little” detail contributed to create an incredible day. 
A final life lesson that I learned on my birthday: When you don’t have a candle, just light a toothpick with a piece of plastic wrapper on top. Make do with what you’ve got! (see pic...)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Settling in Take 2: October 14, 2010

Now I feel like I’m settling in for real. It has taken me a while to really convince myself that I’m not on an extended vacation; that we’re actually going to be living here for a number of months. I’m surprised because I thought I had moved through the “vacation period” much earlier in my stay than I actually had, but it isn’t until now that I’m truly feeling that this place could become one of my homes. 
This transition was marked by the act of “nesting,” which I practiced yesterday. I decided to dig in and unpack one of my bags that contained assorted items including school supplies that I had brought down and toys for kids that friends had sent with me. I also managed to fit into that suitcase a bulletin board that we had hanging in our kitchen in Medford. The board contains a collage of pictures and memorabilia: pictures of me with Pete and my parents, a pic of my extended family, one with Pete sitting with his arm around his brother, little license plates with my name on them--souvenirs from places that are important to me, a card that my Mom gave me that reads, “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a method of traveling,” a smiley face postcard which I’ve hung in my classrooms the past two years teaching, a poster with lots of expressive faces labeled in Spanish with different emotions entitled, “¿Cómo te sientes hoy?, Pete’s nametag from the conference where we met in 2004, and in the center of the bulletin board, the word LOVE. 
I found a nail to mount that bulletin board in my room and all of a sudden, a sense of home entered the Casa Verde. Next to the bulletin board, I hung up a pug calendar with each month featuring close-ups of adorable pugs, which undoubtedly make me smile. Finally, I rearranged two of the three beds in my room so I am now sleeping next to the wall where I hung the bulletin board and calendar and also turned one of the beds into a sitting area where Pete and I can sit and work/play on our computers (as we’re doing right now,) or play cards, which we do at least once a day--a Monopoly card game that never seems to get old.
I did some clean-up work around the rest of the house too, but most importantly to me are the changes that occurred in my room. Now, when I walk into the Casa Verde, I feel a new sense of belonging in this space. It is now mine, even if just for 7 more months. 
The last time that I got sick, Lupita told me stories about how she was sick for the first two months that she came to work at the Casa. She said that one of the keys to her getting well was convincing herself that she wanted to be here. I do believe there is some truth to that in my case too. While part of me being sick was getting adjusted to new foods, another part was getting adjusted psychologically and spiritually to being in this new environment. Thankfully, I’m at a point where I am finally feeling more grounded here, both in our work at the Casa and in our home. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oh, Happy Day!: October 3, 2010

I literally woke up this morning singing, well, in my head. I think I experienced the deepest sleep that I have since I arrived and felt the healthiest I had all week. My restful sleep and sense of wellness was in part due to the fact that Pete and I bought some highly recommended bug repellent devices that you plug into the electrical outlet, which slowly disperse some type of liquid that keeps the bugs out and they work! I haven’t seen, heard, or felt any bugs in the house since I plugged mine in (although it doesn’t keep out the little geckos that scale the walls, but they’re ok.) Another reason that I felt so well is that I am finally getting over this buggy stomach bug that I’ve had for the past week. This morning, I took the last of the antibiotic pills that I’ve been on, and I feel so much better. It’s amazing how good it felt to wake up feeling well. So good, I rejoiced. 
Another reason to rejoice today is that I had a wonderful afternoon with Jules. Jules is a woman from Boston who first came to the Casa with a group from First Church. She returned with Owen to help plan and construct the computer lab that the Casa now has. She is here for the week, and I am so glad for her visit. Today, we took a walk in the midday heat to the ATM, Wal-Mart, and a coffee & pastry shop where I enjoyed a rich chocolate chip pastry and cappuccino, which I savored after not being able to eat or drink much this past week. Jules and I spent about three hours there chatting away about our experiences at the Casa, life in Boston, our love of music and the arts, US politics, the US education system, our mutual connections to and appreciation for small town Ohio, and much more. I am so grateful for the opportunity to connect with her, learn from her, and share with her during our time together. 
This evening, Pete, Jules, and I took three kids and an older teen out for dinner. We went out for pizza for the first time here and it was pretty good. Jules and I shared the a veggie pizza and everyone else shared the one with pepperoni and salchicha (which is essentially cut up hot dog). When we got back to the Casa, we shared the leftover pizza with a staff member and the few kids who had either stayed behind for different reasons or had just arrived from their weekend at home. Tomorrow morning, the majority of other kids will return from time with their family members. The weekends provide a nice respite to the busyness that life is at the Casa Monday through Friday. They’re quiet, low key, and you can do special things like take a small group out for dinner or a movie without leaving a host of other kids behind. It is especially meaningful for kids who are at the Casa on the weekend to have special time with adults because they are here because they are not able to go with their families or do not have family members present to visit. 
I am thankful for the quiet times, for the weekends, for opportunities to connect with new adults in my life, for opportunities to share special times with children, and for the blessing of feeling well. 

Choir Trip: September 26, 2010

Last Sunday, Pete and I accompanied the Casa’s choir to a performance in a nearby town square. They were singing for a celebration to commemorate Mexico’s 200th year of Independence. The Casa has a great choir led by a charismatic and passionate teacher: El Maestro Mario. He loves his students at the Casa and at the other two schools where he teaches--one in a coastal community about an hour away from Colima and another in a nearby indigenous community. This man never seems to tire. I think his energy stems from his childlike nature. At lunch one day, he was showing me videos on his cell phone of the intricate lego structures that he had built in his home. In the choir, he has fun with the kids while providing them a critical space to be both challenged and creative. 
El Maestro’s dedication couldn’t have been more evident than when we went on an expedition in his big van to pick up students at their houses on the way to the performance. The majority of the kids at the Casa go to their families’ homes on the weekends and during vacations. Since this choir event was on a Sunday, it was el Maestro’s responsibility to pick up kids if their guardians could not drop them off at the Casa or at the event location.  Since we drove around Colima picking up kids, it took us probably about three times as long to arrive at our destination than it would have taken driving there directly. Following the show and a nice taco dinner, el Maestro dropped all 11 of the kids (some of them being siblings) back at their homes. By the time that two of the kids, Pete, and I were dropped off back at the Casa it was around 11 pm and he had a few more kids to go before he was able to head home. 
The event itself was nice. We arrived at the town square around 6:40 pm and the choir wasn’t scheduled to go on until 8:30. When we arrived, we saw there were men setting up an official looking stage with colored lights, mics, and large speakers, which we later learned was just for our group. El Maestro talked to the organizers to see if they could go on any earlier as the kids were ready, an audience was there to watch, and the sky looked and sounded like it was going to storm at any moment. The organizers stuck to their original schedule, so we had some time to hang out, chat with the kids, play hang man (or a less violent version that Pete created in which you add rays to a sun,) and two of the girls (sisters) even styled Pete’s hair. 
Shortly before the event, the choir dressed in their performance clothes and armed themselves with fake pistols--2-3 per person. During the show they pulled them out at various times and fired them. The theme of the show was music from the Revolution, so the pistols were period pieces, though the kids seem to enjoy pretending to fire them at each other while preparing for the performance. The choir sang beautifully and people endured the rain to listen to them until the end.
One highlight of the evening was meeting the grandmother of one of the boys. He was not in the choir, but his sister was so he came to the event too. When he saw Pete and me, he pointed and said to his grandmother, “This is Melissa and Pete.” We introduced ourselves and she said that she had heard about us. She also said that he had showed her a picture that I had given him of the two of us in July. It was nice to meet her and felt nice to know that positive reports seemed to be going home about us. I felt that it was a special privilege to be introduced to his family. He sat next to me during the performance and during some of the songs, sang out at the top of his lungs.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Crazy and Right: September 30, 2010

I have been reflecting about the comment that Lupita made to me, which I included in my first blog post from this trip: “Estoy loca por creer en Dios. Who believes in a being you can’t see?” That statement struck me for some reason as being profound and insightful, but it has taken some time for me to come to some understanding as to why. 

Many “greats” in history have been labeled “crazy.” The first one that comes to mind is Jesus. He was very counter-culture, right? Choosing the least in society to achieve great tasks, healing social outcasts, telling stories that turned societal norms upside-down. Some might say Lupita is crazy for dedicating her life, not just her career, but her life to serving children who have no safe haven but the one that she provides them. Some might say that Pete and I are crazy for giving up familiarity, comfort, income, etc. to live here in the company of these amazing people. There are countless other people in my life who I love that could be considered crazy for one aspect of their lifestyle or another. 

When I was sharing these thoughts with Pete today, he responded: You have to be a little crazy to make change. Being “normal” means accepting and following social norms as they are. 

I realized Lupita’s comment has taught me that you can be crazy and also be right. Sometimes you must be considered crazy in order to live right.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Bite: September 23, 2010

Yesterday night, I went to bed sticky and it wasn’t because I had been perspiring all day. 
It all started when I noticed a sizable red circular blotch surrounding a red bite on my right inner thigh. The blotch stung slightly, was warm to the touch, and seemed to be the result of some type of insect bite. I had a similar mark, but smaller and a bit less painful near my right elbow. Since I noticed them when I woke up in the morning, I believed I had acquired them some time during the night before. As they day progressed, I became more worried about the spot on my leg, whose diameter was the length of my index finger. What if I was bitten by some type of poisonous insect? What if the spot gets larger during the night and I wake up tomorrow morning with a gigantic, burning splotch on my leg? 
When I went to dinner at the Casa comedor, I didn’t feel quite well and left immediately after finishing my toasted bread with refried beans on top. As I walked back to our Casa Verde in the sprinkling rain, I cried for the first time since we arrived here. It was the combination of fear of the the unknown bites, feeling slightly ill, and frustration with some of the kids’ behavior/conversation at the dinner table. I just needed to cry it out and get over it, so I did. 
Pete joined me soon after he finished his dinner and we decided we would go back to see if someone at the Casa might know what the mysterious bites were. I decided to first ask Ines, a Dutch woman who has lived and volunteered here for the last three years. I knocked on her door and began to cry again as I asked her if she knew what they might be. She was extremely caring and calm as she said that there aren’t any poisonous spiders around here (except for tarantulas, which I’ve been told are very uncommon,) and that kids often have big reactions to certain bites. She suggested that I ask the Casa Social Worker, Vikki, who knows a lot about such things. Later, I approached her and she said they looked like they were the bites of an animalito. ¿Un animalito? “Like a spider,” I asked. No, a little animal. Ok. I didn’t really get much more than that, like what type of animalito. I just waited for her to tell me what I should do about it. It turns out, she recommended...limón! I am learning that rubbing on some limón, or lime, is the cure for many different types of ailments. Just that morning, a girl got stung by a bee as she was doing her morning chores. I accompanied her to the office to see what they recommended, and the remedy was limón. We then went to the kitchen and the cook told another child to cut her a limón and squeeze the juice onto her sting. 

When Vikki recommended limón to me, I laughed, and then explained that I laughed not because I thought her recommendation was silly, but because I’m surprised that limón is used for so many purposes. Vikki explained to me that limón has anti-inflammatory properties as well as many others. She asked a girl who was in her office to tell another of the staff members to toast me some limes. A few minutes later, I went into the kitchen and they cut the steaming hot limes in half. Ironically, the woman who was preparing the limes for me was stung by a bee in the process and applied some lime juice to herself. I then rubbed the hot lime halves on my two red blotches. It stung a little, but that might have been more from the heat of the lime than the pain of the bite itself. I asked the staff member who was with me what I should do with the other three lime halves. She said that I could take them home and rub them on as bug repellent later in the night. She asked if I often get stung/bitten by insects and I showed her my red-spotted lower legs. Yes. Bug repellent, just one more of the useful properties of limón! 

I thanked everyone who had been so helpful and Pete and I went back to the Casa Verde, after helping a teenage girl prepare for her English test the next morning. When we got home, I liberally applied lime juice to my arms and legs. I felt sticky and had pieces of lime pulp stuck to my skin, but I was confident that if Vikki and the other staff recommended limón, there must be some be some truth to its healing and repellent properties. Good old natural remedies. 
I had a really good, deep sleep last night. I didn’t wake up itching in the middle of the night as I had the past two nights. I woke up feeling good, and while the red blotches were still visible, they had faded to a lighter shade of pink. I took a shower, applied lotion, and then applied a light coating of lime juice once again on my arms and legs. It’s midday already and I can say that I haven’t been bothered by bugs much at all today. It seems that I’m becoming a limón believer just like everyone else. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A trip to the river: Friday, September 17, 2010

Today, Owen, Pete, and I went to Los Amiales with 24 children and youth--12 boys,12 girls. Today was a holiday, as well as warm and sunny, so Los Amiales was packed with families enjoying the cool water and shady trees. It is a river where people swim, hang out, eat at the restaurants, and chill, floating on the inner-tubes in the water. Pete and I had been to Los Amiales in February when we took kids with our church group. However, this time was a bit different because there was a lower adult-child ratio and I definitely felt like the Mama of the group. 

I love going out with the children. They love to have experiences outside of the Casa gates and I love being able to share those experiences with the kids. I mentioned this in my post from the July trip as well, but I was reminded of how kids are on their best behavior when they go out. They know it’s a privilege, as not all children are allowed to go on outings, depending on their daily behavior. Our visit to Los Amiales was a beautiful time together and the kids seriously enjoyed playing in the water. 

At the end of our visit, D, a 10-year old girl, who I’ve grown close with over the last two visits, showed me a little tiny kitten that she had found. It was super tiny and seemed that it was even too young to be weaned. I was immediately captivated by this little being and asked the people around if they knew who it belonged to. The women who responded seemed to own a food business at the river. They showed me the mother, who was a calico, like the cat my family had growing up and still has. The mother seemed to not be giving much love, attention, or food to this little kitten. There was another cream-colored kitten, who was bigger than the one I had in my hands. Oddly enough, when my calico cat had kittens growing up, she had two that looked exactly like these two. The women said that I could have the kitten if I wanted her. She stared at me with her big blue eyes for a good ten seconds and I felt that she was telling me  “Feed Me!” or “Are you my mother?” or “Mama.” Oh, how great it would be to care for this little thing and have a pet while I’m here, I thought. The kids were emerging from the water and came over to fawn over the sweet kitten and cuddle with her too. I held her in my hands and pet her little face until she closed her eyes with contentment, and then I held her against my chest. Sweet thing. “What would Lupita think?” I asked one of the kids, who responded that she would say it’s fine if we took care of her. One big obstacle was that Pete is very allergic to cats. I called him over to see the sweet thing and asked what he thought about me taking her back, given we’re living separately and all. He expressed his reservations and said that he would not even be able to visit my apartment if a cat lived there. I was faced with a dilemma. Am I willing to risk the comfort and health of my beloved partner for the sake of caring for this sweet kitty? Is it meant to be that I take this kitty back and raise it, as this happens to be the year that Pete and I are living separately? I mulled over these thoughts and really wanted to keep the kitty. The kids were also strongly encouraging me to do so. Finally, I decided: people over animals. I did not want to risk this kitty coming between me and my partner. Pete was appreciative of my decision and I was glad I made it. The kids knew that Pete was allergic and that was the primary reason that I did not take it home. I feel that not only was this an important decision for me to make in terms of setting my priorities, but also another teaching moment for the kids about considering the needs and desires of others, particularly your loved ones, in making decisions. 
As the kids finished piling into the van (a 15 passenger van with 19 kids+2 adults, ) I went over to say my final goodbye to the kitty. I saw that the mother was nursing her other kitten. I found my little kitty, who was off walking around and placed her next to her mother. She began to nurse too. That confirmed that it was good decision to leave her in her home and that her mother was taking care of her after all. I took a picture of the mother nursing both kittens and showed it to the kids as affirmation of the fact that the kitty was meant to stay with her Mama. 

Settling In: Thursday, September 16

Pete and I just arrived at home from a lovely evening out, first dining with a large group of kids and staff, and then out for a drink with a small group of staff. Within five minutes of opening the door, we saw two small lizards and one cockroach in my apartment. Despite the occasional wildlife that appears in my apartment, Pete and I are very grateful for our living situation. We knew from the start that we would be living separately, given the fact that we are not yet married. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw “Welcome Melissa y Pete” signs hanging outside of the upper and lower doors of the Casa Verde, or green house, that is located just one door down from the Casa outside of the exterior gates. Pete is on the second floor and I’m on the ground floor of the same house. Technically, we’re living separately, but close enough for comfort. I definitely feel more content and safe knowing that at night, he’s only 20 feet above me. Within a few minutes of our arrival on Monday, Lupita and another staff member came to the Casa Verde with groceries to get us started and dar la bienvenida: eggs, fruit, veggies, crackers, cereal, and more. They made us feel right at home. 

So first, the nitty-gritty of living in a new environment, and then some stories about the amazing and beautiful interactions that have happened during our stay thus far. The first morning I woke up in my new apartment, I lifted the toilet cover and found a cockroach in my toilet. The next night, I felt something on my foot as I was happily showering in my cold (but not ice cold) shower; also a cockroach, which prompted me to let out a blood curdling scream. Good thing I wasn’t in earshot of the kids who would have thought I was having some type of emergency. The third cockroach in the bathroom was the one we found this evening, just hanging out in the shower. Pete kindly took it outside to its proper home. 
Another thing about being new to this environment and spending much more time outside than I’m accustomed to in the US is the dramatic increase in bug bites. I just counted on my legs that I have more than 30 red, itchy dots...and boy do they itch! These little critters tend to go for the lower leg. I just asked the doctor who works at the Casa what she recommended and she gave me the name of an anti-itch cream. She also says that she puts OFF cream on when coming to work. Pete and I had bought some natural bug repellent, which smells citronella-y and nice, but I think it’s now time to go for the DEET. 

Although bugs are part of life here, I must say that I am very pleased with our living situation. I have a ton of space to spread out and host visitors **hint hint** and it’s nice to have our own personal space just outside of the Casa gates (where kids can’t peek into our windows), but so close to go back and forth as we need to. And to reiterate my previous point, I am so happy and relieved to be close to Pete.

Now, for the warm, fuzzy, and special stories. We arrived at a time when Mexico is celebrating their 200th year of Independence and it is quite a privilege to experience this celebration with them. There have been various ceremonies held at the Casa, including a flag presentation/competition, in which the kids presented the flags that they had created and were rated by a panel of judges, which included Pete, Owen, Dr. Monsterrat, Lupita, and myself. They also had a special ceremony at school in which they sang patriotic songs and ate delicious traditional Mexican foods (and so did we, of course.) 
We are special guests, certainly, but this time our presence is different than either of the other times I’ve been here. As Owen says, we kind of fade into the background. While the kids have more adults to give and receive their love and affection, we’re not the rock stars that we were when we came with a large group. They’ve settled into the fact that we’ll be here for eight months and not every moment needs to be ceremonious. I believe our presence is beginning to become a comfortable part of their routine. It will be more so when we determine a schedule for what we’ll be doing long-term. It seems that it might involve some English teaching because they no longer have an English teacher hired by the Casa (apart from the classes they receive in school.) We’ll have a meeting next week to determine our roles more definitively. 
Time out to say a huge thanks to Owen, a member of our church who has established an ongoing relationship with the Casa. He visits about every six months and the kids love him dearly. If he did not pick us up from the airport and take us to try to get a visa-related card that we needed in Guadalajara, I don’t know how we would have made it to Colima with our multiple ginormous suitcases. ¡Muchas Gracias, Owen!

Many of the kids, both boys and girls, but mostly girls, have commented on my emerald stone engagement ring. Two gold hands embrace the stone and form the band. They ask me if Pete gave it to me, and I say "yes." They know that it symbolizes our engagement. Sometimes I think about leaving it off because it might get dirty, look too valuable, etc., but every day I choose to wear it because it not only symbolizes something special for Pete and me, but for many of the kids who have noticed it as well. Various kids have expressed enthusiasm and curiosity about our wedding and future family. I have sensed that they value the positive, loving relationship that Pete and I have with each other. The ring is a symbol and continual reminder of that. Throughout our time here, I look forward to modeling healthy and positive interactions not just between me and the children, but between Pete and myself, man and woman, which I think is so critical that they see, especially given some of the family dynamics that they’ve experienced. 
One of the highlights that I’ve experienced so far is having a post-dinner conversation with Lupita, the Casa Director on one of our first nights here. I’ve admired Lupita since I met her, but I gained an even deeper respect and reverence for her as she shared with me her stories about God, faith, healing, “coincidences,” and more. I won’t share her stories here because they are hers, but I will say that one thing that stood out to me was that she said she is crazy for believing in God. “Who believes in a being you can’t see?” This coming from one of the most deeply spiritual and faithful people I’ve ever encountered. She’s quite amazing and I have so much to learn from her. 

Things kids have taught me:
--Today, a teenager, O, taught me how to shoot a basketball in a totally new way so that it spins through the air and into the basket. 
--Yesterday, a child, T, taught me how to make various models of really great paper airplanes. 

Final note: Pete is also keeping a blog: Please feel free to visit his site too. I promise that we’re not writing the exact same thing. 
Take good care. I’ll be in touch.
Melissa (aka Meli)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yes, this is right

I wrote this post on the plane on my way back from Mexico. Since I've been back, I've become immersed in life and details here and I'm just now getting around to posting it. It provides closure to the last Casa trip, so I want to document it here and share it with you.

Written on July 8, 2010:

Yesterday, all of the mediano and grande children gathered for a time of prayer on the Casa patio. This is a weekly practice with the children, led by Lupita. She recited a prayer aloud, a phrase at a time, and the children repeated after her. There was then a time when she called on individual kids to share prayers for their families, for the Casa, for loved ones in the extended Casa family who are ill. I then read a story of Jonah from a Children's Bible and Lupita questioned the kids about the message of the story. You can never run or hide from God. They closed the prayer time by reciting Padre Nuestro, the Lord's Prayer, as well as other Catholic prayers. Many of the kids prayed for us (Matthew, Jen, and me,) in their individual prayers and I told them that we also pray for them every week at church.

In closing out this visit, we had some special time with Casa staff. Lupita wanted to treat us, so she took Matthew, Jen, and me, along with another wonderful staff member out to eat. We enjoyed fresh fruit smoothies and Mexican fare: quesadillas, enchiladas, sopes, guacamole. It was a lovely time, full of laughter, story telling, and sharing how much we cared for one another. Lupita informed us that they would not be having a large goodbye celebration for us because we were Casa Family. She knew that we would be returning.

After the prayer service, we went out with another staff member, the Academic Coordinator. We learned that she has been employed at the Casa for two years and had volunteered there as a university student for four years before that. She is excellent with the children, cares so much about them, and really loves her job. It was personally really nice for me to get to know her better because she is just two years older than me and I believe that we'll become friends as well as co-workers when Pete and I live at the Casa. She says that she is already looking forward to working with me.

When I bought the ticket to Mexico for this trip, I was initially reluctant to tell my mother. I feared that she would be worried about me going to Mexico again, this time more independently, with a much smaller group. To my pleasant surprise, she said she thought it was a good idea for me to "test the waters," to make sure that I wanted to commit to living there for an extended period of time. This trip certainly served that purpose. I am sure the Casa is where I want to live and serve. It just feels right; where I'm called to be. This is the way I feel called to love and educate children at this point in my life: regularly and compassionately reading with them, sharing spiritual stories, talking with them about their lives, participating in a loving, caring community created for the sake of those who have been abused and abandoned. I feel amazingly at home at the Casa and in Colima. People are real, kind, and down to earth. I know there will be ups and downs. I know I will not always be happy. I know I will get frustrated, upset, and disappointed at times. That's life at any stage of the journey, right? I am so excited to be embarking, with my beloved, on this path.

Yes, this is right.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Talking to foreigners

One thing that really struck me the first time I visited La Casa was that the children spoke to me, and all others in our group, using the infinitive form of verbs. They did not conjugate their verbs based on the person or tense. (For example: Yo ir al cine. Tu darme una foto.) urrggg. This annoyed me because I had worked hard to learn Spanish, even taught Spanish, and I know that conjugation of verbs is key to effectively communicating in Spanish. I asked a friend from our group, who is also a proficient Spanish speaker and had been to the Casa various times, why children did this since they also spoke to him like that. He said that they were used to communicating with foreigners that way. Wow, I thought. That really reflects how experienced these children are with having foreign visitors, given they've developed a way to communicate with their guests who generally do not know much Spanish. It's like they've created a unique form of communication which they will use if you fit a certain category of "foreign visitor." What surprised me was that they didn't differentiate. In the case of my friend and I, even though we did speak with them relatively fluently--conjugating verbs and all, most children still didn't speak normally back to us.

The fact that they were not speaking to me normally in Spanish annoyed me even more on this trip. Maybe because I felt that I was being 'spoken down to' (even though I understood why they did it) or maybe because I've studied and taught Spanish and understand the importance of conjugation, every time a child would speak using only the infinitive, I would cringe, like nails on the chalkboard. Therefore, when they spoke to me that way, I decided to question them as to why. Most of them responded that they did because most extranjeros did not understand if they spoke normally. I would then say that I could understand them and could they please speak to me correctly in Spanish. Some did change their ways of communicating with me after I asked them to and others were so into the infinitive habit that they didn't think to shift themselves out of 'foreigner talk mode' with me. In that case, I would usually respond back by conjugating the verb or just ask them again if they could speak to me normally. I believe that as I live there for longer and blend more into their daily routine, they will become used to speaking to me in real "non-foreigner" Spanish :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Godly Play

One of the reasons that Pete and I are returning to the Casa in September is because when we were here in February, I asked Lupita, (the Casa's incredible Director) about ways in which we could support the Casa after we left and she named a few things including having a Spiritual Education Teacher and a Reading Specialist. Well, looks like I'll be working in those roles very soon and I got to try my hand in both of those areas on this trip.

Yesterday, I led my first Godly Play lesson, about the Creation Story, in Spanish. (Shout out: Thank you Second Church folks for leaving amazing Godly Play materials!) For those who aren't familiar with Godly Play, it is a Montessori-esk Christian education program in which the teacher tells a Bible-based story using props and then questions the children about their reflections on the story. The children then complete "work" (such as drawing pictures or playing with the story props) to further their spiritual reflection. Godly Play is based on the belief that children are born with an understanding and deep connection to God. My experience sharing the Creation story with the chiquitos (the youngest: ages 3-7) was lovely. There were 25 or so of them and they were so great. They paid close attention and then were able to re-tell the story to their amazing teacher, (this woman was finishing up bathing and dressing the entire group as I entered the room to set up the story!) She had an incredible system going with the chiquitos. She was firm, yet incredibly loving. As I was preparing to leave, she had them line up in two lines holding hands, then drop their hands so they were standing up firm and straight, and then sit down in two parallel lines. She then called on individuals who volunteered to share specific things that they wanted to thank me for. I was blown away not only by the chiquitos cuteness and focus during the story, but also by the maestra's mastery in caring for and managing her little ones.

When I was walking back to my room with the Godly Play materials, various kids asked me what I was doing. A pair of girls asked me if I would tell them the story. "Sure," I replied. Why not take advantage the opportunity of children wanting to do a religious activity? Among the two girls, there was a really talkative, extroverted one, and a really quiet, pensive one. They invited me to go into a room away from everyone else. I started the story: "What's the greatest gift you've every received?" I asked. "Life!" the talkative girl responded. Wow, I thought to myself, that's a great start. "Air," the other responded after some thinking time. Throughout the story, they continued to blow me away with their insightful thoughts about God, the story, and life. Some deep 10 year-olds, I thought. After a while, a few other kids began to enter our little private cove and then I learned that the girls were supposed to have asked permission to enter that room (which I had specifically asked about before going in,) so I closed up shop--the story was finished anyhow--and gave a mini-talk about how lying to me was not a good idea for the future. I prefaced that by telling them how incredible their ideas were and how I loved to share the story with them :) Seeing the markers and construction paper I had with me, the extroverted girl asked me if they would have been able to draw if they didn't lie to me and I responded "yes." I told her that we could finish up the activity by drawing tomorrow.

In fact, she did ask me today if we could continue with our activity. I was touched by how psyched she was about the activity.  She was so internally motivated to learn and talk about "life" as she put it. I had also verbally encouraged her on a few occasions by telling her and others how incredible her ideas were and how wonderful it was that she was sharing them. She felt very good about herself. Today, she asked me if we could draw and then we did, along with another boy who was not with us yesterday. She told a staff member who was walking by that we were working on an activity about "life."

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Over the last two evenings, we have taken two groups of older kids out on special outings. These have been fun and very meaningful times with kids, some of whom I didn't get a chance to know or spend time with on my first trip.

On Friday, we took a group of 13 older kids out to see Eclipse. It wasn't my first choice for a movie, but the kids really wanted to see it (and it didn't turn out to be so bad.) More important than our movie choice was the experience of being out in the world, at the movies with such incredible, kind, thoughtful children. They were polite, respectful, and grateful to be sharing in this experience with us and one another. There was no begging, whining, bickering, complaining, or anything of that nature, which I am accustomed to when I have taken large (or small) groups of children out in public in the US. It was really a fun time and felt like a privilege for me to get to know some different kids in a new way than I had been able to get to know before.

Similarly, yesterday, Jen, Matthew, and I took a group of three of the oldest youth, ages 16, 17, and 20, (who were staying at the Casa over the weekend) out for dinner. We decided to go to an Italian restaurant that we had seen driving into town. None of them had had Italian food before. It was amazing and SO much fun. They were also incredibly polite, grateful, and respectful. We were able to relax and joke around with one another in a way that we couldn't do if we were responsible for a large group of children, which is what they are used to experiencing--being the oldest and the ones responsible for helping to care for the younger ones. It is a treat for just them to get out and enjoy themselves. We ate and talked and ate and talked for hours and returned to the house glowing. It gives me such joy to be in the presence of such impressive young people.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Transition to the weekend

My neighbor on the airplane who told me that it rained at night and was dry during the day must have been misinformed. It has rained and is forecasted to rain every day that we're here. Each day, it rains on and off throughout the day and the sun may occasionally appear. However, rain does not alter the daily Casa activities and our trip has not been dampened one bit. Jen and I were out for a walk this afternoon and a downpour started as we were walking home. We decided to pop into a restaurant for some margaritas and chips and guacamole until the rain subsided. When we got home, Matthew showed us pictures and videos that he took of kids doing their Scouting (Girl and Boy Scouts) outside in the rain. They were standing in a circle in the pouring rain and doing some type of team-building activity in which they were crawling under ropes using their elbows on the wet, muddy ground. Matthew was convinced that the activities were strengthening the kids mentally and physically and they seemed to have fun doing it :)

Most of the children at the Casa go home to family members on the weekends. They leave some time between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and return on Monday morning. This morning, Jen and I were playing Uno with a group of children. I had a little guy (probably 7-8 years old, but very small) sitting with me and we were sharing a hand of cards in the game. His mother walked into the main office and someone playing in our game said "C____, your mom is here." He continued to sit with me and play the game, not seeming to hear or pay attention to what was said to him. About 5 minutes later, the Social Worker came over and told him that he needed to leave with his mom. I hugged him and said that I would see him on Monday. He walked over to the lady who was standing outside of the office and stood next to her--no hug, no emotion, nothing. She told him to say goodbye to the Social Worker and he did. Then, the mom and her son walked out together. That moment cut me to the core. What has happened to this child that caused him to not have any affection or outward emotion toward this woman who was picking him up? That was not the interaction that I observed between all of the children and their family members, but that one really stuck with me.

When you first come to the Casa, you meet incredible, loving, seemingly carefree children. They are so wonderful, and it is hard to imagine that anything or anyone has hurt them in their lives. In spending a little more time here, I am learning bits and pieces of the life stories of some of the children. It is incredibly hard to reconcile how I know these children in the present, in this place, and what I hear about what they have experienced in their pasts. I am constantly reminded of the inherent beauty and resilience of the human spirit. It is particularly evident in children.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Arrival (written on 6.30.2010)

We’re here in Colima at the Casa!!! It feels so incredibly good to be here. For those who do not know, I am travelling with my two good friends from church, Matthew and Jen, who also visited (and fell in love with) the Casa for the first time in February of this year.

A little about our journey:
The day before our departure, I sent Lupita, the Casa’s amazing director, a reminder e-mail to make sure she knew that we would be arriving between nine and ten PM the following day. She quickly responded saying that they were anticipating our arrival; however, the kids would be in bed at that time.

Our flight was scheduled to arrive in Guadalajara at 4:51 pm. I was thinking: One hour to get through Customs and Immigration and get the car, and then 2 ½ hours to drive to Colima. We should be there by 8:30 or so. Hopefully, we can get there before the kids go to bed! Of course, traveling in Mexico takes its twists and turns and not all goes as expected. We experienced nothing close to the travel adventure that we had in February with our church group: an unexpected overnight stay in Monterrey (our layover city) because Guadalajara’s airport closed for the night before our plane could land there. This time around, our layover in Phoenix went smoothly and both plane rides were also smooth, thankfully.

We landed in a giant thunderstorm in Guadalajara. There was lightening, pouring rain, and some hail! Matthew (a former pilot) said that it was a touchy weather situation to land in; however, we were safe and sound on the ground and I was extremely grateful to be there. We did have to wait on the plane for 15 minutes or so to de-board until the storm cell passed or at least lightened-up. My lovely neighbor on the flight told me that it is Mexico’s rainy season and it usually rains during the night and is pleasant and dry during the day.  Once we got off the plane, on a bus, into the main terminal, through Customs and Immigration, and to the car rental place, we had to manage a little car rental glitch, which involved switching companies from our reservation because of their unreasonable insurance policy. We got that settled out and set out on the road with the guidance of our handy GPS! Eventually, we got beyond the Guadalajara traffic and hub-bub of the industrial outskirts of the city.  Upon reaching the vast, open, undeveloped landscape, we started to see beautiful flashes of lightening in the dusk sky and about 2/3 of the way through our drive, it started to pour rain as it got dark. It poured for the rest of the trip, throughout our drive into the mountains. This slowed us down a little, but by God’s grace and Matthew’s skillful driving, we made it through safely.

Matthew, Jen, and I talked about the butterflies we began to feel in our stomachs as we entered the city of Colima. It was 9:45 as we arrived and I thought the kids would be in bed for sure. As we eagerly pulled up to the Casa, we heard loud music playing. We ran through the open gate and through the rain to find kids, adults, and teens dancing on the patio.  “MELISSAAAA” I heard a child scream as he ran up to give me a big, wet hug. He was followed by many others, who came to lovingly greet us. "¿Dónde está Pete? ¿Cómo está Owen? ¿y Rafa?" Yes, the children were still awake. They were celebrating the final night of the group from Second Church in Beverly’s stay here at the Casa. It was indescribably amazing to hug the children, receive giant wet hugs in return, and see their beautiful faces again. My 5% anxiety melted away and the extreme excitement took over.

Lupita showed us to the place where we would be staying. It is a renovation of the Padre’s (Priest who founded the Casa) old office, located in the building just inside the gate. Apparently the Casa staff was hurrying to finish it before our arrival. It is a neat little apartment with a stove, fridge, sink, dining table, bathroom, and bedroom. Lupita said that some of the money that Molly has given over time has gone to buy tiles, paint, etc. for this construction. She said that it is a place for you to stay whenever you come, Molly :) We sincerely thanked Lupita for her amazing hospitality and we then returned to dance with the children in the rain and hug them some more.