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.