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)