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.