Whoops...dropped off the face of the earth for a little bit there.
All is well here in the gorgeous Andes. I'm happy to report that the scenery has yet to loose its novelty and walking in the sunshine to a neighboring town today, with a clear view of the mountain range seen across miles of green farmland and adobe homes the whole way, did wonderful things for my mood.
Summer classes have been going so well, but definitely keeping me busy. The girls and I have been working hard to get caught up and I'm so proud of them! They've come so far, learned so much, and most importantly are showing dramatic differences in the behavior that was likely holding them back at school in the first place. I remembered and reread a book written by a psychologist from my home school district about classroom behavior management. It was soooo helpful! The best part is it helped me think of ways to actually help the girls find alternatives to their tantrums and acting out, rather than just ways to keep them in their chairs (although they're much better at that now too). I feel like, following the ideas and suggestions I found, actual changes were made in the way the girls handle their challenges- changes that will help them solve problems, keep moving forward in school, and interact better with their peers. Which is obviously way beyond just keeping them quiet. So not only did they sit still long enough to learn something, I feel like they're better prepared (hopefully) to go back to the school and actually move forward this year. It feels pretty good to have played a part in that. So anyway, there's my testimonial. Buy it here.
On top of teaching last week, the hogar and the sisters were busily preparing for a visit from Hna. Marta Deysi, who was visiting on behalf of the Mother Superior of the Hijas del Divino Salvador. I rechoreographed and danced a piece that my dear friend Amanda and I did together in college for our Sacred Dance class. It was rejuvinating to spend some time in prayer that way, but I'm glad to have the stress of preparing to perform over. Watching all the sisters and girls dance and sing for hours to welcome her, complete with beautiful and elaborate traditional costumes, was a reminder of how much I love aspects of this culture!
While the girls were performing I had another startling experience that reconfirmed my desire to be here with these girls (we get slapped in the face with something like this about every two weeks it seems. The government cuts food money, someone's dad shows up to visit drunk, child services wants to move a girl back with the family who abandoned her six years ago, etc.). My youngest students (5-9) were following me like little ducklings and one of the youngest (5) called me mom. What do you say to a five year old orphan who calls you mama? Later on she was sitting in her own chair but laying across my lap and I asked her to sit up so one of the girls who was looking for a seat could sit in my lap and get out of the way of the dancers. She burst in to tears. I carried her out of salon and asked her what happened? "you wanted me to move" she said. Oops. But is that all? Then, through sobs, this ever-chearful little girl who has never mentioned her family in the nearly six months I've been here starting gasping about how her family left her here and maybe her mom didn't want her and why doesn't anyone try to see her, and, and, and. Little things like "sit up" or "not now" or "goodbye", even if they may be the right thing, touch deep but carefully hidden wounds that no amount of hugs and kisses and bed time stories seem to heal. Damn.
At the end of their performance, Hna Marta Deysi had them move their chairs to the center, close their eyes, and imagine they were walking with Jesus. What does He look like? How is He dressed? She reminded them of God's infinite love for them, a love that never fails even when their families or their friends or, yes, even the sisters and volunteers fail. She told them that God wanted them to feel His love for them and to imagine the people passing around them were sent as God's messengers of love. Then, as the girls waited with eyes closed and palms turned up, she had the sisters, Johanna and I walk through the girls and give them the biggest warmest hug we could muster. "This is God's embrace" she told them. I've never felt teenagers grab on to someone like that. Big tough girls rolling their eyes and mocking their friends two minutes earlier were crying silently. Afterwards she invited them to share how they felt. Safe, they said. Strong. Happy. "Like I'm flying," "like I'm in heaven." Pretty powerful stuff.
Yesterday was another amazing day. Hna Aida made her first profession! It was beautiful. If you've never been to a profession you should go crash one. Someone devoting her life entirely to the love and service of God and her community while her fellow sisters sing and dance and celebrate like the daughters of Israel in Song of Songs, there aren't many ceremonies more beautiful. Of course, being a lay missioner at a profession is much like being the only single person at a wedding. Everyone wants to know if you're next.
This week is the last week of classes, then we'll back to the usual routine: running with girls from the transition house and praying with the sisters in the morning, managing the computer lab, tutoring, checking homework and trying to get the girls further caught up during the day, and teaching dance in the evening. I'm honestly a little torn. I'm ready for a break from seven hours of classes a day and am looking forward to the school year routine (especially teaching dance and getting to spend a little more time with the older girls that haven't had classes with me), but I really had a blast teaching this summer!
"It's not enough to love them, they must know that they are loved." -John Bosco
I know I go over this again and again and again, but there are a lot of really loving people in my life. I can't help but think of each of them when I'm trying to show these girls that they are loved. Many of them have been left here with a lot of healing to be done. The Salesian sisters have been giving us a great example and we're doing our best to show them.
It's not enough to love her... She must see you wearing the enormous plastic pre-teen jewelry she bought you for Christmas She must know that you're ready to sit for hours listening to her scratch and wack at the guitar while she's trying to learn She must see you celebrate the first day she makes it through class without a tantrum She must know that you're willing to carry her on your back dance after dance until midnight because she dislocated her foot the day before and so badly wants to celebrate tonight She must see that you're ready to climb up and get her off the roof because she's too scared to get down, no matter how much trouble she is for climbing up in the first place She must see that you're interested in the very long and dramatic tales of her teenage romance
Honestly, some days it's a lot harder than simply saying "I love you." Especially when they act like all they want is to push you away. But the more I look for ways to show them that I want to be here with them no matter what, the better things get.
My little ones are a riot. A few examples that I may have already shared. I really don't remember. Oh well...
Salet (5) was asking where Johanna was when she was sick. "Does she have the flu?" "nope" "Does she have a cough?" "no, her tummy hurts" She thought about it for a minute and then nodded slowly. "I know what's wrong!" "Oh really? What?" "She's pregnant!" Gee, why didn't I think of that? Then she explained, "When you're pregnant, your tummy hurts, and then a baby is born!" All she needs now is to finish learning her ABCs and she'll be on the way to medical school.
We were practicing our letters the other day and Mariluz (6) was trying to think of something that starts with K. "Kuh...kuh...kah..caca!" She was so genuinely proud that she had thought of an answer that she forgot to giggle over the word caca. I almost didn't have the heart to tell her that caca starts with c.
We have a new girl in the hogar who speaks mostly quechua. The littlest ones in the class have been trying out a few words after listening to her. They love playing with the sounds but really have no idea what they're saying. Nilva looks at them so seriously even though, even with my limited quechua, I know they're yelling something to the effect of "come here! no four how are you yes eyes!" Meanwhile, Nilva has picked up "hacer caso" and, proud of her developing Spanish, yells out "pay attention!" about every fifteen minutes.
A few of the girls recently were playing something similar to plastic army man war. Only instead of action figures they were using cockroaches. Cockroaches also serve in place of hotwheels.
If the girls are good, at the end of class they can play with paper dolls. They earn points for answering questions which they can spend on clothes for their paper dolls. If they have to choose, their dolls usually attend parties naked with cute shoes and little paper dogs.