Saturday, January 23, 2010

Goodbye "Summer"

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!

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