Thursday, December 11, 2014
Saying Goodbye to 2014: Day 1,612
Yesterday I went out to Solola and visited each family separately in their homes. I was able to talk with them, see where they are at, and have some important conversations. So, I thought maybe I'd share with you a bit about each family and my time with them yesterday and their hopes and dreams for the future.
Manuel and I (with his daughter as our chaperone) started our visits around 9:30 yesterday. First we went to visit the family of Maria Elena. She is a widow with 7 children. She wasn't there when we arrived, but her mother was around and told us that Maria had had an emergency and needed to go to the city of Solola. So, I had a nice chat with Luis, her 10-year old son, instead. He was able to help us answer any questions we had. Both he and Griselda passed! We didn't take a picture with that family because so few people were home.
Then we headed over to see Catarina's family. You will best remember her for her two children Ronaldo and Carmelina. (Ronaldo was very briefly mentioned in this post and this post, but not by name. He's the boy who was born without part of his left arm.) Catarina wasn't there either, but her husband was. So, we had a nice chat with him during which he told us that Catarina's seizures are still down to once every week or two; while that is good, he feels that mentally she isn't really there, that the years of seizures took their toll. Ronaldo showed off his new arm (Thank you, Wuqu' Kawoq!), and he was a lot more talkative than he was the last two times I saw him. I'm not sure if it's maturity, a growing trust in me, or a growing confidence in himself. They told me that he doesn't usually take his arm to school with him. The gripping mechanism is apparently controlled by his other arm, and he doesn't have enough strength in that one to really grip very well. Also, well, his hand's "skin color" is the same as mine...so he doesn't really look quite right anyway. His dad says that the other kids were making rude comments about his arm, and I couldn't help but comment that they probably did that anyway. (They admitted that it was true.) So, Ronaldo and his three younger siblings all passed their classes. Efraim, the next in age after Ronaldo, finished 6th grade this year. After completing 6th grade, their three older brothers all stopped going to school and started working, and dad admitted to me that they weren't planning on having Efraim continue (which grows my suspicion that Ronaldo is still in school because they consider him worthless in the fields) because it is expensive to continue his education. However, Efraim has the best grades in the entire family. So, with dad across the table from me and the two boys to my right, I asked Efraim if he wanted to stay in school. He said yes. I asked him what he wants to be when he grew up. He wants to be a lawyer. I asked Ronaldo if he wants to stay in school. I asked him what he wants to be, and he wants to be a doctor. (One of my two future doctors said they wanted to be a pediatrician, but I don't remember which one; the other one wants to be a general doctor.) I explained to dad exactly how the point system works and told them that I'm in this for the long haul, that I want the boys to study, the boys want the boys to study; so, does dad want a doctor and a lawyer in the family? Efraim is going to stay in school and achieve a higher level of study than any of his older two-natural-handed brothers have.
After that, we went to visit Juana's family (not the Juana who I have written about extensively. Sorry). Once again, the mother was not at home. It was weird since I mostly see the moms; this seemed to be a morning of dads. The visit to her home isn't much to write home about. The kids all passed which was good. I guess the only thing of note is that we found out that the scale I received as a donation in May is a little finicky. As most of the houses don't have floors, the dirt floors aren't always very level. If the floor isn't level, the scale doesn't process weight properly.
When we left Juana's house, Manuel let me know that we had been invited to a special lunch by one of our families. When we arrived, they had put a table in a small room for the three of us. The floor was covered with pine needles, a sign that it was a special occasion. They served us "caldo de gallina criolla" which roughly translates to "young hen broth." (Believe me, it tastes MUCH better than it sounds.) After we ate, we got around to business, but it was a difficult conversation. While both of their two older daughters passed, the younger of the two is not earning high enough grades to get any points. That means the older daughter (and the baby) are carrying the weight. They didn't have enough points to buy school supplies for the two girls as a result. I've decided to let them "borrow"points from the baby--since they are a guaranteed 5 points every meeting and therefore they'll pay them off--but it almost made me cry as they had just served us this beautiful meal and I couldn't even let them buy anything (via the program) in January.
After that, we visited another family. It's a family that has given us a little bit of a problem during the year, but nothing too serious. Mostly it's just the mother of the family insisting that I've totaled her point incorrectly and that she does have enough points to buy whatever it is that she wants that month. Her husband works in the field and supports both his mother and his brother (who has bad kidneys and doesn't expect to live much longer, currently on dialysis ever 4 hours). They have 3 children in school and two children who aren't yet in school. So, somehow one man working in the fields supporting 8 other people on his own managed to build a house (and his wife insists that they don't receive help from any other source). I'm really skeptical. And maybe they think that if they receive help from elsewhere that I'm going to support them less or even cut off support all together. The reality is that I want to know what physical needs are being met and what ones aren't. One of her sons had broken his leg, but otherwise the family was doing well. The youngest two even played with me which is something that some of the younger kids are afraid of doing. The uncle showed up while we were there and wanted to know if there's anything we can do for him. I'm really bad at "no" so I told him if he showed up at our distribution meetings, he could help weigh stuff and I'd give him a couple pounds of food staples. I mean, I'm not going to pay him a lot for a couple hours of work, but I do need to make it worth the trip over. I had been planning on giving an extra pound of whatever to each of the people who helped us weigh stuff last time, but they all vanished by the time I got a chance to address them and thank them for their help. (They were some of the fathers who had come to help carry stuff home.) So, this isn't too different...just the uncle instead of the father.
At my insistence, we dropped by another house while we were in that village. We originally started this community with 11 families, but only 10 had ever shown up. Despite what I had heard from other people, I wanted to visit the family myself and ask if it was true that they didn't want to be in the program. Upon arriving, we heard a very different story. They had heard they were accepted into the program, but an emergency came up, and they didn't go to the first meeting. At that first meeting, Manuel took down everyone's phone number in order to be able to communicate with them directly. The other family in their village (the previous one) never went and visited them like they said they would; they simply reported back to us that the other family wasn't interested. I'll admit, I can't blame them; the second family lives a little far from the first family. It would be quite the walk just to be altruistic. (Although, I walk plenty.) However, I wouldn't have lied about it; I would have just stated that I hadn't yet gone to talk to them. Anyway, the kids were a little freaked out to see the white girl again after a year and a half. They had grown so much! It was a rough visit, but we all made it through. It was really interesting to see how Luisa greeted me (or not) in comparison to the women I've been working with all year. She did the old "I speak Spanish, but I'm going to pretend I don't" trick. She didn't look to me. She responded to my questions sometimes, but mostly she acted like I wasn't there, talking only to Manuel. If I hadn't already had lots of encounters like that and survived them all to know some really great women behind the armor, it would have been quite off-putting.
Our next stop was David's family. I had brought homemade Christmas cookies for each member of each family, and I think David's goal was to double the number of cookies they had in the bag but half the size. (He was throwing the bag around and breaking the cookies. Not to be destructive, but because he's a 3-year old that just wants to play with everything. I have a 6-month old puppy who is about the same; so I understand.) They were all doing well. Wendy and Floricelda both passed all their classes and were excited about starting the new year. They invited us to eat corn--which I'm really not supposed to eat as it messes with my intestines, but I'm still horrible at saying "no." Besides, I really like corn and it doesn't bother me as much as eggs do--and I ate both ears they gave me, being careful to chew thoroughly (as it's the kernel, not the corn itself, that bothers me). As we left, Wendy thanked me for the Bible I had given her (and every) family. She said that she just started attending a youth group at church; so the Bible would come in handy.
We continued on to Irma's family. Irma had lost a baby in September, and I hadn't seen her since. So, it was good to see her and find out how she's doing. The family seemed to be doing well. Nelson was out working with his father; so only three of the family members were home. When I first met them, one of their kittens crawled up in my lap while I was interviewing the family. This year they had puppies...so adorable. (No, I'm not raising another one in the foreseeable future!) Everyone passed their classes. Everyone was happy. Everyone was healthy. So, we continued onto the next stop.
It's always a pleasure to visit Mercedes and her family. As we walked up, there she was weaving. I won't pretend that kids with special needs don't terrify me just a tiny bit, but that doesn't mean that I don't try to get to know them. Clara had a bit of a cold, and her mother said that Clara's throat was bothering her as well. I can't say it surprised me that she was sick as the temperature was cold there! I had left my coat in the truck as it had been warm during the day, but when Mercedes' mother took my hand, she noted how cold my fingers were. After a bit, she said something to Mercedes, and she brought me a gorgeous woven Christmas scarf out of her room. She said it was a present for me. I sort of felt bad as I knew they had probably only given it to me as I had foolishly left my coat in the car, but I also know that I would have offended them if I had rejected it. So, I simply accepted it with a smile and wrapped it around me. If that weren't enough, Mercedes said that they had something else for me and went back in her room (shared by the entire family) and returned with a letter that her father had written for me. I've never met her father, but from what I know (mostly from Mercedes herself) is that her father likes to drink away whatever he earns making life very difficult for the family especially with all of Clara's health needs. At any rate, it was a sweet letter thanking me for all I've done for his family. I don't feel like I've done much, just what I can. Luis is ready to head back to school; in fact, they've already signed up.
After that, we called it a night. The other two families live close to where Manuel lives; so we headed back to his place for dinner, conversation, and sleep. It was nice to see his wife again and catch up. Evelyn showed off her new weaving project. Two of his sons are working in a store down by the coast for vacation, but his other two sons were there. One of them is quite ill, and they're not quite sure what's wrong with him. I'm hoping it's just the flu.
In the morning, I set out once again with Evelyn and, this time, Manuel's wife. He had other responsibilities to attend to, and since the last two families live in the same community, his wife could find them. Her Spanish isn't quite as good as his, but we talked about what I've been asking and saying during conversation the previous night; we even pulled out the scale and the shoe-size measurer.
Our first visit of the day was to Emerigildo's family. I don't recall ever having mentioned them here, but I know I mentioned them to Madeline's family as they brought me a donated pair of gym shoes for the older girl. This family has struggled a bit this year. When the year started, their three oldest children went to school. Ismael (age 14) started 4th grade. Wendy Elizabeth (age 10) and Estefania (age 8) started 1st grade. Sometime around the 3rd marking period, Ismael dropped out of school. He felt awkward being so old in a classroom full of 10-year olds. Estefania's grades have been low all year, and every marking period I have had to talk to her about them. So, today when we got to their house, we found out that Estefania had failed the school year. It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but I knew it was pretty impossible to pass. I asked her if she liked school, and she said she did. So, I asked what the problem was, and she didn't answer. Her parents stated that she doesn't do her homework. So, getting down to the tough questions, I asked what the plan is for next year. They decided that she'll try 1st grade again. (I personally would have put her to work for a year if she were my daughter, but she's not.) In addition to the two girls, their younger brother will also be starting preschool. With any luck, he'll never be in the situation that his three older siblings are in.
Our last stop was the widow Marta. She has 4 children, three of whom were in school this year. All three of them were weary but friendly enough, and the two boys answered my questions about school with somewhat of enthusiasm. The oldest child--a daughter--was a bit shy. The only place we could find for the scale in their house was up on a chair, so Marta herself declined being weighed.
All in all, it was a good trip, and it was excellent to see the families (even those which led to stressful conversations). I saw some wonderful grades (94, even!). I saw some friendly faces. I had some excellent conversations. All of the families got a bag of cookies and a Bible.
There is more to write, but I think I'll save it for another post. I've been working on this one steadily for the last hour and somewhat sporadically for the three hours before that.