Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The word "bittersweet" has never had more meaning...

Below is a blog post from great Friend, Tom Bongi. He shares about his trip to NPH Guatemala this past summer and the children he met there. Thank you Tom!

Our last full day in at the NPH home in Guatemala. We all know the end is near and now the word "bittersweet" has never had more meaning. We are dreading having to say goodbye to all our friends, new and old. But we also miss our families and our homes.

The teens were quizzing one another about the first thing they are going to do when they get home. Some said they are going to take a two hour hot shower. Dinner at In-And-Out was a popular one.

We got to sleep in a bit because of our late arrival back at the home last night. Breakfast was quesedillas, frijoles refrito, cereal, milk and juice.

We had work assignments after breakfast. I took a group out to the fields to get our work assignment from Eric, a pequenos in his second year of service. The pequenos give a year of service back to the home after the 10th grade and another year back before they head off to the university.

Eric gave us the assignment of harvesting carrots from the fields. I would like to say we worked really hard but have you ever picked a carrot? You give it a gentle tug and it slips out of the ground. Some of the carrots were massive, others deformed. So we had a contest to find the biggest and the ugliest. The winner of the ugliest contest looked line a lobster.

After carrying the carrots in sacks from the field, we had to wash them, count them and bring them in clean sacks to the cold storage next to the kitchen.

The carrots that were too deformed to peel were set aside for the rabbits. We asked if we could feed the rabbits and Eric agreed to bring us down to the rabbit hutch. This led to a tour of the goat pen and the pig pen. Very interesting but also very offensive to the nose.

After the field work and animal pen tour, we got back together with the other groups and had a wrap session with Deacon Jim Hoyt. Jim asked a few of the pequenos to talk to us about their background and how they ended up at NPH.

Eduardo spoke to us first. He is paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. He graduated from high school a year ago and now in his second year of service before he starts at the university in Guatemala City where he will study business administration.

Eduardo, his brother and his sister were abandoned by their father when Eduardo was three. He and his siblings were raised by their grandparents. While living with his grandparents, Eduardo was somehow shot in the neck and instantly paralyzed. It wasn't clear how he got shot but he kept referring to the incident as "the accident."

A social worker for NPH found Eduardo in the hospital and eventually he and his siblings came to the home. Eduardo indicated that he and his siblings have had the opportunity to develop socially, emotionally and academically at NPH. He said that if he continued to live with his grandparents, they would not have had the opportunities they have now. Eduardo said that, in a strange way, the accident that caused him to be paralyzed actually created the opportunities for him and his siblings.

Cesare is 16 years old and lives at the NPH home in El Salvador. He "believes" he came to NPH when he was four years old but he really isn't sure. What he does is that he arrived at the home because both his parents died.

Cesare's first memory of NPH was when he arrived on the first day as a very shy boy. He recalls kids coming right up to him and asking him to play. He is currently in the 9th grade and has one more year of studies before he has his year of service. He wants to attend the university and study hospitality and hotel management.

Alexander is another pequeno from NPH El Salvador. He came to NPH when he was eight but has been in some type of institution since he was one after he was abandoned by his mother.

Sadly, Alexander was at another orphanage in 2001 when he went with a group of kids for a day at the beach. There was a massive earthquake and when they got back to the orphanage, they found it destroyed. 

He then was placed in the NPH home and although he missed his friends, is happy he has had the opportunities afforded by NPH. He plans on attending the university after his second year of service.

I missed lunch because I had to head into Pastores to pick up my newly made cowboy boots. By the way, they are awesome.

In the afternoon, we had free time with the pequenos. I spent the time hanging out with Paulo. Paulo was a little down because knew our time together was coming to an end. He asked me a question but I couldn't understand. I asked him to say it again slowly. Still, no comprende. Finally I had an idea. I pulled out my Ipad, obtained a wireless signal and went to Google Translate. I had Paulo type his question.

"Are you leaving tomorrow morning?"
"How long is your trip back to California?"
About seven hours. Hey, this Google Translate thing is pretty cool.
"Someone stole the flashlight you gave me the other day."
I have another one I can give you.
"When are you coming back here again?"

Wham. I guess I should have expected a question like this but I was totally unprepared to answer it. It would be easy to lie and say I'd see him really soon or that I'd be here next August for sure but I can't say that for sure.

These kids have experienced so much pain and disappointment in their lives that the last thing I wanted to do was make a promise I couldn't keep. So after some thought, I decided to be completely honest with Paulo.

"I will try to see you next year."
What I didn't list for him is all the "ifs" that come with that statement: - if our group even has a trip to NPH Guatemala next year - if my work schedule permits it - if I have enough vacation time - if I can stand to be away from my family for nine days again.

Paulo seemed satisfied but I have a feeling that the only thing he took away from my answer was "next year." Paulo started typing again on my Ipad. I braced myself for the next probing question; the next inquiry that would put me on the spot and make me squirm.

"Can I have some candy?" I laughed out loud. Partly out of relief. And partly because Paulo's mind had already moved on to the here-and-now rather that discussing the future. Yes Paulo, you can have some candy.

The home threw us a going away party that evening. Our group arrived at the dining hall to find it packed with every pequeno and the best seats in the house reserved for us. There was dancing and singing. One group did a folk dance in traditional Guatemalan costumes. A boy sang a pop song and a group of the teen boys did a dance that was obviously meant to impress the girls in our group.

Rather than eat dinner in the dining hall, we ate our meal (black beans and tortillas) around a bonfire. The staff passed out bags of popcorn (a HUGE treat for the pequenos). I gave mine to Paulo. He ate his and saved mine for later.

Before we knew it, the party was over. The pequenos had to get to bed (remember they get up at about 4:00 AM) and we had to pack. I walked Paulo back to his dorm. I went in and hung around as Paulo and his dorm-mates made their beds. The tia led the boys in a prayer and everyone headed for bed. I gave Paulo a hug and told him I'd see him in the morning.

Back in our dorm, people were packing up. It was obvious that we brought a lot of "stuff." One of the teens asked if he could leave his shoes for the kids. I told him to put them over in the corner. Another teen wanted to leave some shirts. They went over in the corner too. In no time at all, we had a pile of donated "stuff" that was three feet high.

When we turned out the lights, there was not the usual chatter in the dark. Everyone was tired and we all knew we had to get up early. The party was almost over.

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