Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 2 at Hogar

Yesterday was a great day. A very full day. I finally was able to explore the supply room and found all kinds of things I can use for art projects for the kids. Using google translate (thank you!) I was able to talk to the director about teaching art classes regularly. So now I'm slotted for 3 times a week, lunes, miercoles y viernes. My first class is on Monday and I need to not only come up with a fantastic plan that translates to kids between the ages of 6 and 19, but have perfect directions in Spanish and a finished example. I'm a little intimidated, but I'm expecting a huge success. These kids are so hungry for activities, attention, and something fun and creative to do. They are also really bright, so I'm expecting to be blown away by their endeavors.

Since I had discovered sidewalk chalk in the storeroom, Kyla and I taught the kids how to play hopscotch after lunch. I spent the whole afternoon in the sun, barefoot, jumping around, laughing, drawing, covered in chalk and having a blast with the kids. I felt about 10 years old myself.

I also discovered some card games in the supply room, which was a real treat. I played a about 10 games of Uno yesterday. I now know how to say, "Let's play", " Your turn", and "Don't cheat" in Spanish. Kyla has an Ipod speaker so I was able to plug in my Nanno and put on a full album of Lady Gaga for the girls. We sat on the cement floor with our shoes off, music blaring, playing Uno. There is such an irony and contrast in my surroundings and Lady Gaga's lyrics about fame, fortune and boys, boys, boys. We don't even have toilet seats here. The girls were impressed that I liked the same kind of music and wanted me to translate the lyrics. I summed it up with " She likes boys and lots of things and dancing." Kind of lame, but the best I can do for now. Anyway, they really are better off not knowing most of those lyrics, especially the little girls!

In the evening a couple of women from town showed a slideshow accompanied by music. The lyrics were about God and Jesus and how he takes care of us. The kids sang along at the top of their voices and I got a little teary. There is little I love more than the sound of children's voices praising the Lord. I wasn't sure how religious it was here having had to promise not to proselytize as a volunteer, however, this is a highly Catholic country, and of course that is a part of the children't upbringing here.

I have moments here where I forget this is a home for children who are abandoned, orphaned, or have a parent that can't take care of them. The kids go about their daily lives, go to school, play, do chores and seem pretty happy. Then I have the moments where it is heart-wrenchingly obvious that these are children with out a mother and a father, without someone to read to them every night, tuck them in and whisper, " l love you". There are few adults here, not enough to go around and the older teens take care of the younger ones. While I was listening to the kids sing, one of the little boys (one of a set of triplets) came over to me and put his head in my lap. He hadn't talked to me much before and I barely knew him. He just needed some loving. It was so hard for me not to cry. I held him and rubbed his back and rocked him as we sang. After a couple of songs he got up and left, I guess he got his fill. I'm trying to give a lot of affection and attention to the kids here and they are like little sponges. I feel really busy, so many kids want to hang out and play and I think that's because they are all really desiring that one on one time.

Later in the evening the girls had a fiesta. I think they had a party just because they needed one and it was Friday night. They built a big bonfire outside of their dorms and we roasted marshmallows, ate popcorn, chicharron, chips and sausage dip and shrimp pico de gallo. That was more food than I had seen in the last several days. These girls can pack it away. The eating, snuggling under blankets and listening to music lasted for hours. Kyla played her guitar and the one Shakira song she knew. It was really great. I finally made it to bed at 1am smelling of campfire and hotsauce.

Pretty Ladies and Their New Yarn

Josef Fransisco, A Happy First Time Crochet-er

A View of the Girls Dorm

A View of the Boys Dorm

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hogar Infantil

After an 18 hour bus ride through breathtakingly beautiful mountains and jungle, and a 40 minute minivan ride to the small town of Ocozocouatla de Espinosa I arrived in Hogar Infantil ( exhausted, but excited to see where I would be spending the next 5 weeks.

Hogar Infantil is a children's home set up like a ranch with sheep roaming the grounds, chicken and several pigs kept in pens. The ranch is set in a valley in the foothills of the cloud scraping mountains. There are about 80 kids, ranging from ages 5-19. It's so beautiful here with the low-lying clouds and the juxtaposition of the colorful buildings against the brown-green of the hills.

I woke yesterday morning to the the music blaring again. I'm in a room in the girls dorm that I share with another volunteer Kyla. She's from San Diego and a hippie. She's really friendly and nice and I'm glad to have someone who speaks more Spanish then I do and knows the ropes around here. Back to the music… the younger girls dorm is right next to us and seem to have the radio blaring all day long and into the evening. Frequently it's the same song…the Spanish version of the Bryan Adams song "Everything I Do I Do It For You. They also love Lady Gaga, which thanks to Caleb has become a regular part of my day anyway!

Two little girls came into my room while I was getting ready and wanted to paint their nails. They noticed that mine were red and so knew I had nail polish. It was the cutest thing sitting on my bed painting their tiny nails and giggling. I showed them how to blow on their nails and wave their hands in the air to help the paint dry. They took it very seriously and looked so funny! Already my polish has ended up somewhere with one of the older girls. That's fine, I'm glad I brought it.

The two little girls, Dania (7) and Kristal (8) kept telling me about the 'tanke'. I had no idea what they were talking about, my only thought was that it might have something to do with the cold shower I had that morning and the water tank. Kristal grabbed my hand and Dania found Kyla and we went outside and headed up the hill on a little path. These girls can climb. We were scaling rocks and picking out way past briar patches. On the top of this hill is a big cement structure - the water tank. We climbed the little ladder to the top and stood looking down at Hogar and the beautiful valley. A great start to the morning!

I went into town later that morning and saw the market. Chiapas is so different from where Caleb and I live in Tulum. People aren't kidding when they've told us we haven't seen the real Mexico yet. Chiapas is the real deal. So colorful, dusty, unpretentious, fascinating….living a deeply seeded culture not just imitating it in touristy shops. It's also tremendously poor. On my bus ride here I passed through towns that were just dirt, chickens and wooden boards nailed together. People were actually plowing with oxen and handmade wooden plows. Corn was planted anywhere it would grow. People here clear land with machetes.

So, the town was great, the produce better than in Tulum, and I got to ride in the back of the pickup on our way back. In the afternoon I passed out the yarn I had brought purchased with donations. It was $80 worth of yarn, gone in about 10 minutes. A few of the boys knit, so I made sure to make it over to their building. An 11 year old boy named Josef Francisco wanted to learn how to crochet. He learned in about five minutes. I couldn't believe it. He's so quick and kind, and I just loved holding the yarn for him for the rest of the afternoon as he worked on his scarf. The other boys were pretending to be dogs and playing with rocks and a few toys. They children here, especially the little boys don't seem to have much in terms of toys. I think there is one little truck for them to share and a few of them have stuffed animals. So there's a lot of creative play - rocks and sticks, and bits of trash all become much, much more.

The evening was spent chasing children and learning about the ranch's security measures. Apparently we are quite the target for thieves as there is the misconception that there is money here. Since it is funded by a U.S. nonprofit, and the grounds looks great (not at all fancy, just well tended by the kids) this place is always at risk for robberies. Even the kitchen cupboards are locked with padlocks, though there isn't much in them either. Two weeks ago there was a thief trying to get in from the roof of the main building. If anything like this happens protocol is that the alarm goes off and all the boys rush out with their machetes! They didn't catch the guy last week but they scared him off. Last night we had another scare and the boys were running around looking pretty fierce and some were riding the tractor and shining a light into the weeds. Nobody was found. I'm really beginning to just go with the flow here in Mexico. At this point very little is surprising to me anymore and children wielding machetes is the norm.

The kids all work really hard. They have chores everyday, tending the animals, cleaning, gardening, helping the younger kids with homework. I don't really know what to do yet, or how to help, but I plan on being more proactive today. I brought some art supplies but am unsure yet when to have a class or exactly what projects to do. There's an organized disorganization here that I'm still figuring out.

Today is beautiful and breezy and I did make plans yesterday to do some conversational English with one of the boys. I think I'm going to go find him....

A Quick Update

Caleb and I spent 3 weeks in the States over Christmas. It was wonderful to see family, especially my new little neice Lucy Olivia. We even made it to Seattle for a few days for Caleb's show at the Lawrimore Project

I had about 2 weeks back in Tulum before my current adventure - volunteering at Hogar Infantil in Chiapas.