I took Emily to the airport and waited in line with her to check in, only departing when I was forced to at security. On our way to the airport she enjoyed a very ‘Nicaraguan’ send-off, complete with walking past a huge pile of burning trash, ridiculous taxi driving, and sharing the road with various animals and animal-drawn carts. We had a truly delightful time together this past week. Although it was sad to see her go I know that I’ll see her again in a few days so I am coping alright.
With my time with the kids coming to an end very shortly our lunches and afternoons are becoming more emotional by the day. I continue to be amazed with how affectionate the kids are in light of the emotional and physical beating they receive every day. I marvel how they can maintain so much pure joy in the midst of their lives.
I know that I have expressed the feeling before, but I have to reiterate how thankful I am to have this Nica experience. While it might be counterintuitive, I have found myself more on the receiving end of blessings than the giving. The kids’ selfless generosity is perhaps the aspect of this trip I will remember the most fondly.
When I arrived today Stephanie, an adorable 5-year old girl, was excitedly waiting with a gift for me. I have received countless pictures and letters as well as a few sunglasses and bracelets over the last couple months, and each gift was obviously heartfelt and special. The teddy bear that Stephanie, after running up to greet me, gave me was yet another example of how giving these families are. They are so real with their feelings that they can’t help but express them, and they are so legitimately thankful that I am consistently overwhelmed by the depth of those expressions. I’m not sure how many toys Stephanie has, but since she spends her days begging for money on the street I’m pretty confident that the bear she gave me was probably quite special to her.
Our time at Pollo Campero resembled a photo shoot more than lunch. The digital camera has long been a hit, but its popularity has increased over the last few days. Today they managed to take 164 pictures in the 2.5 hours I was with them. I think I have multiple pictures of every possible combination of people present. They don’t usually smile for pictures here so the majority of the pictures consist of me smiling and everyone else looking miserable. An interesting cultural difference.
During the course of lunch and hanging out with them afterwards I received several more letters and drawings. I could tell that some of the letters were obviously the fruits of much labor. I am so honored that these kids would spend so much time writing me letters telling me how much they love me and am thankful for everything. Some of them write me multiple letters a week. What a blessing.
One boy, Ever, bought me a bag of juice and some chocolate from one of the guys who walks between cars at their stoplight. I just am so blown away that the kids spend their own money (they are allowed to keep some of the coins they get from begging) on a gringo.
At the end of our lunch Ninoska, the oldest girl (15), gave me a Winny the Pooh gift bag with some of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received. The first thing I noticed was a intricately colored drawing of me and a flower. She had spent all of her time prior to giving the gift to me – probably a little over an hour – at a corner table making this picture and the letter which followed. She wrote how much she loves me and how appreciative she is for our friendship and everything that I’ve done for her. I was already so touched by her artwork and letter but the rest of the gift brought me close to tears.
I then pulled out a teddy bear with the words ‘te amo’ (I love you) written on its chest. As I took it out of the bag Ninoska proudly told me that she bought it for me with her own money. Again, at this point I was already extremely humbled and honored. Still, there was more to come.
I think it’s refreshing how real the kids’ desire to give me gifts is. Although they can’t really buy me much they are not deterred. Instead, they turn to often giving items that obviously mean a lot to them. I imagine they are thinking that if they really like the item then we will, too. For example, the kids gave Emily a ring and a bracelet clip literally off of their own hands yesterday.
Also in the bag were two pictures – one for Nefret and one for me. Nefret’s picture is of Didiert, one of the babies, dressed in donated clothes that Nefret brought. Ninoska gave me a family portrait which, judging from Ninoska’s size in the picture, appears to be about 6 years old. I know that her family can’t have many photos, so to receive a family portrait was really quite powerful.
The last item in Ninoska’s gift bag was an unopened bottle of pink nail polish. I can’t even imagine how important it was to her. I can picture her sitting at her house thinking of what she had to give me, determining that she since she valued the nail polish I would appreciate it also. I immediately thought of the Bible story of the widow’s offering, when Jesus called the very poor woman’s heartfelt tithe much more valuable than the not-very-meaningful but much larger donations by the wealthy. Jesus describes the widow’s offering as, “out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on,” and I think the same applies for Ninoska’s.
I had to pay my phone bill after we ate and Ninoska, Aura, and Ever accompanied me to the bank to do so. They waited outside while I went inside and quickly took care of business. Afterwards we sat on the curb in front of the bank just talking and joking around. About 5 minutes after I sat down with them a security guard came over and, in English, told me that we had to leave. I thought his request was reasonable, since I probably wouldn’t want three kids joking around in front of my bank, either. We started to leave.
I’m not proud of what happened next but I want to share it because it happened and I think you have a right to know. As we were walking away the guard, with a smirk, told me, “You can stay, it’s just that the kids have to leave.” I was immediately infuriated. I was okay with him asking us to leave the bank, even if the reason was he didn’t want street kids sitting out front. I understand that. What got to me was he felt the need to, although we were already walking away, throw in his verbal jab. I then, probably against my better judgment and already knowing the answer, asked him why I could stay and the kids couldn’t. Again through a sly smile he told me, “No reason.”
“What’s the reason?” I asked. He responded with another smirk and a shrug. All of me, again, against my better judgment, wanted to stay and tell this guy how I really felt. I didn’t want to subject the kids to this episode though. I have been known to run my mouth a little too much sometimes and couldn’t stop myself from saying, “That’s messed up,” as we left. I am glad the kids walked with me to the bus stop and stayed with me until it came because I think I would have gone back to the bank if they hadn’t.
Again, I’m not proud with how I handled the situation. I know that I let my anger take control. I just wanted to give you all a more detailed picture of life here, not just a recap of the good stories.
As we sat at the bus stop Ninoska asked me if I had bus money. Although I said yes she pressed 2.5 cordobas (about 15 cents) into my hand, insisting I that I take it. I tried for the approximately 10 minutes we waited for the bus to give the money back, but to no avail. At one point I put on the most serious face I could and beseeched her to take the money. The kids one-upped me. The other people waiting for the bus must have been quite confused/amused to see three kids on their knees wailing and begging me to keep the money. I couldn’t do anything to get her to take it back. So, in addition to all of the gifts I’d received earlier in the day, I also enjoyed a free bus ride home. The kids are ridiculous.
Today was an emotional day. I just keep thinking about the kids’ gifts and how meaningful they are. I know that tomorrow and Thursday are going to be hard, too. I keep reminding myself that the only reason saying goodbye to the kids is so hard is that we have such powerful relationships, which is a good thing.
Much love to you all. Thank you so much for reading and for supporting me. None of this would be possible without you.