Thursday, August 07, 2008

Guatemala Reflections 2


2. Thursday morning, we loaded about 35 youth into a school bus and went to the Guatemala City zoo. We had done the same routine the previous morning with another group of younger children. As we waited for the okay to enter, we waited in the parking lot outside the zoo, I with at least 4 girls crowded around me, requisite hugs, smiles and giggles. Excitement was in the air, and a strange attraction to me from these girls. Soon, I had a bangled bracelet being attached to my belonged to Genesis, a slight of frame, long-haired, beautiful girl. I had complimented her on the bracelet earlier, now, in sweet yet awkward exchange, it was mine. I kindly said "no" and "you don't have to do that" but it was not to be heard. She held my wrist with sincerity and said she wanted me to have it. As I weighed that interaction, a few of the older girls that I'd befriended on the bus ran up to me holding a necklace they had just purchased from one of the roaming tchachke vendors in the parking lot. A simple black rope held a small, white rubber dog. I had shown them pictures of my dog on the trip over, they saw that and thought of me. Still reeling from the generosity of these impoverished zone 18 kids, another few girls approached me with a necklace: okay, now this was getting was like kissing another guy with your boyfriend watching or something. Wide-eyed, I accepted this new gift, another simple black rope with a shiny, red "E" charm. They excitedly explained that "E" was for Elizabeth, my middle name. I had perhaps mentioned my "nombre secundario" to them in passing once, maybe twice, and they remembered? I have so much to learn from their kindness. But, the truth is, my newly gifted "bling" adorned my neck and wrist, I wondered if there was subtext to this loving display. Were they trying to win me so I would become their "Patrona" (sponsor) like their friends or siblings have. Did they just want to charm a gringa to make a lasting impression, a "connection."? Again, I cannot answer to their motives, and I want desperately to have simply accepted those gifts as love. Christ's love is without condition, no matter how much I want to disbelieve that, too.

3. A few hours after the "zoo bling" incident, we landed back at the ministry center to drop off the youth and say our final goodbyes to them. I accompanied David and Laura upstairs where we had planned to present a gift to one of the youth, Ericka, from her Patrona, Patty G. Earlier in the day, her dark eyes glittered as she asked me questions about "hermana Patty." "Did she cut her hair?....why didn't she come this year?...Are her eyes still blue?" Now, we presented Ericka with a small gift from Patty, and the sparkle I had seen earlier exploded into unabashed joy. As she tore through the red tissue paper to reveal a small blue purse, she was already squealing with glee "Oh...hermana Patty!!! Its so beautiful!" Her fingers moved quickly to unzip the bag and reveal more goodies inside, meant just for her. I was so moved by her uncontained smile and appreciation. A letter was enclosed from Patty, so I tried my best to translate it for Ericka, and when I was finished, I was surrogate Patty, recipient of Ericka's joyous hugs and kisses. "Oh thank you, thank you. I love you!" I hugged her back, held back tears and promised her I would pass along a message to Patty: "Tell her I love her and that I think of her all the time."

Child sponsorship at its most denoument needed.

Guatemala Reflections 1

I had a handful of trailmix yesterday and thought of Guatemala.

I had a banana this morning with breakfast that wasn't nearly as sweet and fresh-tasting. It'd probably been picked 5 days before I bought it, ripening to some moderate sweetness on my kitchen counter.

I had a few thoughts and frustrations this week and wished I had my wonderful teammates to process with.

Not even 2 days after my arrival in Atlanta from a week in Guatemala, I was whisked away to steamy Athens, GA for a work project, given hardly any minutes, hours or space to think and reflect on what I had experienced in Central America. Only those late hours when my boss had finally found rest on her pillow was I able to sit at the computer in the dark silence of our hotel room. But then it was too late, I was too tired, and the lure of keeping up with emails, facebook and news was too great to give pause for reflection.

Now one week past our first day of VBS at the Hope for Guatemala ministry center, memories and impressions sweep through my head, streaks of gladness in what has already become the ho-hum of everyday here in Atlanta/Athens/Savannah. I memory through pictures posted, souvenirs unpacked (yes, I just unloaded the last vestiges of Guate from my big black suitcase), dirty clothes now clean, folded in my closet that once bore the smells, sweat and sticky hugs of dozens of adorable children.

As I cleaned the kitchen this morning, I discovered the crumbled brochure about Hope 4 Guatemala's child sponsorship program. ' bring HOPE to a child today..." This wonderful program works like other sponsorship programs such as Compassion International - with $32 a month you pay for their meals at the ministry center, school supplies, clothes, special activities, tutoring, etc. I've never done one of those programs, and even now I wonder why, and I speculate as to why I hesitate with the HOPE version. The brochure shows smiling faces, many of which are familiar, maybe that's what makes this one harder.

As a team we would discuss this opportunity on occasion when we'd landed back at Tina's during the evening. Tired feet and grease-streaked faces, we would lounge in her living room and ask each other, "Have you picked a child to sponsor?" or "got any thoughts about whether you'll sponsor someone?". Maybe that's why I'm ambivalent, it seems a tad like an oddball marketplace where I'm to be looking for the "cutest" or the "neediest" or just that right "connection." Yet, as I look at this brochure and these faces, I know how great the need is, and I reason that I must put aside my skepticism and hesitation, for the sake of one of these little ones having school supplies. Bearing in mind this struggle, I will share 3 stories in this, and perhaps a subsequent post that relate to this matter. Two of which feed my tendency toward cynicism (which I'm not proud of), and one makes me smile...really big. Here's hoping the muscle memory of my joyous smile outweighs that of my crinkled brow.

1. I have some friends stateside who sponsor a child through Hope. I asked Tina about this girl and how she was doing because I had not seen her at any of our activities. "She doesn't really come around the ministry center much lately." This gave me pause, after all, my friends are faithfully sending their $32 and gifting her with nice things above and beyond the "basic need" stipend. Are there repercussions for her absence from the ministry activities? Should my friends be alerted? ....Should I be the rule-keeper and arbiter of whether she should receive this gift of love? ...Is it not filled with so much more grace then if she is a prodigal? I don't know the right answers, but here is one reality of sponsorship - our gift may not have strings attached.

Check out some more of my pictures from our first few days in Guatemala