Saturday, October 29, 2011

Being sick as a blessing in disguise

This past week I have been sick. Really sick. And let me tell you something, being sick sucks. No matter where you are.

But being sick is even worse when you are in another country, especially a country that speaks another language. At least for me.

I didn’t know how the medical system works, where to go, what to do. My brain was barely functioning in English, let alone in Spanish trying to answer questions about how I felt. I really just wanted to curl up in my bed in Edmonds with my kitty, and I wanted my mom (and no I am not ashamed to admit that!). It was a recipe ripe for disaster and misery.

But strangely enough that’s not how everything happened. Rather it was an opportunity for my community here to really absorb me and shower me with love and affection. Let me show you what I mean.

Sunday morning I woke up and I was in bad shape. I had barely slept all night with a horrible fever and a throat that was starting to hurt. It was all I could do to get out of bed and stumble into the other room to tell my friends that I wouldn’t be going to church with them. I stumbled back to bed and when I woke back up Pastor Octavio was there to check on me and had brought with him a doctor who is a member of the church. She was able to examine and diagnose me right there in my room! (I have a bacterial throat infection that is in the same disease family as mononucleosis) She gave me her cell number and told me to call whenever I need anything and that she would be back with medicine with me.

I spent the day in my room, feeling crappy. But every hour or so one of my friends would come in and check on me unless I was sleeping. I was miserable, but a manageable miserable. But as the evening went on my fever was getting higher and higher. We couldn’t get a hold of the doctor or Octavio (their phones were dead). My friends were really concerned about me and decided that the best option was to go to the ER. So we went, and when I say we I mean we. Everyone who was around that night accompanied me to the ER so that I wouldn’t have to go alone. So instead of just me, there were five of us sitting and waiting. We got the diagnosis and some drugs and headed back home.

But the love didn’t stop there. One girl offered to let me sleep in an empty bed in her room so I could just poke her if I needed something. Another friend offered to, and did, sleep in the tv room right next to my room so I could bang on the wall in the night if I needed anything. It continued like this all week. The doctor came to check on me almost every day, and brought more medicine and home cooked meals with her. My friends were constantly coming in to check on me, and worrying about what I would eat when they weren’t around to cook something for me. When an older couple from the church found out I was sick they stopped by with cake, and the first words out of her mouth after “how are you feeling” were “why didn’t you call me?”

It was such an outpouring of blessings, that at times it was almost overwhelming. And as hard as it was at times, in some ways it was almost better then in the US. When I am in the US I don’t have a doctor that I can call any hour of the day to come and visit me at my house. I wouldn’t have had this many people who would have wanted to go to the hospital with me.

I was shown in so many ways that I am an important part of this community, one that is deeply cared for. My being sick allowed them to show me this in ways that might have been difficult or taken longer in “normal” life.  Maybe being sick was a blessing in disguise because of the way it allowed me to be loved by my community. Would I want to go through it again, no (fingers crossed!). But was it worth it, yes!

Towards the end of the week when I was doing more than just sleeping and watching tv a couple of the girls were joking around with me saying, “You aren’t sick anymore, you just don’t want to go to work do you.” I was arguing back saying that I am still sick even though I look a lot better. One of them looked right at me and said, “You can’t lie to us, we’re family.”

“You can’t lie to us, we’re family.”

How can I make a difference?

I struggle with my purpose here. In the grand scheme of things is my presence here even making a difference? There are so many things that are beyond my control, that at times it seems almost hopeless.

I can’t give the kids at the Hogar parents who aren’t idiots, families who can take care of them. I can’t give them or the kids in the Cerro an educational system that meets their needs. A school adequately staffed with well trained, caring teachers. A school where there is actually a teacher there on all school days. A school where they aren’t treated differently by the adults (let alone the other kids) because of their family or economic situation. I can’t change the fact that their life opportunities are limited simply by the part of the city that they live in. And frankly, that sucks!

I see a lot of injustice here on a daily basis. And it pains me deeply to know that no matter what I do in this next year, I won’t be able to change those injustices. I can fight as hard as I want, but ultimately it is a fight that Uruguayans must take on themselves.

So what can I do when faced with all this brokenness? Though I am unable to treat the root of the problem I can help to alleviate the symptoms. Into these places of pain and hopelessness I can try to shine the light of love and hope. All of the kids at the Hogar need some more love and support in their lives. So maybe, as hard as it is to accept sometimes, the most important thing I can do for them is to push them on the swings. Or to teeter-totter. Or play a couple hours of ping pong. They don’t need someone to tell them life isn’t fair, they already know that. What they need is someone who can tell them, and show them with actions, “You are important and I care about you.”

Maybe this is enough. To try to be that person of love and encouragement while praying for those who are fighting. I hope so. Because those kids need me and I don’t know how else I can serve them. And I can hear a swing calling my name…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Ode to Stuff

Stuff, stuff, stuff
Why are you always such a focus in life?
You were so hard to deal with in preparation for leaving home
You were hard to leave behind (I really do love you hooded sweatshirt!)
But now I am here
And honestly I am a little, or maybe a lot, embarrassed by your influence in my life
Why did I bring so much of you along with me?
I really don’t need all of you, you are really too much for me
And there is so much of you back in Edmonds, yikes!
What was I thinking?
Sorry, but you really aren’t what is important in life
People are what I want to focus on in my life
So I guess this is your eviction notice
We have had some good moments together
But you have just held too much power in my life
So we need to part ways
So in true Uruguay fashion I say to you, CHAU CHAU!

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The problem with names

I’m discovering that I really like having names for the new things and experiences that are now a part of my life. It helps me to understand and process what I am experiencing when I am able to actually stick a name on it.

Words hold a lot of power. A simple word or phrase can conjure up a myriad of images in your mind. And with those images come a set of expectations. Thus comes my struggle when I am unable to come up with a satisfactory name.

My work at the Hogar Amanecer exemplifies this tension. The name Hogar Amanecer literally means Home of the Dawn (it works a lot better in Spanish). For lack of a better term I have used the word orphanage to describe it. But this creates some problems.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word orphanage I make certain assumptions.

•    The kid’s parents are dead.
•    It is a place without a lot of hope.

These are some pretty significant assumptions, but they don’t actually apply to my work here. Most (possibly all) of the kids have parents that are still alive, they are just parents who made extremely poor life choices and are unable to care for their children. As for hope, all of the kids have some type of family with whom there is hope that they will be able to live with at some point in the future. In fact, in just the last two years a number of kids have moved out of the Hogar to live with their family. The kids are always telling stories about their family and what they did when they spent time together. They are full of hope that they will be able to go and live with their families once again.

So where does that leave me as far as names go? It reminds me of the power that word choice has to influence our thoughts and feelings.  Maybe it is not so important to fixate on the “name” of something, but rather on the reality of what is occurring there. So instead of orphanage, the Hogar is a home. Because when it comes down to it that’s what it really is, a new family for kids who got the bad draw the first time around.

On an outing to the zoo