Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Park, Halloween, and High School

Hello again! In this episode you'll find some outings to the park, a Halloween party and a not-so-fun story about my high school girls. My thirteen hour days are starting to catch up to me--somehow I find the energy to do each class but during the time between classes I totally crash. We have another three day weekend this time around and we're not going anywhere so I'm looking forward to relaxing. I've been invited to the house of Marcia (I work with her in the resources room at La Gota de Leche school downtown). She's this great little thing who always wants to take coffee breaks with me and just shoot the caca if you catch my drift. She lives about an hour away in Cayambe and I'm going to have lunch with her on Monday. I love her, I think I'll bring her flowers.

At the end of every month we go to the park during the Girls’ Program at the downtown center. Below I have some pictures from last month and this Friday. We walk from La Marín up a million stairs to Parque Itchimbía and spend the morning exploring the various attractions. Plenty of mini zip-lines, merry-go rounds, ponds and even what the girls call the “Casa del gringo loco,” a wooden structure in which sits a crazy white guy (who is invisible, of course) waiting for unsuspecting children to become his next meal.

This is the Brujita de Itchimbía, who used to
know all about the natural healing properties
of all the herbs in the area. She's about 20ft tall.

When we went to the park yesterday I started making dandelion crowns for the girls and they loved it. Here are some photos that Laura (fellow volunteer) took of the whole affair.

Last week we had a Halloween party and it was such a fun morning—the kids were especially thrilled at these piñatas we had hung up and their joy was fiercely contagious. I was so pleased at the whole affair and thankful that I got to enjoy the kids outside of the classroom. It was a treat to experience them as the squealing, curious, hilarious little people that they are.

On the left is Anderson. He's everyone's favorite--
he has this huge head and wears those suspenders
almost every day, often with checkered pants
and a plaid shirt. Next to him is Alejandro,
an adorable second-grader whose dimples
are unfortunately obscured here by the clown makeup.

I had an upsetting experience this week with my high school girls. I work with thirteen of them every night in a study hour in the library and I love them very much. I think they love me too because they’re always running up to hug me and kiss me whenever they see me. On Thursday night I walked into the library to find the librarian, the “Inspector” of the high school (a man named Hannibal—most of the kids are afraid of him, probably for good reason) and one of the directors of the center. Apparently some things had gone missing from the library in the past couple of weeks and my girls were the suspects. We had previously shared the library with some younger high school girls, but they had such behavior problems that they were moved out of the library to another room. Various groups throughout the day use the library too, so I was under the impression that it could have been any number of people who had taken the items.

Anyway, on Thursday night I was surprised to see these three authorities preparing to talk to my girls. They had narrowed the culprits down to my group because we were the last ones to use the library before the bulk of the items were discovered missing the next morning. The deal was that any items that weren’t returned would have to be paid for by the whole group, which really pissed the girls off. The librarian stressed that she hoped it had only been an accident and that the girls had absent-mindedly taken them home. I wished that was true and actually believed that to be the case. My girls wouldn’t steal from the library, especially when all they have to do is ask to use the item and it’s theirs. I also thought that since I hadn’t seen anything suspicious among my girls that it must have been someone else.

Well, you can probably see where this is going. That same night one of the girls (she’s absolutely lovely and has such a warm spirit) confided in me that she had accidentally taken one book home and was afraid to bring it back. She asked if she could give it to me so I would return it for her. I of course said no, but told her not to worry because bringing it back was the right thing to do. I suggested she apologize and tell the librarian it was a careless mistake.

The next night I checked in with the librarian and she showed me that this girl had brought back a bag full of stuff from the library. About five or six books, a handful of CDs, markers, pencils and little things she probably has no use for. Apparently she gave the names of two other girls who had each taken a book or two also. They all did it knowingly and weren’t planning on bringing the items back until they learned that all the girls would have to pay to replace them.

I was absolutely crushed and I still feel awful about it. At first I couldn’t believe that I was wrong about my girls who I love so much. I was wrong about something I was so sure of. I usually reserve judgment about things until I have enough information to make a good guess. If you’re reading this, you probably know me, and you probably know that I’m pretty cautious and meticulous about coming to conclusions in general. That’s why I was shocked to find out that my girls had deliberately stolen things right under my nose and then turned around to hug and kiss me and tell me they love me.

Last night I gave them a talk about how I was disappointed in all of them—they’re all friends with each other and it was suggested to me by Madre Miguel (who has been here for forty years and whom I trust completely) that some if not all of them knew what had happened. I told them I looked stupid and lazy in front of the center authorities and that they had lost my trust and maybe even my friendship. The first girl who brought the bag of items back wasn’t at the study hall; she had been removed from her classes that day I don’t know what happened to her. Some of them looked absolutely crushed and some, particularly the two remaining lifters, looked defiantly unaffected.

You can see that I’m taking it personally. I know it’s not about me, and I’m not trying to make it about me. But the truth is I feel duped and pretty foolish. I look naïve and I feel totally offended that the girls would sneak something like this behind my back. Does this mean that I was wrong about my relationship with them? I want to be someone they can trust and who will be honest with them about anything they want to know. But now I feel like they’ve been tricking me this whole time.

They’re teenagers and teenagers mess up, so I shouldn’t turn this into a personal attack on me. But I’m grieving for them because they chose such an empty way to be human. When they have all these resources from the center at their fingertips they still have the urge to take advantage of people and things. I know I shouldn’t expect them to be grateful to the center because I don’t know anything about growing up a working street child. Or should I assume that they’re grateful? I can’t expect them to analyze their own situation from a removed perspective when everything around them says “don’t even imagine a different life for yourself because you’ll never get out of this.”

People are so strongly influenced by the way others treat them and by the manner in which they perceive others’ treatment of them. I know my girls deserve a second chance but will they take it seriously? The two girls who haven’t returned the items yet didn’t seem remorseful, so I’m not sure if they realize the magnitude of the situation.

Ahhhh, that was a long story but I needed to share it because it shows that this is not paradise. I love it here but things are complicated and I feel somewhat frustrated at the fact that I don’t have access to a lot of information about growing up here, or about how personal to get with people or how to love and trust them and be on guard all the time.

The other volunteers are wonderful and I’m so thankful to have them—they help me look at the experience in different ways and remind me that as wrapped up in my work as I am, and should be, my life is big and full of gifts that help me navigate these situations without disappearing within them. So in case you were wondering, I’m still here!

love, M

just because he makes me happy, here's Anderson one more time...


Ellen Krause said...

WEll, I am very impressed with how you have adjusted to life there! I miss you tons and I am going to try and be as diligent as you are about posting!

Lots of love,

Bernadette Matthews said...

You make me so proud, my heart is full :)

Andrea said...

I totally saw that coming. Ai, amiga, eres gringa todavia. But you hit the nail on the head- you know how wonderful and sweet your girls are, but they are the unfortunate victims of a society that is unable to properly care for all citizens. Welcome to the third world! It's every woman for herself, and for better or worse, these young ladies know what it takes to survive. That doesn't mean following the rules (as I'm sure you've seen, Ecuadorians aren't big on following rules, but social norms dictate every move they make), but rather it means taking advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. You can't blame them, really. And amiga, you'll soon see that no matter how much you love these girls your love will not be able to combat generations of entrenched poverty and disenfranchisement. That's what made me so sad about Ecuador, because, let's face it- as Americans, there's nothing we can do to change this mindset overnight- that will take many, many years of strong policies that support communities- but who's going to pay for that? But you CAN teach these kids to sing, and that is a true gift and they will remember you forever because of that!

kt said...

<3 i love you maid marian

keep me [posted] on your future plans. i would love to visit, and i'll most likely have the means to.