The Little Drummer Boy

Come they told me

Our new born king to see

Baby Jesus

I am a poor boy too

I have no gift to bring

that’s fit to give our king

shall I play for you

on my drum

parumpumpumpum

Mary nodded

the ox and lamb kept hum

I played my drum for him

I played my best for him

Then he smiled at me

me and my drum

me and my drum.

This Christmas season I have been reflecting much on the story of the little drummer boy and how these past few months I have felt much like him. I was listening to a Christmas CD and the song of the little drummer boy played. It struck me in a way it never had before. I’ve always known what it meant, but for the first time listening to it, I felt I really understood it. So here’s how I’ve lived the story of the little drummer boy:

Come He told me

There are many people to be loved

In Monte Sinai

I am just a girl

What gift can I bring

that’s fit to last

I have only my heart to share

parumpumpumpum

I hear Him say yes

and so I went

to give my heart to them

I give my best

and I can see His smile in theirs

all it takes is love

just me and my love.

Just as the little boy felt, I often feel I can and should be giving more. That what I am giving is not enough. But this story reminds us that we, just as we are, that is enough. No gold, frankensense or myrrh could make a better gift than the gift of ourselves. While here, I have wished I could give so much more to the many families, women and children I have come to know both at work and in my neighborhood. But I’ve seen so many smiles among them and their laughs that have been music to my heart. I have heard their testaments of their faith and seen it all in action. I’ve heard how their beliefs hold them through any hardships and fill in all the cracks. That it continues to give them hope and makes their hearts full and lives overflowing with love. I’ve danced and sang and prayed and ate and shared many stories with them. And through all of these simple things I have found Christ in them each day. Like the little drummer boy, I have felt limited and unsure of what my purpose is. But also like the boy, I have found that what matters most is the love I bring. A few days ago, Liz and I visited a neighbor who has 93 years of age and has lost her eyesight. Most times when I have visited her, she has begun to cry, saying she is sad she cannot know our faces, only our voices. In a similar way, she did the same. But then she thanked us for visiting her, a woman with nothing left to give. I remembered her mentioning another time that when she had a place of her own and had her eyesight she would have given us something to drink, something to eat and would have had a nicer home we could visit her in. But of course, I don’t care whether she welcomes us into a nice home where we are offered cola and maybe some food or she welcomes us as she lays in her hammock as the day goes by. She is right, she doesn’t have anything left to give. But that day Liz and I sang to her and her grandchildren found us from wherever they were and joined in. At one point Liz and I were singing downstairs and the kids were singing upstairs and we were loud and singing in different languages. And she began to laugh and she smiled at us and thanked us for our voices. She takes my face and kisses my cheeks and smiles at me. I couldn’t have hoped for anything more.

I give my heart to them

parumpumpumpum

And there I find Him in them

parumpumpumpum

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving in Ecuador – The Simplicity of the Self

I really enjoy and appreciate the holiday of Thanksgiving. A time to come together with those around you and give thanks. To celebrate the life we have with one another. To celebrate and appreciate all the joys, miss-steps, successes, mishaps, accomplishments, sadness, lessons learned and all else in between.  To celebrate life in all its glory, all she has to offer us.

It was strange not to be home. It didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving…at least not the Thanksgiving I’ve known all my life. I missed figuring out what to make with mom and grocery shopping all week to prepare. I missed spending time with my brothers, excited for the food we were about to enjoy. I missed spending time with my cousins, chatting away and catching up – imagining our futures and sharing the latest stories about the men in our lives. Oh, and you can’t forget trying figuring out what our future holds for us in the wisdom of Armenian coffee grinds that surprise us with a new design inside our cups. I missed being with family. Feeling good about doing all the dishes and cleaning up from supper so mom wouldn’t have to. I miss cuddling with Roxy after we’ve both eaten too much turkey.

But you don’t have to feel sorry for me. Although I may have missed this wonderful holiday at home, let me share with you the new Thanksgiving I experienced – the things I didn’t miss out on:

I accompanied our wonderful retreat group from Boston on a neighbor visit to Monica’s. She spoke of the faith of Ecuadorians that moves mountains. Her faith is everything. God provides. Simple as that. Her faith holds her through the times where it seems hope dwindles. She said you only have one true friend in life – God. She explained that when good things happen, you find yourself surrounded by your friends, but when the bad things happen, you find they’ve all gone. However, you can always trust God. He is there through thick and thin, good and bad. Monica also spoke of the beauty of living in the now. Of not missing out on the present moment with concern of the past or worry of the future. And also of the importance of opening your heart to others, which is the only way your heart can grow. As a group we talked about the differences between Monte Sinai and our lives in the States. The retreat group talked a little about how people smile a lot more here and aren’t afraid to say “Hola! Buenos dias!” However, in the states, people are too busy looking at their electronics to look up at the people around them and smile or say hello. We mentioned the difference between being in a poverty of heart and a poverty of material goods. Monica said that here, people might not have much, but it allows them to live in the present moment and it keeps you humble, where you won’t forget about the important things and about God above all. She said our house might not be big and we might not have a lot of money, but we are rich when it comes to love.

I also tagged along with the retreat group to Damien House, a really special and beautiful home for people who suffer from the effects of Hansen’s disease. At Damien, men and women can find a safe, comfortable place to stay while they are treated and cured. Some patients only stay until they are cured; however, some unfortunately have no home to return to, due to the stigma attached with the disease that has left them outcaste and rejected by family and friends, and so they can find a home at Damien.

While there, we met with a group of women who welcomed us graciously and talked to us a little about who they are and where they come from. We shared a little about ourselves as well and one of the retreatants mentioned that today is the holiday of giving thanks in the US. One woman jumped at the opportunity and responded with what I remember to be “Well then! We must go around the room and all say what we are thankful for, starting with you!” And so we did. We each said what we were thankful for. Many of the women said they were thankful for our visit which brings them great joy. It was a really beautiful moment.

After meeting with some of the women, we headed over to meet with the men. The last time I visited, I sat at the table where dominoes was being played and jumped right into the game. The men patiently taught the other members in my group and me how to play and we all played until it was time to leave. This time was different. I saw a man sitting by himself away from the men playing dominoes. I remembered a dear friend of mine from college, Laura, who was always so good with the elderly, patient and kind, and in the moment I prayed I could be a little more like her so I could have the courage to sit beside this man and just be as she would.  I sat beside him and introduced myself. His name is Noberto. He was really hard to understand and I knew I wouldn’t be able to respond much, but I also didn’t want to leave. Shortly after, one of the retreatants, Jesus, and Eli came over to greet him. Luckily, Eli and Jesus had better luck translating. Noberto began talking to us about his legs – me duele, me duele – he was in pain. I can still hear his voice saying it, shaky and low. He told us that he sits here every day and doesn’t have much to do. He can’t do much because of his legs. It hurts to move them and to walk. Not long after sharing this information with us, Noberto holds on to the railing before him to support his weight. He leans on the railing and stands to the best of his ability, beginning to look around. I hear the word “silla”. Jesus translates that he wants us to sit down. It takes a second for me to process. Noberto is looking for chairs so that we all have a place to sit beside him. I see a chair ahead of me and quickly bring it over so he can sit back down himself. We all sit beside him and listen. Again he mentions the pain in his legs and tells us you learn to ignore the pain after a while. I am all alone he says. He said this is how life is; some of us suffer more than others. He brought his hands together in prayer and thanked God for our visit and prayed for our health. Anytime we tried to respond to him, he would point to his ears and tell us he can’t hear us. At some point, Jesus, Eli and the retreatant leave to spend time with some of the other patients. I remained sitting beside Noberto, doing my best to make out what he was saying. He repeats himself a lot and at times, points to his ears again, saying he has trouble hearing. He also points to his mouth and tells me his speech is not good anymore. I nod and smile when I feel appropriate to let him know I am trying my best to listen though I cannot respond with words. I wanted to maybe sing a song for him. Tomad Senior is one of my favorites that I have sung at mass a few times. I thought it might be nice to sing for him, but when I asked if he knew the song, he responded that he couldn’t hear me. And so instead, I sat in silence beside him, listening. Eventually, it was time to go. I said goodbye and he asked if I was coming back later that day. I shook my head and told him I would try to visit again soon. I knew he didn’t hear me, so I just offered him a hug and a smile before I turned to catch up with my group.

I don’t know how long I sat beside Noberto that morning – 30 minutes, maybe a little longer or shorter– and I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t offer him my voice in any way, nor could I ease any of the pain he was feeling. There was only one thing I could share with him. Presence.

And so this Thanksgiving, I didn’t miss out on the incredible wisdom of my neighbor, Monica. I didn’t miss the gift of being at Damien, seeing the beautiful smiles of the women and hearing what they were thankful for. I also didn’t miss out on meeting Noberto – a wonderful man who, despite his pain, got up to find his guests a chair. Despite his sadness, smiled back at me. What a glorious smile.

Opening My (Ecua)door

There are certain moments and experiences in life that can really bring a person to life. That make a person feel truly raw and human in a most precious way. Some days here I feel re-born in a way. I feel vulnerable and curious in the world around me and each day brings a new excitement. Ecuador has been incredibly “life-giving” where I have discovered new meanings to life and have been given a new lens to see it all and understand it, even live it.

This world has so much to give. And I’ve found a wonderful piece of it right here in Monte Sinai that is beautifully different from where I’ve been before. Most of those pieces are simple moments. Usually shared with my family here, my neighbors as well as the women and children at work.

I’d like to share a night I really enjoyed that is a great example of what I’m talking about:

Last week was the birthday of Omar, who is both a wonderful neighbor and our guard. His wife Eli had us come to the house early before Omar’s shift ended to surprise him. She plans a little surprise for him every year with the volunteers. Their daughter, Amy, was very excited to have balloons all around and couldn’t wait for Omar to come home. She’s a daddy’s girl, I have no doubt about it. Eli was preparing dinner as we all waited, crouched down on the floor trying not to make too much noise. We’re not very good at that. There was a lot of held in laughter. You can’t not laugh when Amy is around!

When Omar finally came home, Amy ran outside despite our efforts to stop her and greeted her father. I couldn’t hear what she said but I don’t think she spoiled the surprise, though I’m sure he already knew about it since this happens each year. Anyway, he walked through the door and we all through balloons and yelled sorpresa! I accidentally through my balloon at Jesús, who is not a fan of balloons because he doesn’t like the pop noise when it goes and is always afraid they will pop. He forgave me and we laughed about my horrible aim. We helped set up the table for the meal and shared the same impatient excitement as we waited for Eli to serve the food. I didn’t know what we would be eating, but I didn’t have to. Eli is a really great cook and never disappoints. Some of the former volunteers called to wish Omar a happy birthday. After we all received our dish, Omar and Eli nominated Liz to say the prayer, who gave us a look as if to say, why me! But she did wonderfully…at least from the way it sounded to me, I really don’t actually know what she said since it was in Spanish and I probably wasn’t trying hard enough to understand as I should have (oops…sometimes I catch myself in those moments. I promise I don’t let it happen that often!) The first bites were followed by plenty of mmmss and yummss. Actually we made those sounds the whole time I’m pretty sure. We like to sound how we feel when we eat. We must all be pretty great cooks too because we do it a lot during our family dinners too! Eli made arroz con pollo with a salad on the side. Arroz con pollo is this really great rice dish with of course, chicken, but it’s made with soy sauce and a pepper, tomato, onion mixture, and includes peas and carrots. The sauces give the rice and chicken great flavors and has pretty much a 100% chance of being wonderfully delicious. I have this theory that the perfect dish would be seco de pollo de arroz con pollo. Seco de pollo is chicken prepared a certain way that I really love and is served with plain rice, which soaks up the juice of the chicken. The plain rice is great beside the seco de pollo, but imagine the seco de pollo next to arroz con pollo. Now that’s a great dish! Just my theory; some day I’ll make it!

Despite being super full from our first plates, Eli put the pot on the table with the leftover arroz con pollo which we all dug into in one way or another. You can’t help yourself with Eli’s arroz con pollo. Many of us wound up just having second helpings. I picked at it here and there and found some cocolone to munch on. If I haven’t talked about cocolone yet in my other blogs, I’ll explain now. Cocolone is the rice at the bottom of the pot that gets a little extra love with the heat and becomes crispy, and when made right, golden. The golden cocolone is, in my opinion, the best kind of cocolone. If the rice is left on for too long, it turns a dark golden and begins to brown a little. Left for too long and it will just burn and turn black. But the golden cocolone, it’s like treasure. My mom always tried not to burn the pilaf at the bottom of the pot but when it did get stuck to the bottom, she would say it’s no good and take it to the side. She’d say she shouldn’t eat it, but enjoys it sometimes, so she’d scrape a bit and munch on it. She made it seem like it wasn’t a good thing so I never bothered to try it. Now I know why. She was keeping it to herself! I’m kidding, knowing my mom, she really didn’t like to have rice stuck to the bottom of the pan and always tried not to let that happen. But now that I know the rice stuck to the bottom is cocolone, the next time I won’t let her have the pot all to herself. Pilaf made into cocolone I imagine being 10x better than regular cocolone. Pilaf is like the queen of rice in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with pilaf!

Anyway, after dinner was when the party started! Eli played music and we all left the table to dance! Eli is quite the dancer and showed off some great moves which took us all by surprise! I know she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and Eli never ceases to amaze me by everything she does so I always look forward to when I’ll discover what she’ll reveal next.

I really admire her and can’t wait to know more Spanish so I can get to know her better. She’s a very strong willed woman, intelligent and genuine. She’ll tell you like it is. And when she feeds you, she feeds you very very well. She reminds me a lot of my own family in that way. Food is an important part of the way we take care of one another and I see that in her whenever she feeds us.

I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but somehow a game of musical chairs began. So far, I haven’t lost a game and was determined to keep my streak. Finally it was just Eli and I going for the final chair. When the music stopped, I went for the chair, but stupidly assumed it would be there. I should have known Eli would pull a stunt. She pulled the chair out, but thoughtfully caught me as I fell. She didn’t sit down though, so I recovered quickly and planted myself on the chair. We all laughed for a while and I was glad I still got the chair 😉 I’m pretty sure she let me have it, but it still counts since she cheated! But that’s how the game goes in Ecuador! Especially in Eli’s house. She makes all the rules!

We played another game and I wound up losing early on but didn’t feel bad about it since I kind of won against Eli. There was plenty of laughter and pictures being taken trying to capture the funny moments. Most were of Amy and Eli. After the games, we went back to dancing and Elias, Eli and Omar’s son, began showing off his moves! We all danced together and were being silly. When Eli was really moving her hips, the family told her I could do it too, so I put on some Armenian hits and we shook our hips! I played a Turkish song by Tarkan, Kiss Kiss, just for fun too, and I’m pretty sure she knew that one! She was singing along to it and soon we were all blowing kisses at each other each time it played in the song. After the dancing, it was time for dessert! Liz and Rachi made a chocolate cake topped with powdered sugar. Eli made queso de leche, kind of like a flan, which was deliciiouuss. Amy started getting cranky and it was definitely past her bed time. We chatted a little more and eventually said our goodbyes, wished Omar a happy birthday once again and went home.

It was a really great night full of laughter and stories (Eli is quite the story teller!) and pictures taken (Amy took over 50 photos I hear) and dancing and eating and full bellies and most of all love. A lot of love was shared that night. The kind of love that brings you to life.

We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary really, but we were together. We opened up our many doors and left them open, sharing whatever slipped out with all who were around. We were ourselves.

I often remind myself to leave my doors open. Some days it’s easier than others. The times I do, I’m always so glad I did, because when they are open for all that I am to come out, they are also open to receive all the things trying to come in.

That’s the part where I come to life.

It’s not particularly special for Ecuador though, I must say. I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep open my doors all my life. To be all I am and want to be without any fear or holding back. To have the courage to be vulnerable. What I’m saying is I’ve learned more about how I can do that since being here.  But this is great news for you! How can you work towards leaving your doors open in your day to day life? When do you feel yourself closing them? What can you do for yourself that will help you keep them open? I pray you will have the courage to open them and re open them when necessary, despite any mountain you may be climbing.

You are not alone. I may be far away from you wherever you are, or I may be close by! Regardless, I too am learning how to keep open the many doors of my heart.

( I am borrowing the “(Ecua)door” term from a former volunteer, Brian Bayer-thanks!)

PUPPIES!

This blog is loonngg overdue! WE HAVE PUPPIES!

Sochi gave birth to 3 absolutely beautiful puppies on September 26th! One girl with a spot on her back and two boys, one with black on his ears and the other has wavy hair while the others have straight. They are so precious it’s unbelievable. Watching their birth and experiencing them grow each day brings me so much joy. They are perfect in every way. And watching Sochi learn how to be a new mommy is also amazing, she’s succhhh a good mommy! The first night I stayed up with her to make sure the puppies wouldn’t be cold or get tangled in the bedding and Sochi was up with them all night letting them feed and cleaning them. They are now 14 days old and have all opened their eyes since about 3 days ago! The boy with black on his ears was the first to open his one eye, eventually the other followed and next thing I knew the other two had their eyes open as well. Soon they will be walking and shortly after running and playing! They  have gotten so big already after just 14 days, I can’t imagine how big they will be at a month! Wow! If I could watch them all day, I absolutely would.

Of course there is something really special about puppies, but it’s indescribable how amazing it is watching puppies grow and seeing a mother in action. I loved Sochi the moment I met her but watching her grow into a wonderful mother and seeing her take care of her puppies made me fall in love all over again.

I don’t really know what else to say but to talk about how wonderful they are which I already did, so instead I’ll share some pictures with you! Enjoy 🙂

DSCN5556  DSCN5583 DSCN5591 DSCN5622DSCN5595 DSCN5806 DSCN5665DSCN5653

One on Ones!

The former volunteers shared an idea they committed to throughout their year to help them become closer with one another and be more intentional about spending time with each other. Their idea was one-on-ones! My family decided together that we all loved it and would try it out to see if it was something we would like to also do with our family. I call it my date for the week!

The one-on-ones for me are a great way to spend time with each member of my family intentionally and lovingly, which sometimes can be hard to do since there are 8 of us altogether and some of us work with one another and have different schedules so it can be difficult to spend time with everyone throughout the week separately. Spending time with the family altogether is also something I really appreciate but that one-on-one time would probably get lost in the mix if we didn’t implement this idea. Making the time each week for one person in my family and making sure we have that time is something I’ve grown to really look forward to. Our family fits together like a puzzle piece, Eli suggested during reflection the other day, and I definitely agree! What I love the most is how we fit together differently. I enjoy experiencing how we all compliment one another’s personalities differently. How I fit with one person can change with one or two more people join and especially when the whole family is together. We relate to one another differently and the relationship changes from person to person. It’s really a beautiful experience! I think we all balance each other out really well and in the end when the family all comes together, our puzzle is complete, only I think the picture changes each time somehow. My life with them here never ceases to be an adventure. Sharing laughs, tears, embraces, lightness, darkness, all of it, has been nothing short of beautiful.

My first date was Scott! We decided one day after work to check out the market nearby and spend time there together. Since it’s close to the women’s shelter it was easy to make the pit stop on our way back home. On our way there, Scott noticed someone selling chifles and got us each a bag. Chifles are such a great snack. Better than potato chips in my opinion. Nothing beats a good thin, crispy plaintain chip! We walked around and browsed a bit. He found soil that he got really excited about because he enjoys gardening. I was happy he found it because he had been talking about finding soil for a little while so that was exciting! When we walked over to the woman who was selling it she, of course, noticed our gringo-ness and called us millionaires or something along those lines. (I didn’t know this until we walked away and Scott explained of course…this was in the first few weeks when I really knew next to no Spanish) Scott explained we are volunteers with an organization and are not in fact millionaires. We felt kind of bad about how this thought was probably one that didn’t only belong to her. I suddenly felt everyone was judging me, assuming I had a ton of money on me and have come to buy anything and everything I want. In reality, I probably had about $3 on me that day. The two of us walked around to see what was being sold there, particularly paying attention to what was there that couldn’t be found in our neighborhood tiendas. We chatted about gardening and Scott shared some stories about how he became interested in it and told me about the garden he has at home. It sounds lovely and really made me wish I had a garden at home too. It reminded me of my cousin’s house who have a little garden. I remember my cousin picking apples from his tree and explaining to me that I should take a warning bite first to make sure there were no worms. He took a bite and said see, here’s a worm! Surprisingly I wasn’t all that grossed out. Anyway, I was on the lookout for red lentils as we continued walking around because they have brown lentils here and figured they have to have red ones somewhere. I have yet to find red lentils. I would be really nice to make red lentils since I use them a lot at home. When we were finished we went back to the woman with the soil to grab a bag and then set off for home.

Liz and I decided to just have our date at home where we relaxed. We chatted for a while and did face masks. We talked a lot about our experiences abroad. Liz spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador which is about 8 hours from here. She talked about her experiences there as well as her other experiences on service immersion trips and I shared mine. We talked about our journeys to San Lucas Toliman because we both spent time there through the Friends of San Lucas Mission. It was really special to listen to all of her stories and see where her passions for social justice took flight and what she’s learned from them. It never gets old hearing what made a person who they are and what brought them here with me in Ecuador. We have all had similar experiences I would say with immersion trips and experiencing social justice so we can relate to one another. We talked for a while and eventually took off the masks when they made our faces hard to move. We laughed about the way it felt and scrubbed them off. When we were talking in Liz’s room, I began asking about the pictures on her wall so she explained some of them and shared some fun memories with me and showed me pictures of her family and friends. I love hearing stories behind pictures. It always brings them to life in a special way.

Rachi and I decided to go to the 50 cent store on the corner right near our house and see what it was all about. I hadn’t been in there yet and just thought it would be fun to check it out, maybe grab some new nailpolish and do our nails later. Well, we found obnoxious fake nails! Needless to say we got really excited and went through each stack of the nails to find the ones we liked best. After we found a pair we liked, we walked out and Rachi asked if I wanted to get bread from the bakery just down the street. Now we weren’t out to get just any bread, though even any bread would be amazing since the rolls here  are always fresh and wonderful and make you feel all warm inside…good bread does that to me a lot in general I think…what we both knew we would get the second we decided to go to the bakery was their caramel stuffed bread. It’s this wonderful roll of bread with sugar on top and a sweet caramel syrup kind of thing on the inside. If I could eat one everyday without feeling guilty about my health and being intentional about spending money I would…probably twice a day. They’re always the perfect treat after a long day. So we came back to the house with fake nails and sweet caramel bread and had at it. The bread was amazing AND we had milk in the fridge so it really was a perfect snack. We laughed as we put on our fake nails, getting glitter everywhere and feeling weird about how long the nails were. They were sharp too! I don’t know how anyone would wear them for real because they would not only get caught on everything but you really would get frustrated at trying to do just about anything with your hands. Anyway, Eli joined in the fun and we put one of the extra nails on her big toes which was hysterical. We took pictures and laughed all night about them until it was time to take them off. We also had fun with the face masks and Rosa found us as we were putting it on so she joined us too. We talked in the bathroom for a while until the masks made our faces dry and stiff and it was time to scrub them off. It was a great night of unexpected adventures and a lot of laughs. I felt like I was back in 6th grade having a silly sleepover where we just did whatever we felt like and no matter what we did everything was funny and a great time. We giggled the whole way through it and it was perfect. Rachi has this way of making me feel free and childlike and I really love that about her presence.

Rosa and I had our one-on-one date without realizing we were having it. One of the women at work gave me a pedicure earlier that day and made a ladybug design on my big toe. I loved it so much I mimicked the design on my hands after getting home and later told Rosa I could give her a manicure with the ladybug too! So I gave her a manicure and we stayed up and talked for a really long time. We had been writing a lot of letters earlier that night as part of community night since one of the former volunteers had come back from traveling and was heading back home so we could send letters with her. Rosa and I continued some letters as we chatted and talked about some of the family and friends we were writing letters to. Whenever we stay up late and chat we always have really long conversations that I don’t think I will ever tire of. Sometimes she apologizes and says she’s sorry for talking so much but I tell her not to be sorry because I love listening and love to hear her tell her many stories. I can always count on Rosa for a late night chat and maybe to watch a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother before bed. Eventually I’ll look over and see Rosa sleeping and that’s when I know it’s time for bed. Or when the dvd player starts skipping, whichever comes first.

It just so happens there was some kind of fair the weekend Eli and I decided to have our date. A few of us went on Saturday to check it out but went too early and it was still being set up so no one was really there and it didn’t feel like a fair. Some went back later but I didn’t get the chance to. On Sunday the fair was still going on so Eli and I walked over. We had a nice chat on the way there about our experiences at work and some of it was about feeling limited and wanted to do certain things and feeling like we couldn’t. We have a lot of those kinds of conversations in the family. Coming to terms with our limitations is never easy. When we got to the fair we saw some of the people we knew selling their crafts and I bought a pink cross over bag with wolves on them. It came to no surprise I bought something with a dog on it and also was very pink. Eli spotted candy apples and her eyes went wide. The next thing I knew she had one in her hands. I saw meat on a stick which reminded me of dad’s shish-kebabs. The next thing I knew I had of of those meat skewers in my hands. It was really delicious, especially with the greenish mayonaisse sauce on top. I know street food can be dangerous but let’s be honest, there was no way I could avoid it. Street food is just too good! Sure I can get a parasite but I can also get one from brushing my teeth with the water from the sink which I started doing the third day or so after I spotted Eli had stopped using her canteen water for it. We’re alike in those ways of not being super concerned about germs or getting parasites or worrying about the little things we can’t always control. We know we’re all going to get sick at some point and I rather welcome it with open arms and enjoy the street food than being bitter after getting it anyway even after being careful. We were enjoying our treats outside the actual fair since a lot of people were selling things before you even entered and walked up the street to see what else was going on. A man selling coconuts out of a truck passed by a few times and finally I asked if she wanted coconut juice. Coconut juice straight out of a coconut always seems like a good idea. We caught up to the truck and got our coconut. We were planning to each get one but the guy must not have heard us when we said we wanted to. He cut one open and the man driving started to drive away after we paid for the one. We laughed and agreed to share. After we were done exploring the street we decided to try to get into the fair. Earlier it didn’t cost us anything when we went but now we saw what looked like a bouncer at the gate and someone possibly taking money but we weren’t sure about either. I said we should just try to walk in and see what happens, then we’d know for sure. Sure enough, I tried to walk in and the man at the gate began speaking to me. I didn’t understand so I turned to Eli behind me and asked her to repeat what he said. It cost $5 to get in. We weren’t sure if that meant each but didn’t bother to ask because $5 to roam around seemed too expensive. We stood by the side still eating our treats when Eli said hey, maybe if we stand here long enough they’ll just let us in! In the exciting, funny, hopeful and convincing way she usually does. It didn’t matter because either way we were having a blast but not a minute after she said the words, the man came back over and started saying something again. It was too loud and we couldn’t hear him…well, I wouldn’t have understood anyway, Eli couldn’t hear him, but she just asked, “for free?!” and he responded yes and let us in! We walked in and suddenly everything became really really funny. We laughed so hard right after walking in we just stopped by the entrance to share how funny that moment was and how we couldn’t believe that actually worked! We spent the rest of our time there walking around and listening to the band play, watching them dance and imagining what would happen if we jumped in the middle of all the dancing. We got a cup of fresh cold mandarin juice which really hit the spot and continued to walk around and take it all in. On our way back we decided to take a tricimoto or what would be considered a kind of taxi I guess, which is always fun but scary at the same time. Always an adventure and definitely more convenient than walking. When I’m with Eli I feel super fun and carefree. I love spending time with her because she’s soooo funny in a very natural way and anything we do together is light and good for the soul.

Jesus is also a lover of food like me in the way that he’ll probably try almost anything. Needless to say, we like to try street food together so for our date we decided to go out and get what’s called bolone. It’s fried plantains sculpted in a large ball with either queso fresco (the miracle cheese that refuses to melt) or fried pork rinds in the middle. It’s huge and is sooo filling on it’s own. But it comes with a side which depends on the day. The first time Jesus and I had it was when we went with one of the former volunteers Zach and that time we got an intestine stew on the side. Keep in mind, this is all around 7 to 8 in the morning because after that they start to run out of the good stuff like the pork rinds in the bolone. I’m a morning person so I don’t mind getting up early. Actually I actually love getting up early, particularly for an adventure so I’m really glad Jesus didn’t mind waking up super early with me. Not only is he like me in the way that he loves food but also in the way that he will go out of his way to enjoy food. If we had to go at 3 in the morning I’m sure I could count on Jesus to be my companion in that trip still. I could see Eli tagging along as well! When it was just Jesus and I, they had seco de pollo on the side which is always a great dish. Seco de pollo hear is chicken prepared a certain way that is always delicious and you really just can’t ever go wrong with ordering seco de pollo. We went early, around 7:15 and enjoyed a great breakfast. On our way home we decided to go to Sarita’s little shake place where she makes fruit smoothies and other things. That day was definitely a self care and splurge a little kind of day. The bolone and chicken was so filling I don’t even know how I still had room for a smoothie but I saved half of it and since I wasn’t hungry still when lunch time came around I finished the rest of the smoothie then.

Katy loves to bake so we decided to make cookies! We went out to get the ingredients and found chocolate bars with peanuts in them…needless to say, we used them as chocolate/peanut chips in the cookies since we don’t have access to chocolate chips. I used this peanut paste one night for dinner and had turned it into a creamy peanut butter kind of thing so we used whatever was left over of that in the cookies as well to give it more of a peanut flavor. We listened to music and chatted as we were making the cookies. We talked about how much we love and miss cookies. I miss crunchy chocolate chip cookies and really wish I could figure out how to make cookies crispy. Maybe I’ll look up a recipe and see if I can do it one day. I told Katy we should bake more often because we agreed it’s such a nice way to relax as well as use up all the bananas that are going bad. As we were waiting for the cookies to bake, we chatted with Welly, one of our guards, for a while and ate the batter from the mixing bowl. I offered some to Welly, not knowing he has a peanut allergy. He asked me what was in it and after I told him the ingredients he said he was allergic. Oops. I felt so bad! Katy and I were worried because his lips started to swell and he didn’t talk for a while but I guess he knew it wasn’t too bad because he didn’t really freak out. He was fine and eventually was able to talk again. When the cookies came out, we all enjoyed the first warm bites of the batch…including Welly. Mmm, cookies straight out of the oven. I was reminded of my brother Jack because anytime we ate cookies we gobbled them up the second they came out of the oven. We did that with most other things too like the Easter bread. Jack is usually my cookie buddy. I think I miss cookies as much as I do because before bed sometimes we would have chocolate chips ahoy cookies and a tall glass of milk before bed. World’s best before bed snack, at least with Jack they were. I enjoyed remembering my cookie eating days with Jack and was happy to have Katy’s company while we made our own version of a delicious chocolate chip and peanuty cookie.

There you have it! My first one-on-one with each family member. I’ll be sure to share as many future adventures with you as I can! I know there will be many many more to come 😀

Reminders of a Little Boy

The street dogs here eat away at my heart. Some days more so than others. I want to love and care for them. I want to feed them and see their tails wag in expression of happiness. Instead I see them cower as they run the streets, hungry for love, care and nourishment. They live moment to moment with a great weight on their shoulders, survival. Sometimes they are yelled at when they try to ask for food. Sometimes a heavy force connect with their being and I hear them whimper as they run away, run nowhere and anywhere. There is no home for them. It would be all too easy to give them a home. But that is not why I am here.

Yesterday I witness something I’ve believed all along. The reminder brought me incredible joy. This moment was special. A young boy, still just a baby, was sitting outside a shop eating crackers without any worry tickling his mind. A dog I see around the shop often was roaming around earlier and reappeared, approaching the boy. The boy looked at the dog, saw his hunger, then looked down into his hands where he held his cracker. He instinctively broke off a piece of his own food and held out his hand for this dog to receive. The dog was grateful, but still hungry. He was steady where he sat and looked up at the boy again. Again I watched the boy break off a piece of his cracker, which was now nearly finished, and held it out for the dog to receive. It was so simple. The boy saw the dog’s hunger and gave him food to eat. He did not look for his mother in neither question nor fear. He did not hesitate. He understood, a boy not yet ready to speak, and accepted the human responsibility to care for all living kind.

It is in our nature from the very beginning to care like this boy has. What happens that a person can begin to ignore? That a person can refuse this responsibility and act as if it does not matter? What do you think this world would look like, what do you think her people would look like, what her creatures would look like, if everyone cared like this boy?

Where has our instinct to love and care for all God’s creation without the question of how or why gone? I do not have the answer. The answer lies in you and in you alone.

How can we live more like this little boy?

Love in Practice

I’m really happy about how comfortable all of my experience has been so far, even in light of all the struggles and bumps in the road along the way. Even through awkwardness or really wishing I could just speak Spanish already, I feel home. The challenges make this journey that much more beautiful and I know that, though not always in the moment, and I do appreciate and accept them.

Nevertheless they are challenges and sometimes life here, though magnificent and wonderful, is just hard. The days where I forget why I’m here make these days even more difficult to live through. I was definitely not able to fully explain why I wanted to come here with Rostro de Cristo when I tried to and I think I just didn’t know the words to describe it. After reading a bit of this book, No Greater Love, a compilation of Mother Teresa’s work and beliefs, I finally feel like I can put words to what my heart had been feeling. Thinking back on it, I don’t know how I trusted myself with something as big as this, because I was having trouble explaining it all to myself. All I knew was that my heart knew and somehow I was able to know that was enough. I let it steer my life and that was that. But now I get it. I get what my heart was feeling. I get why the mission of Rostro de Cristo is so important as I felt it was. I knew presence was a big part of it and I longed for that. I believe in the pillars of the program and in what I would be doing here but now it has really all come together. Mother Teresa talks about what God asks of us, which is not to solve any one person’s problems or even the problems of our world. God asks that we accept our brothers and sisters of this world and love them. Be with them. Care for them. Of course, solving problems of the world in any way that I can is a way I can show love for these people but first I have to learn to love them, really truly love them as Christ would have me love them. Mother Teresa talks about the problems of the world and how serving people isn’t always as easy as giving someone a piece of bread to satisfy hunger or building something to satisfy another need. Sometimes the worst way people suffer isn’t what they lack on the outside but what they lack on the inside. How can I serve people who suffer inwardly. How I can serve people who have been rejected by society, who are outcasts, who are lonely and are in need of a friend, who are misunderstood and ignored. Mother Teresa speaks about how in her experience she has seen how this kind of suffering can sometimes be much worse than outward suffering because it is a suffering of the heart. Sometimes the best way we can serve people is to simply be with them, show them they matter, that we care and that we will listen to them and love them. That is what the mission of Rostro de Cristo is all about and I believe that is what Christ’s love is all about. If I can learn how to serve the “least of these” and love as Christ loves, I can learn how to serve people around the world in other ways as well. I felt so called to be here because God wanted me to learn about love. And I love my neighbors. And I have seen how presence, simply being with people, goes a long way. More than you would think. More than I’ve ever known or thought could be. It’s incredible really. How something so simple can be so healing and life giving. I know this because it goes both ways. And their presence in my life has made me feel alive. Christ’s love brings me alive.

“When I pick up a starving person off the street and offer him a bowl of rice…I can satisfy his hunger. But a person that has been beaten or feels unwanted or unloved or fearful or rejected by society experiences a kind of poverty that is much more painful and deep…Remember, it is the individual that is important to us. In order to love a person, one must come close to him or her.” Mother Teresa

When I was explaining what I had read to a friend in a letter, this is what I wrote:

Reading all of this brought me the light again of understanding presence. I am in Ecuador in this small community growing relationships with just a few neighbors, which really doesn’t influence any real change for a large group of people, but person to person, it all matters so much still. I am in Ecuador not to “do” anything like change a system, but rather to comfort the people I am with. To get to know them and make them feel wanted, loved, remembered and give them hope. I am here to love and experience the many wonderful and beautiful fruits of love and live fully in that, realizing that this love is so life-giving. That this love should be part of my everyday life no matter where I am in the world. So when I feel limited and feel like I can’t make any change, I remember I am giving people love which can cure the deeper inner pain and cannot always be noticed on the outside. I remember that I am giving hope and showing people they are important and their lives do matter enough that I would come to spend time with them all the way from home wherever that may be.

When I forget all of this, it is those days I find most difficult. I find that I wish I could “do” something sometimes. Feel like my impact here is making a difference. I have no doubt I will continue living a life of service wherever I go in the many different ways that service can be, but here in Ecuador I am living a very specific  kind of service and I have to remind myself why it is so important. I think starting off this way, of being and not doing, before I go off with all of my ideas and things I want to “do”, will really help me understand the things I want to “do” and how to go about doing them with the love I will learn here in Ecuador. It will all fit together and it is fitting that this experience come before the others.

Still, it’s hard to ignore what I feel passionate about or what I feel I would normally be able to help with or do something about. When I see the street dogs skinny and hungry, being ignored and abused, all I want to do is care for them, or at the very least give them bread. I want them to know someone loves them and they are not alone. I wish I could do something for them. But that is not why I’m here. When I hear families struggling with money or talk about needing something, I wish I could just give them that thing they need or help them with whatever it is they lack so they have one less road block to figure out but that is also not why I am here. I am not here to patch up anything with money, because it will not last. I am not here to tell people how things should be like family matters, support systems or gender roles. I am simply here to be. And to love.

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing…love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1Corinthians 13:3, 7-8