Today marks four weeks and six days of our stay here. One third done and I speak for us all when I say it has flown by. Each day feels familiar, the routine the same, the news the same, the food the same. Mornings at 5:30 are foggy and the mountain tops are still sleeping. At 8:30 the ridge line becomes visible and the perfect sun has declared day. There is the mopping of the floor and the rinsing of dirty mops and thirty girls lined up to pick up small pieces of trash around the yards. This being their long break from school, there is plenty of play time and going down slides backwards and playing jacks with rocks and marbles.
Some days it is possible to get blinded by the singing and braiding of hair and hand clapping games, and for a moment I relate this place to a summer camp. Bunk beds and friends and little girl bracelets all the way up both arms. All of that just speaks to the goodness and happiness that is here. It is possible to forget that this is home. Home to thirty girls who have been neglected, abused, abandoned, left. Girls who have survived massive trauma.
I caught Veronica’s arms right as she was going in swinging to Perla’s head. Perla had taken Veronica’s marble. The rage in Veronica’s body was so strong that her skin was hot. She broke out in a sweat. Her whole frame shook. I remembered that her carefully tuned ‘fight or flight’ instinct was in full fight. For most of the day that is how she operates. Unable to turn off survivor mode she is unable to focus, unable to relax and believe she is safe. Suyappa is 7 years old. She wears the same dirty sweatshirt days in and days out. It is her security blanket- along with miscellaneous toys and plastic bags and small scraps of paper that she carries about. Where she is so is a bag of trash. Except it is her’s. So it is a treasure. Angela laughs too often for too long which is fine for an 8 year old, except if you listen closely she only has few words. She laughs in response to simple questions. I search her eyes to see if I have missed a joke. Sometimes her eyes are empty.
And I am not trained to deal with these small girl’s heart aches. I can barely speak the language. But I can say with my mouth and my body an important message that children need to know. I am here because you matter, you are loved.
All kids that live in this place know how to stuff. Everyone has a story and no one talks about it, so for years it is stuffed into the heart and deep in the brain until they become big girls who run away if I catch a tear in their eye. Esta bien. Esta bien. It is fine. It is fine. It is fine. So many days we don’t talk but we play and we sit and we color. We pass time in the slow incremental way that is only possible to notice when you have nowhere else to be.
Last week we celebrated New Years Eve. We had tamales for dinner and at six was a firework show that some volunteers put on. We headed out in a line with all the girls and set out blankets and prepared to watch shooting light rockets. Many girls in the Little Girl house watched this spectacle for the first time. One half loved it. The other half was terrified. There was hiding and shaking and crying and quaking. And not enough mamas to hold all the children. Angela was crying, holding her head and rocking back and forth.
The Little Girl house left early and when we got back to the house we counted the girls lined up outside of their rooms. Angela stood with her back to the brick wall sobbing and peeing. I found the keys, took her in and showered her and dried her tears and dried her feet. I was filled with compassion as I washed her and God forgive me for all the opportunities I have missed to love my neighbor.
And that night with fireworks and confetti New Year came. Every human loves New Years because we all know that we are talking about hope. And I have to believe in the hope of the promise that one day, all will be new. There will be no more orphans or pain or loneliness or poverty or life stories that cannot be told.
And so we wait. And with the opening of the New Year I feel as though this 2015 should sit me down and give me a talk. A reminder. The exact same one I give my children before every Sunday morning church service should work.
“Okay, here’s the deal. This time is important. It might be long, it could get boring. That’s fine-try to learn. Sing if you feel like singing. Don’t bug your brother or sister. Try to listen with a quiet heart... God is here you know.”
And I’ll nod my head like a six year old, I know I know.
I still always forget. It is possible to be sure of something and still forget. Then playing with Suyappa or Angela or Perla or Veronica or Elena in the yard there will be this pause in the chatter and I remember- God is here. And my heart then flips for joy that we get to be here too.