Friday, May 2, 2014

Dear friends and family,

I wish to begin this letter with ¨Hi, I´m Bob the tomato...¨ but I don´t know who I should cast as Larry the cucumber, so I guess this is not the time for VeggieTales.  I have never been so sunburned.  New experiences galore!  Later, later.

I hope that you are all doing well!  This sounds impossible, I know, but I have been thinking a lot of everyone here.  I mean everyone.  People that I haven´t seen in years, or met once for a day, or that I took a class with, those who I have never met but who still influence me.  So you are all getting prayers.  :)  The Schoenstatt Sisters must be influencing me.

What to start with?  I want to tell you more about the Nutrition Center, but it´s hard to know where to begin.  Each day is another adventure, but at the same time, I am certain that you don´t want to hear the chronicles of Claire´s Nutrition Center Experiences.  However, because it is on my mind, I want to tell you something about  it.

I think that I mentioned earlier, that I switched classes.  The Nutrition Center has 97 or so children, from babies to five-year-olds.  When I was here in September, I was placed with the oldest class of four year olds because they talk a lot, and I needed to learn Spanish as quickly as possible.  That particular class has 26 active youngsters.  Besides that class, there is a baby room, a two-year-old room, and a three-year old class, which I am helping with now.

The first day with my new class did not feel right at all.  The Nutrition Center is a large rectangle with an open courtyard surrounded by a walkway.  From the walkway branch off classrooms, bathrooms, and the kitchen, as well as the nurses´office and administrative offices. Actually, think of a picture frame with a mat board surrounding the painting.  The painting itself would be the courtyard, filled with white rocks and covered by a domed grate at the very top.  The colorful matboard that surrounds the picture is the wide walkway surrounding the courtyard on all four sides, and the frame itself is composed of classrooms, etc.  Not a perfect analogy, but hopefully it gives you an idea.

The point of that whole explanation was to lead into the fact that my old class of four and five year olds, as well as my new class of three year olds have to eat in the walkway.  There is plenty of room, with lots of sunlight to illuminate our sweaty smiling faces.  There are long tables painted in bright colors, like everything here.  Pink, blue, and yellow tables complete with benches for the older ones and little colorful chairs for the younger children.

Usually, I had to pass up the younger class to walk to my own, and many times they would all leave their chairs to give me a group hug good morning.  So, I already knew a few names and many faces.  But that particular morning was difficult  because I had to stay with them and see the confused faces of my other class.  I felt like such a traitor, abandoning my old friends to make new ones, but that is not the case.

In reality, there is another volunteer here, a very sweet girl from Germany, who is with my old class, so I thought that it was better that I didn´t intrude.

The first day with my new class and many since, have been incredible.  Now, I realize that I didn´t abandon my other class, I just gained a second one.  Now, I know all the children in both, and I am equally liable to be attacked by either bunch upon entering the classroom.  Of course, that means that I will also be ignored by both groups if they don´t like what I am saying.

Some things are the same.  For example, when I sit down in one of the red, blue, green, yellow, or orange chairs, somehow it has a magnetic affect.  Sooner than later, I have two children on top of me, and usually two more sitting next to me holding my hands and playing with my ring, watch, or hairties.  Really, anything to get some attention.

This time before breakfast when we are waiting for everyone to arrive is a free time, when it is okay if they are playing a bit, as long as we are reasonably under control.  They like to play with my hair, and look at my arms and hands.  I can´t tell if the whiteness of my skin is interesting to them, or purely strange, because every day it is the same.  I joke that my primary job is a chair, because more often than not I have at least one child on my lap or in my arms.

The boys, being boys, like to play rough.  But because they aren´t so big, it doesn´t really matter to me.  There is one little tyke who likes to take my forearm in his two little brown hands, and try to twist it.  Then he asks ¨does it hurt?  Now?  What about now?¨ I just laugh, because the chances of him actually being able to inflict significant pain are very small.  Just like my brothers, these boys like to show off by seeing just how hard they can slap my hand.  I have to say, they do have surprising force for their size.  They jerk their small bodies back to try to muster as much force as possible before slamming their hands onto mine.

Although this class is smaller, only 20 children instead of 26, I have more work in some ways.  The teachers are actually a mother and daughter, but the daughter is pregnant, so she can´t overdue things.  Therefore, I draw the homework, carry all the chairs, and carry the trays of food and such.  Plus, I have my unofficial position as chair, horse, and whatever else is needed.

I feel like I am not doing the whole situation justice.  It´s hard to properly paint the picture.  The children are very energetic, very vivid.  Their passions are intense.  Sometimes they change from smiling to crying to angry in the space of a minute.  It´s not that they are always happy, because they tease and fight each other, but they seem to need less to be happy, if that makes sense.

For example, a few days ago, I brought Easter candies for the teachers.  Not many, but a few for each.  I had brought a bag of Sweetarts because I thought they would like the little animals and the colors.  It was naptime, and most of the group was quietly sitting at the tables, their heads resting on the table, nodding off.  I had just sat down, and two children moved from the table to sleep on me instead.  As I looked over their heads, I saw the teacher had one of the little candies to a child.

That´s not unusual, right?  But when I observed the little girl bite off pieces of the Sweetart and distribute them among her tablemates, it was very touching.  Those candies are teeny, but this way they all had a taste.  No one asked her to do it, it was completely voluntary.

I had a day off today to go the the beach with all my housemates!  We left at 5:45 this morning, so they are already asleep.  The day went beautifully, with tons of sun and smiles.  But towards the end, when we were standing around trying to dry off before getting back home, I was thinking about the beach.

At this point, I was starting to feel the sunburn, and the beauty of the water, sand, and shells was growing dimmer as my legs were throbbing more.  So, I was thinking about how maybe life is like a beach.

 Sometimes, I am the person who is sunburned.  It´s superficial, but it hurts, and I begin to lose the sense of what surrounds me, and can only feel what is my immediate reality.  Other times, I am the person laying on a towel, sunbathing.  I can catch the rays of sun, but at the same time, I lose sense of time and my backpack gets stolen.  Or, I am the teenager searching for the perfect shell, always bending over, staring at the bottom, never seeing the sky or paying heed to the greetings of the other people, yet never quite encountering what I am searching for. Other times, I am the little crab in a shell, just trying not to get squished by someone´s flip-flops. Some days I am the frustrated person writing in the sand, trying to make something beautiful, but it gets destoyed over and over by forces beyond my control.

But once in awhile, I am the child.  The child that sees the beautiful blue ocean girded with white sand, and dives right in, enjoying it all, taking the tumbles in the waves and still coming to the surface with a smile.  I wish that I could remember to be the child more often.

So, now that my beach musings have come to a conclusion, I want to wish you all a goodnight.  I am only here for another week, but I hope to post one more time while I am here, and another after I arrive at home.  There are so many experiences, that I wonder if I should continue until I run out, or if I should let things rest.  I can´t believe that I have been here almost a month.  The first time was (I thought) a once in a lifetime experience, but somehow I have been blessed with another opportunity.  I wonder what God with bring about with it.  Who knows?

Have a wonderful week! I am praying for you all!

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