Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is it too soon to count the days til I go back?

Looking out of the plane window on the way as we started to leave San Pedro Sula I felt like I was leaving a part of my heart behind in the foundation. Its not a feeling I fully understand, because I know I will back soon, and because I know I will never truly say goodbye.

The weekend was our last so we made sure it was full of different events and as much time with the boys as possible.  On Saturday we went to the boy’s jewelry exhibition, and although there was a miscommunication with us about what time the event actually was we were still able to go hang out with the older boys that were there selling jewelry. 

That night we ended up going into San Pedro Sula to go out with a girl from Elon and her friends.  All the girls were stunning, and we felt extremely underdressed, but it was fun nonetheless.  Several of the girls live in San Pedro year round and so hopefully I will be able to get together with them again in the fall when I’m back for a few months. 

On Sunday we woke up very early (despite the late night on Saturday) got our coffee and got picked up to go to the boy’s soccer game.  We went back to the same field in Berlín and watched our boys own some locals in a 7-0 win.  Its so much fun to watch them have so much fun playing the sport they love.  Watching them play, and playing with them, reminds me of why I loved the game to begin with.  I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had to practice and play for so many years.  During the years that I was playing at the elite level I had the opportunity to learn and play with the best, choose from whichever pair of cleats best suited the ground that day, and buy new equipment whenever my old stuff wasn’t quite up to par.  These boys play in 100 degree heat in long sleeve jerseys and pull their cleats out of a grab back of old ripped up shoes, and you can see the pure joy they get from the game.  I hope that at some point I will be able to coordinate the donation of cleats and equipment so that each boy will at least have his own pair of shoes that fit.

After the game we went back to the foundation to just hang out with the boys.  We had planned a surprise for our Despedida (going away party) since we didn’t want to do a dance (which is the norm for most volunteers/groups).  We bought 600 water balloons and 50 yards of plastic for a slip and slide.  When we got to the foundation we realized that the power was out which also meant that the water was off.  That combined with the heat created a bit of a panic among us because we were feeling dehydrated and had no idea when the power would be back on, let alone how we could possibly do our despedida without water.  Reginaldo, the Director, offered to drive us to town to go to the store and buy whatever we wanted.  We wanted to bring popsicles for the boys but we quickly figured out that those don’t really exist in Honduras, or at least not at La Antorcha. 

We bought a few huge bottles of water for ourselves and to share with some of the boys until the water came back on, and we headed back to the foundation.  We soon learned that the while we were gone the water came back on, typical Honduras.  In as discreet of a manner as possible in the foundation we started filling up the water balloons so that we could launch our attack on the boys.  We also started setting up the plastic tarp for the slip and slide.  There wasn’t any water pressure from the hose so we didn’t end up being able to really do the slip and slide successfully, but the day turned into a full fledged water fight.  Apparently at some point teams were made, although Paula, Leah, and I weren’t informed, so we were definitely made the targets!  The boys filled up buckets and pitchers when the balloons ran out, and they absolutely soaked us from head to toe over and over again. 

It wasn’t the typical despedida, but we had so much fun, and it really served to distract us from the fact that we were going to be leaving in a few hours.  It was several hours of pure fun.  Late in the day once the water fights were slowing down and we were all starting to dry off, the four boys that went to camp over the weekend, who happen to be several of our favorites, finally arrived back at the site.  I was so happy to see them and hear about their weekend, that I didn’t realize how quickly the time was going by.  All of a sudden the director told us that he was taking the older boys.  We hadn’t realized that it was going to be so soon, and all of a sudden I was completely overcome with emotion. 

The older boys formed a circle and then the Program director, Lucas, began to speak.  He spent several minutes thanking us for coming down and sharing our time, love, and hearts with them.  He spoke about how friendship does not go one way, but rather is both given and received. Not only do we come down to be their friend and help them, but he wanted the boys to know that we get so much from them too, and that’s why we cry when we leave.  This sentiment absolutely holds true.  Oftentimes, when I tell people about what I do in Honduras they are interested in hearing, but also seem to act like I’m a martyr for some reason.  The reality is I probably wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t love it and get as much out of it as I do.  Maybe I’m selfish, but being down there is what makes me feel best.  These aren’t just some poor ex-street kids in Honduras, they are human beings.  They are my friends, my brothers, some of the best and strongest people I know. 

After we said goodbye to the boys, Reginaldo mentioned that they were taking the boys to go play in a soccer game.  We were confused, having thought they were headed back up to La Montaña, and then he asked us if we wanted to join them.  Although we had just said goodbye, we jumped in the truck and headed to their game.  As we were driving down the dirt road away from the foundation, with the boys arms around us, we all looked at each other and teared up.  If there was one moment in life that could epitomize happiness for me, I would say it is right there in the back of the truck with Paula, Leah and my favorite 10 boys in the world.  It is a feeling of vibrance, of love, and of life that can’t be compared to anything else.

When we got to the soccer field, to this informal scrimmage, we were able to watch most of the boys play, and able to sit on the side lines soaking up life with the rest.  There was a peaceful serenity to it, but also a desperation.  We knew we were in the last hours we’d have with them for a while, and wanted to just be with them.  We felt lucky to have an extra few hours with them and were glad to be able to bask in our emotions. 

Being at ProNiño is always a roller coaster of emotions because of the intensity of the lives and personalities.  On the one hand we are around boys who have lived for a time as the trash of our society, children without so much as a shelter to protect them.  To survive on the street they must become tough and learn to fend for themselves.  Love and affection is not something that even crosses their minds because they don’t know they are missing it.  In ProNiño, or at least whenever I’ve been there, there has been an overwhelming amount of love, joy and positive energy.  The freedom with which love is given is almost too much to handle, and it makes leaving nearly impossible. 

Leaving the soccer field Paula and I were sitting in the back of the truck staring at all the faces that define happiness and love for us, and in the spirit of saying goodbye on Honduran time we realized I had my credit card and if they hadn’t eaten we could probably take them out to dinner.  We asked their profe Marvin if they had eaten, which we knew what had been for dinner that night and he said yeah, but four hadn’t.  We looked at each other, discussed it for maybe a half minute and decided we wanted to take them out to dinner.  I had my credit card with me, so we didn’t have to worry about having enough cash, so we told them, and the reaction in itself was absolutely worth the $30 that each of us spent. 

The experience of giving is so much more valuable to me when you can give memories rather than money or things.  In this case the boys were so thrilled to be able to go out to dinner, and they ended up deciding on Kentucky Fried Chicken as the place for their big dinner.  We took all twenty two boys from La Montaña, and Reginaldo and Marvin, and had dinner.  As we were sitting at the long table in our family style dinner, and Paula and Leah were upstairs playing in the Playplace side of the restaurant I started to tear up again.  The boys always notice, and are careful not to make fun or provoke more tears, but they carefully asked why I was crying this time (since they had already seen plenty of tears).  Paula, our fluent speaker, explained about this feeling I get where I just love them so much that I just want to spoil them all.  Seeing their faces and how happy they were with this surprise event was enough to make me cry tears of happiness.  It makes me want to give them the whole world.

As we piled into the truck to take the boys back up the mountain, and say our real goodbye, one of the boys thanked us again for dinner.  Paula quickly responded with “No, thank you for sharing all this time and your lives with us”.  A few seconds later the same boy said, “Wow, yeah, I guess we should wake up from this dream”.  And its true, in the past few weeks, in such a short time, we have created a life that I could easily live forever if it was an option. We rode back up to the mountain in a sea of cheers and yelling as the boys celebrated their lives, and it felt like we were a part of a fraternity or a large family.  The feeling of camaraderie is so strong among them that their brotherhood is tangible.  I spent most of the ride in silence trying to absorb as much of the environment as I could before we had to say goodbye, and I sat with Juan Carlos’ arm around me staring at faces that will forever have my heart, in its entirety.

As we said goodbye, the real one, one of the boys that I spent a lot of time with and got to know gave me a strong hug and thanked me for coming down and for being there.  He said “I can’t believe you’re really leaving, I love you so much, thank you for everything.”  Each time I come down I’m lucky enough to meet and hang out with new and different kids, and continue to maintain my friendships with the ones I have known.  Another one, one who I have known for as long as I have known ProNiño, didn't seem sad when we said goodbye, and somehow it kept me from getting emotional too.  He simply looked at me and said, its not good bye because you are always here in our hearts, and I know that you will always come back.  During one of my volunteer interviews, one girl summed it all up really well.  She said that when you come down you have to be ready to love these kids, but also to be prepared to receive love in return.

Monday morning we went back to Las Flores to say by to the younger kids since we left abruptly with the La Montaña boys.  We gave and received some letters, and the boys all got in a circle to speak and if they wanted they could say something about how they felt about us being there.  Lucas spoke and then allowed the profe’s to speak next.  Most of the messages emphasized that we bring joy to the boys and that the doors to ProNiño are always open.  When the boys spoke I was surprised to see which boys decided to stand up, but the things they said will always stay with me.  After all the boys spoke Lucas spoke again.  I had held myself together during most of the speeches, but his really brought out the emotion in me. 

This time he spoke about where our love comes from and even shared a bit about his own life.  He not only thanked us for coming down and bringing so much love and affection that the boys have been missing out on, but he thanked our parents for teaching us how to give, for letting us share ourselves with the boys, and for raising us to be who we are.  He talked a little bit about his own childhood and the lack of a fatherly figure in his life, and how he has learned so much by being at ProNiño in the past ten years.  He says he has learned from our examples, from our willingness to give, and that it has very much altered the way he sees life.  It was at that point when I lost it and started crying.  I know that we give a lot while we are around, but I don't know if we would do it if we didn’t feel like we get so much out of it.  I can’t imagine that I’m able to give more than I feel I’ve received since I know just how much I have gotten out of every experience at ProNiño.

And to top it all off, when I got my iPhone back this morning, I found the boy who had it overnight played the song we wrote for all the boys on repeat until its battery died. I know that it’s a see you soon rather than a goodbye, but until then I know that I’m going to miss them all immensely.  Luckily I know that I’ll be back within four months for a much longer period of time, and for that I’m grateful.

"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."  ---Robert Heinlein

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