Our plans changed right before we officially started the trip. We were supposed to have our fun day at the hotel, with the swimming pool and ice cream and bouncy houses and all that. But we found out the pool was being renovated, so we were going to a water park instead. I do not like water parks. I don't swim and I don't get in the water, so I was worried that it would be an awkward day. We were told that there were "grassy areas" to spend time with the kids. My concerns weren't justified, though. The park was enormous. Like everything in Tegucigalpa, it was settled on a hill. There was a common building at the front of the park with a restaurant and arcade games. Behind that were long, steep, winding staircases that led to the main part of the park, which was a HUGE wading pool with dozens of slides, fountains, and other water play areas. At the back of that area there were slides that could have easily been 30 feet tall. There were also slides that came with boogie board type things you could ride to the bottom. And beyond all that, there was still more! We could look beyond the picnic area (several covered concrete areas with 30 or more picnic tables) to see another pool further down the hill. I didn't even get to look at everything while I was there!
Our bus pulled up to the park parking lot, and we were told that we would be introduced to the kids one at a time. The sponsors would be called alphabetically and taken to the opposite side of the parking lot, around the other side of the bus. If we were meeting more than one child, they would be brought to us one by one after the first meeting with the first kid. Our bus was pulled up alongside the main building, which had a sidewalk out front, and there were dozens of Honduran kids and their families waiting on the sidewalk, chatting with each other. And right outside our window I saw a familiar face- Anahi, and her mom, and her little brother Isai. I had to stop myself from screaming. It was magical seeing them there, not able to see me yet. And then I heard Marissa say "Jessi, I see Ruth!" She was standing a few feet down the sidewalk! It was thrilling. I was ecstatic. And it was so hard to wait my turn!
I got off the bus when my name was called, walked around the front, and Ruth was the first one I was being introduced to. Oh, she looked so pretty. I mentioned my fascination with hair in an earlier post. Ruth's hair is SO pretty. She was gorgeous. And I went right up to her and hugged her and she started crying a little. She was so happy! I should take a moment to note that I was a little nervous about my meeting with Ruth. We had just sponsored her about a year before, and had only received two letters from her. They were nice and friendly, but I didn't feel like we had much of a relationship yet. So I worried all during the trip that Ruth would feel left out because I already have this relationship with Anahi and Sandier, since we've known each other longer and have exchanged more letters. Apparently Ruth had no such concerns and was just so happy to see me. That was a really good start to the day. Next they brought out Anahi and her family, and I hugged her and her mom, and said hi to Isai (whom I recognized from peeking at mom's facebook page!) And then out came Sandier, his sister Hayki, and his mom, along with some other boy that I never really figured out the relationship (maybe a cousin?) When everyone had been introduced, we made our way into the park. Nohemy, one of the translators who had been with us all week, was my translator for the day. I also had another translator, the wife of one of the guys from our group! Plus tutors from all three of the kids' projects, who spoke some English. We put our stuff down on some of the picnic tables and I asked the kids if they wanted to get in the water. Sandier and Anahi said yes, and Ruth said she was too cold (it was just shy of 80 degrees that day.) I left the bulk of their gifts in our vehicle but had kept the swimsuits and their photo albums out so we would have something to do, and they could get in the water. I distributed the suits, and the littles went to get changed and went off to had fun! And I was so happy that they all fit perfectly- it is a little stressful wanting to shop for the kids and not knowing their exact sizes. Plus Anahi is so tiny! Their going to play ended up working out pretty perfectly because I got to have some one on one time with Ruth.
Ruth was just so happy to be there that day. She was radiant. I showed her the pictures in the photo album I made for her, captioning them in Spanish whenever I could, and told her that I would send her more photos and she could add them to the album. I learned that she is one of 14 siblings (wow!) and maybe 7 or 8 live at home. Her family chaperone was her older sister, who was very quiet (but that's fine.) I'm actually glad there were so many tutors and family members there because they got to chat with each other and I didn't feel like I was ignoring them, although I probably was a little bit. And then I had an idea, to facetime my mom. I had a little bit of data in my travel phone plan, and figured since this was the last day, I might as well use it. So I asked Ruth if she wanted to call and say hi to my mom, and we made the call. It took a couple tries to get connected, but it went through and she was really excited! So Ruth got to wave at my mom and mom carried the phone out onto the sales floor so other Lifeway employees could wave at her. I said we'd try to call back when the other kids returned from the water. I'm really glad that I was able to do that! Our joy for the day was infectious and I really wanted to share it, if only for a moment.
It was around this time that Anahi returned from the water, wrapped in a big towel from home, and shivering uncontrollably. She was so cold!! Oh my goodness. Ruth then decided she was going to go get in the water, so I got to have some time with Anahi, too! I sat down with her and her mom (Isai spent most of the day in the water) and we looked through her photo album and her mom brought up photos on her phone. I had already seen some of them because of her mom's facebook settings. :) But it was fun to see photos from their home, pictures of her dog (now that they have a dog, her favorite animal is no longer turtles. And the dog's name is Engima.) A photo of baby Anahi and her grandfather was in there, and she started crying. Anahi's grandpa died not long after I started writing to her two years ago, and she took it really hard. It was tough to see that it's still affecting her so much. I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her that her grandpa must have been a great man and I knew she'd see him in heaven someday. I got to hear about her birthday, and she had a vanilla cake and some ice cream. I asked her if she liked cupcakes, too, since they are my favorite. She said "yes, cakes, cupcakes, really I like all the breads." Good girl! And her mom shared that she has started college classes! So now her schedule includes that. She also works, takes care of the kids, leads a small group, goes to church two or three days a week, and volunteers. She is such a strong, wonderful woman! I just love Celina. She is the best. Oh, and she also said writing letters is one of Anahi's favorite activities. Anahi even writes letters to her mom during the day while she's at work! It's so cute! And we were able to put in a quick call to my mom again, so that was fun.
Anahi's brother Isai
Somewhere during this time, Sandier came back wrapped in a towel, sat down at the table across from me (with his back turned) and said something. Apparently he said for the tutor to tell me that he is very shy but he was happy to see me. That made me laugh. He had SO much fun playing that day, and really that's what the day was about. He would come over a couple times an hour and kind of tackle me in a hug. It was precious.
The kids got dressed again and we hiked up the stairs to go to lunch. We had to put a couple of tables together because I had so many people with me, and we sat to wait for lunch to be served. I gave Sandier his photo album then and he flipped through it three times! Meanwhile, Anahi and I played a little game. I had gotten my notebook out to have Ruth write down the names of her siblings so I could pray for them, and when she gave it back I started doodling pictures again, like I did in Tanzania. So I drew a cow and said "vaca." And then a bee. "Abeja." And then Anahi got to guess what I was drawing after that. It was so fun to hear her little voice peeping out "estrella! Luna!" as she hadn't spoken a whole lot yet that day. We got our lunches (boxed lunches from the park cafe) and then we were going to do gifts. The kids went back to the tables while Nohemy and I went to get the bags.
I had planned to give the kids their blankets first, which I had packed in a separate bag, and then have them go through their backpacks. I asked if it was ok if we went youngest to oldest, meaning Sandier would go first. And then I said "I have a bag of gifts for each of you, but I also have a very special present. Brandon's mom and I made you each something, and it might seem like a present that's not very exciting, they are made with a lot of love, and I hope you like them." And I brought out Sandier's blanket. He put his hands on it and then just sort of face-planted on to the table. And he started crying! He hid his face in his mom's shoulder and she was smiling and laughing at his super intense reaction, and then he turned around and crashed into me. None of that was what I expected, but I am so happy that he liked it and thought it was special. Anahi loved hers and kept petting it and hugging it. And Ruth's actually matched her outfit! I kept catching her smelling it and holding it to her face.
When the blankets were distributed, it was backpack time. Sandier went first. He pulled everything out of his backpack really quickly, and while he didn't have a very obvious reaction to the contents, you could tell he was excited because he was jumping around a bit and getting really bouncy and hyper as he went along. Among the things I brought were some new clothes (shirts, shorts, and a pair of jeans, all of varying sizes), a big pack of toothbrushes and soap, a plush puppy, a Spanish sticker book and Bible, art and school supplies (including a really awesome Avengers set I found at Toys R Us!) and a little baggie filled with Matchbox cars! I had also brought him a UK t-shirt, and he took off his other shirt and put that one on right away. His tutor was telling me that recently they had taken a field trip, and on the way they passed a KFC. He recognized its association with me, and said "that's where Jessi lives! My sponsor is from there!" That made me really proud and excited. I felt kind of bad because Sandier's sister was there and I didn't have anything for her. I had actually bought her a little baby doll, but was unable to pack it because of the disaster that was my baggie fundraiser. I even had to leave behind some of the stuff for my own kids, like devotional books and a few other heavy items. But she ended up snuggling up with the blanket, so I felt like she was happy to be able to share that! I am going to try to send her a note and some stickers soon.
Up next, it was Anahi's turn to go through her backpack. She had this funny look on her face like she was a bit overwhelmed and kept taking things out and looking at her mom. I brought some of the same things for Anahi, like the hygiene items and school supplies (only girly, of course) plus sparkly hair things, glitter flip flops (Sandier got plain ones) and a doll. I worked really hard to find a Latina doll for her, and got so lucky that I found one for a discount on Walmart's website. My grandmother even sewed some extra outfits for the doll, which I packed into the tiniest pocket on the backpack! The women of our group (tutors and family members) absolutely loved the doll and kept talking about how pretty it was, which made me happy. The lack of cultural representation in toys is something that really bugs me. For many people, the fact that so many "pretty" things like Barbies and other dolls are Caucasian kind of subliminally sends the message that this is the standard of beauty. Or that this is the only "normal." When in fact, there are WAY more Asian, African, and Latin American people in the world than there are white people. And representation in things like toys, books, and movies says "hey! You are pretty, too! And not abnormal!" Isai wasn't really around for me to feel bad about not bringing him anything- he was back in the water!
And then it was Ruth's turn. I didn't feel like I brought as much for Ruth because I wasn't as confident about her size, and quite frankly, it's harder shopping for a teenager. But I did bring her a toy (a little pink cat) and some dresses, tops, and skirts, plus her own glitter flip flops, hair things, a sparkly bracelet, a prayer journal and a Bible. I had a special story about the Bible. On our first night in Tegucigalpa, I very strongly felt that I needed to share a little extra love with Ruth. Like she needed a reminder of God's immense love for her. So I started going through her Bible and underlining some verses that I hold dear. Most of them came from my little notebook of anxiety verses, and some others I have posted throughout my home. It was a little tough because, of course, her Bible was in Spanish. But twice I underlined the wrong verses because I wasn't paying attention, and I had a terrible time finding the book of James (which is "Santiago" in Spanish. Who knew?) I wrote a note in the front cover telling her what I had done and why, and reminded her to never ever doubt God's love or my love for her, and that reading through those verses would remind her of both. But that still didn't seem like enough. A Kari Jobe song had been playing on a loop in my head throughout the week, and I had the lyrics in my phone. I really wanted to share it with her, so I sent a message to Hannah asking her if she might be able to track down a translation and possibly a Spanish version I could copy or play for her. She came through! Yay, Hannah! So I wrote out the lyrics to the song, and called it a night. When Ruth retrieved her Bible from the bag, I told her about the song and the verses, but didn't really say anything about the note. I figured if she wanted to know what it said, she could ask someone to translate it for her later. When they told her about the verses, she sat the Bible down and hugged me. And then hugged me again after she was done going through everything, with tears in her eyes. She has the most tender heart of anyone I've ever met, and I love her for it.
This happened when Ruth started opening her gifts.
We knew our time together was drawing to a close, so we had a question and answer period. I asked the kids some questions about their lives, and they asked me about mine. I found out Ruth had waited over a year for a sponsor before I found her. And that Sandier wanted to be sure I knew his birthday was in December. They wanted to know about my birthday, and Brandon's, and hear more about our town. I also had the opportunity to pray over the kids- we all held hands and they crowded around me on our picnic table bench, and then they just kind of piled on me for hugs. There wasn't much time left for our visit so we sat there quietly while the families talked and packed up the gifts. Anahi and Sandier eventually left to go help, but Ruth stayed close to me. She had started crying at this point and really didn't stop until about 45 minutes later when we left. It was at this time that I decided to go ahead and ask our translator to tell her about the note in her Bible and what it said. I told her that I wasn't always sure through most of my life that I was loved and I didn't ever want her to feel that way. And that made her cry even harder.
Soon it was time to make our way up the winding stairs and say our goodbyes. We took a final group photo on one of the staircases, and went to wait for the buses. Sandier kept coming over to tackle-hug me every once in a while, but for the most part he was happy talking about his new toys with his sister. Anahi brought me the necklace her mom had been wearing all day, and said in English that it was for me (Celina can write some in English but I think like most people, she is a little less sure about speaking it out loud. But a few times during the day she had told Anahi to say things in English, like "I love you, Jessi!") And Ruth cried. You can see us in the background of other people's photos. She was taking it really hard. Anahi was sad, too, but she was doing ok. And we gave out final hugs and kisses and the kids went off to board the bus. I went to stand with another group of sponsors in the parking lot, who were watching and waving. The bus's windows were mostly tinted, but the top part was completely clear, so we saw all these little brown hands pressed up against the glass, waving at us. You couldn't tell who was who. I had been waving but paused to hold up my hands in the shape of a heart....and there came Ruth, back off the bus again, running across the parking lot, crying her eyes out. We hugged and I told her that everything would be ok and I loved her. I dug all of my Kleenex packets out of my purse and handed them over to her, and then I pulled my ring off my finger and put it on hers. I bought a ring made of interlinking crosses and ichthuses about eight or nine years ago, when I was having some severe anxiety issues. I'm talking full blown agoraphobia. I have worn it every day since, even on my wedding day. And now Ruth has it. I just felt like she needed it more than me. I took her back to the bus and walked her up the steps. Anahi was in the front seat so she was just like, oh, hey! Jessi came back! I told all three of them one more time that I loved them and went back to the waving sponsor group. Marissa asked if I needed a hug (I did) and I fought really hard not to just burst into tears, because I was worried that if I started crying as hard as I really wanted to, someone might come running back off the bus again.
And that was the end of my day with the kids. The farewell dinner that night was a bit of a blur. I remember Yvonne wrote a poem about our cultural differences and everything was spicy so I didn't eat much. It felt strange, packing up so little when I'd come to Honduras with so much. Really all I had were my clothes (which were in space bags) and souvenirs. We met in the lobby at 8:30 the next morning, made the quick trip to the airport, went through customs and immigration, and waited for our flight. There was a souvenir shop right next to our gate, so I picked up a couple small things with the $8 or so that I had left in my wallet, and we left Honduras. I had a window seat on the flight to Miami, and I normally don't like looking out plane windows, but I did for a little while. The mountains were so pretty from the air. There were plenty of movie choices on the seatback screens, but I went with Slumdog Millionaire. It's one of my favorites. It made me cry a little more than it usually does, but I'm sure my crying wasn't totally tied to the movie I was watching. Making my way through the Miami airport (which is enormous) was exhausting. It was literally a couple of miles from our gate to immigration, then I got "randomly selected" for an interview, which was much shorter than the line I had to stand in to get to it. Then another long hike to baggage, find my bags, rent another luggage cart, and several more miles to the Delta counter to get home (literally on the opposite end of the airport.) I ended up getting selected for more screening at the security checkpoint, and just barely made it to my gate in time. I was exhausted, grumpy and hungry (there wasn't a meal on the plane because it was a short flight, so we skipped lunch.) I was standing there trying not to cry as I waited for my section to be called, and I looked down and noticed that the mother-son duo in front of me had the same kind of Compassion luggage tags (from a couple of years ago) that I did. Well, what are the odds of that happening? How many people go on those trips every year? How many go through Miami airport? How many would have been there on the same day as me? At the same gate? So I said "excuse me, but I just noticed your luggage tags and I am freaking out a little. Are you returning from a Compassion trip?" They said no, but they had been to Haiti last year and maybe Bolivia a few years before that. We were able to talk for a few minutes while we boarded, and I told them about the kids I had just left behind. It was the perfect distraction and was definitely a God moment. The flight to Atlanta was smooth, and the first thing I did upon arrival was locate a sit down restaurant where I could get a cheeseburger. TGI Fridays was the first one I came upon. I asked for a booth so I could sit down and rest, and ordered myself a Shirley Temple and a salad to start. It was so nice to be able to eat lettuce again! The food in Honduras wasn't bad (though I didn't enjoy any of the meals at the second hotel, and ate mostly rice) but it's always nice to have something familiar and tasty, especially if you haven't had it for a while. Then I hopped on the people mover, found my next gate, and settled in for a wait while I talked to Brandon on the phone. The flight home was quick and easy, and I ended up back at my house around 1 in the morning!
Thanks for following along with my trip posts, and for praying for me before and during the journey. I have to say that I didn't become quite as smitten with Honduras as I did with Tanzania, but I have now lost track of how many times I have checked booking websites to see how much it would cost to fly down and spend a day with Ruth. I really feel like I have to get back and see her. It wouldn't be too bad, about a third of what I spent to go for the whole week. And I feel like the look on her face would be worth it.