|Chinaider and I in 2007.|
Looking through her school notebook, the teacher asked her to draw her family. Check this out: (need to take a picture of her drawing of Mom, Dad, Ilayas, Yenilove, herself, a little tiny person standing by mom's feet, a toddler, 6 tall boys, one shorter, and then another tall one all standing in a line). When someone asks her about her siblings she tells about the ones that live in the same house with her and also about the boys who have been growing up next door in the group home. As she learned to talk she learned all of their names. She lists off everyone.
If you ask Ilayas, he is more selective, including only those that have lived in the same house as us as siblings, starting with Chinaider, then Junior, then Yenilove, and so on. I am 10 years older than Chinaider so I'm not really biologically able to be his mom but God gave him to me in that way anyway. He has always called me Catalina. I never suggested that he call me mom or thought that he would. Junior, on the other hand, I used to long for to call me mom. He would do so on select occasions using it as a soft spot to try to get something from me. And then there was a time when someone called me his mom and I blew up that I was not his mom. This stemmed from his birth mother disappearing for three years and then coming back into the picture, at which point I sometimes felt like the gringa that was supposed to provide the funds AND do all the work but not get any of the love. This has since changed, thankfully.
I have been taking on this role for kids, mostly boys, since I came here. I have gotten hurt a lot as...well my dad used to say "hurting people hurt people". I have also come to learn that some people have hard hearts and maybe they don't always feel hurt but they live in ways that hurt people with soft hearts. Never did I ever receive a mother's day present from one of these boys... until this year.
Carlo and Ivenson. Both are orphans in the home. They are 14 and 16 years old now. On Mother's Day they both brought me a nice card. Carlo got me a set of cups and a beach towel and Ivenson gave me a planted flower. This was healing for me. But I am now 32 years old so I am biologically old enough to be a mother to them both. And I think they have seen me in more of a mature and reliable role since they entered the home. Plus, both of their biological mothers have passed away.
It has been more than 11 years since the initial street census at this point. More than 12 years since I first came to this country on my first week long volunteer trip. Throughout those years, God has provided. He has provided our daily bread, met our needs, and not really anything more. It has been amazing really to see how he has provided. But difficult. I was up for the challenge. But I often wondered when the difficulties would end. When would things click and fall into place?
I would say that this summer that started happening. As camp approached I didn't know who would be volunteer coordinator or who would fill in the gaps for the weeks of camp where volunteers were few. Click, click, click - Katie was coming for the whole summer as a volunteer but we made a deal and stuck her in volunteer coordinator role. A Godsend. Jeres' cousin came from Haiti as a surprise. After studying medicine in St. Kitts for four years, his English is really good. He also apparently loves kids and had fun with us all summer in and out of camp, and then found a long term role with the organization. A Godsend. On the last day of school, I finally had a conversation with one of Maraya's classmates' moms who I had waved to all year. She's a recent Canadian DR transplant married to a Dominican and was looking for a place to volunteer. A total Godsend. A cruise ship port shop contacted us looking for volunteer activities for their employees during low tourist season. Not only did they fill in gaps at camp during weeks we were short on volunteers and also do an awesome concert with the kids, but they had great attitudes and brought handy man skills to the school as well! Yet another Godsend.
Burnt Factory Church in my hometown sent money for us to buy a 15 passenger van. We found an awesome rental deal on a farm with a cute and secure house on it near the volunteer house and moved the program there. We found an adorable mare for just 3,000 pesos, had chicks given to us, and got a great deal on some piglets as well (which turn a nice profit). Throughout the past year animals have been brought back into my life, right after I lost the only one that had been in my life since just before Project Esperanza began. I mean the blessings just rained down. I still had deep struggles in other areas, but through these blessings I heard from God, "You can get through this. It is my will to bless you. Be a good steward."
And then Chinaider decided to start calling me mom. He writes me messages. "How are you, mom?" and "Have a good night, mom." He'll turn 22 in November. He'll graduate from high school next summer, God willing. He's been renting his own place for almost two years now. I found a few things he did fishy a few months ago and the next time he asked me for help with something I said, "You always want me to consider you but you don't consider me." He then disappeared for a bit.
My brother gave me my first smart phone (that I lost this summer unfortunately) and I installed the beloved WhatsApp. I received a message that said, "Why do you say I don't think with you" as it translates literally from Creole. "I think with you every day."
I showed Jeres the message. "Who is this? Is this a message for you? I don't know who wrote this." I did not think it was a message for me. I wrote the person back and asked who it was. Later I got a response that it was Chinaider. It warmed my heart but I was still a little suspicious.
But in the months that followed he stopped asking me for help and continued helping me as he always had. He told me that he always had every intention to help me and anyone who is cared for by another should have intentions to grow up and help that person. And he continued to call me mom, mom, mom. My heart heals little by little when I hear it.
Junior on the other hand calls me Catalina. Wevli, the three year old who can't talk much, calls me mom, but also tries to say Catalina sometimes. It comes out as, "Ah-ahh-ina". However, one day I had to print and scan a paper to meet a deadline late at night, left the kids with someone and went with Gabriel down a path I don't usually go. It goes right by the tutor's house who works with the boys. He has a little colmado that sells food at his house and the boys often get food there and hang out on the porch.
As I sweated and breathed heavily walking up the hill with the 17 pounder to go back home, I heard Junior cry, "Carlo!! Look it's our mom Cataline!" Carlo came out and hollered too. Junior yelled with excitement, "I just never see you come over this way!" I laughed, said hi, and trudged on past them. The darkness that was trying to harden my heart sloshed off and I felt some light shine.
I'll end with a memory of little Chinaider and how he has made me feel loved throughout the years. During the economic recession there was a backup on teacher pay. One teacher came to my house, my private space, to ask about pay, and asked why I don't go to the United States. I didn't feel like a fundraising trip was the right thing to do at the time and teachers sometimes didn't understand the role that I had in the lives of kids like Chinaider that made it hard for me to run off to the United States, as well as to justify the cost of the flight.
I retold what the teacher had said afterwards and Chinaider, who was listening, said, "Ou pa t ka fout revoke l!?" which basically means, "You can't fire him, damn it!?"
|Chinaider, Maraya, and I in 2015.|