Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Last Week

As in, this past week, not the last week ever.

It’s been a little more stressful than usual. Yes, work has been hectic, but somehow, that is never as distressing to me as problems in my family. In this case, not my family in the US (for which they’re probably sighing in relief after having thought ‘What!? Why am I always the last to know!?’). These issues have been with my family here.

I’ve written a bit before about the people that live here at the offices. There’s Marlon, the National Director and his family; Raul, the Assistant Director; and Sister Phyllis, who lived here for the last month after having stayed in Italy with one of the Pequenos during brain surgery. She is now moving to Managua to direct the high school girls’ house. There are also guys around the age of 18 doing their year of service. Many people come and go, but the generally constant group of them was about six in number.

These were the people who came asking for English lessons. These were the guys who invited me to their soccer games. These were the friends (along with Miriam) that eventually became family. These were the suspects when Sister had $500 stolen from her room.

Sister is an incredibly forgiving person. She had been saving the money for the 50th anniversary of taking her vows and becoming a nun, but she also has worked in developing countries and specifically in orphanages for almost 40 years. She certainly believes in wrong and right and that hard work must be done for money. But she is also very aware that she will never completely understand the fear and uncertainty and the way the world shifts under the feet of these kids beginning at incredibly young ages.

Five hundred dollars, however, is a substantial amount of money, not just for Sister, but for Marlon and Raul to ignore. And this was not an isolated incident. So the boys were told on the morning of Monday, the fourth, that they were being sent to the farm on the island to work for the rest of their year of service since none of them had confessed. None were happy about it, they all preferred the offices, and some would be taken out of educational jobs for this manual labor instead. But because no one had spoken up, they all had to leave even though the majority had done nothing wrong.

My first reaction was completely about myself. I didn’t want my family leaving, I was completely crushed. I felt that I had finally gotten my feet under me, I had people to share my time with, and suddenly they would be gone, and I would be alone, again. I certainly had no say in the decision, and as I thought about it, I realized as opinionated as I might be about education, I certainly don’t know how to prepare teenagers for an adult life in Nicaragua.

But I’m also not one to roll over when I’m unhappy. I talked to Raul (Marlon was in Germany at this time and Raul had been keeping in touch with him by phone), and mentioned that we had previously talked about the guys helping with preparing the site for construction. He jumped on the idea right away. He said it would be like San Marcos, the first site for NPH 13 years ago. A farm property, a really old building, occasionally electricity, occasional water and a couple pit toilets. He sounded excited about it, it seemed like a good thing, but he knew the final decision would be Marlon’s eventually, so he couldn’t commit to me one way or another.

I stayed in my office most of that afternoon working, I felt better that at least there was a possibility they would be closer, that I could visit since I needed to be out there fairly frequently anyway. So that night, when I went and talked to the guys to see how they were doing, I was shocked to hear that plans had changed again. They told me that they had to leave the house, that they had to leave NPH, that they had to go to the outside.

Some of them have houses, extended family or pseudo-family, people they visit during holidays. But some of them weren’t sure. They didn’t know if these people necessarily had space in their houses, sometimes they didn’t know where this family actually lived.

And so instead of being concerned that suddenly I would be alone in my room, with my air conditioning, internet, electricity, plumbing, job and coworkers, I was concerned that after this night, they didn’t know where they would sleep.

I talked with one of them about what he thought he might do and he really wasn’t sure. The most defeating moment was when he looked at me sadly with dark eyes, in that simply, sincerely, sorrowful way and said, at barely more than a whisper ‘I’m alone’, because I knew it was true. No matter how much I would try to comfort him, reassure him that I would be there for him, we both knew in our hearts that if NPH chose to make him leave, he would get to face a country with no money, no job, a 50% unemployment/underemployment rate and no other support, at 18.

I don't know how to convey the incredible sense of solitariness that some of them felt. In the US, we have safety nets, we have shelters, we have social services, we have support for people who have no where else to turn. And while they're not perfect, they generally do not exist in the same way here. I knew I had virtually nothing to give, not a place to sleep, or even much money on a volunteers' salary. But that nevered occurred to them anyway, in a country like this where personal survival is paramount, I was far from having formed those types of bonds they would begin to hope something like that after only two months.

Now NPH may have policies that differ with this situation and I’m not sure what Marlon and Raul actually said, but what I know is that those boys went to bed half scared that the morning would bring homelessness, half simply in shock with the incomprehensibility of what that would mean for their lives.

1 comment:

kneek said...

My heart aches hearing your story. I went through similar moments when I was in Haiti, where the director's actions made no sense, and it affected me in a personal way. I developed friendships with several nearly-adult pequeños that everyone else were a waste of time, troublemakers, or worse. I found them to be lonely, confused and scared, but definitely worthy people.

The practice of non-violent communication says behind every action is a beautiful need, often buried very deep and hard to discern. If someone stole $500, you correctly guessed it is because the students had a need so scary they couldn't share it. If someone can discover that need and get them discuss, there is a hope that all will be recovered, though the trust and faith they had in Marlon might be eroded.

My thoughts are with you.