Friday, November 27, 2015

Snipets of Daily Life (part 2)

I walk down the sidewalk, hiding behind large sunglasses and headphones which pipe podcasts and music into my ears with every step. A woman walks past me; she reeks of marijuana. As used as I am to the sight of people opening smoking a joint in public here, and the accompanying smell, still something inside me draws back. Before the woman passed me she walked past a mother in indigenous garb, stooping down to use a long piece of cloth to secure her baby to her back.

I sit in the back of the bus, heading home. I notice a woman whose black hair is streaked with white. She wears it braided and twisted into an elegant bun. From behind, I think she must be around 60. When she stands up, her face and fashion look much younger. 40 is my new guess. Few women let their hair become salt-and-pepper, choosing to dye it instead. On her, it is beautiful. She is stunning, a mix of graceful age and youth, a mystery. She walks off the bus and I watch her until the bus pulls away. White-streaked hair like a crown, long red coat cloaking a tall, full-figured frame. Timeless.

For three hours I sit in front of my computer, surrounded by receipts. I take a pile of expenses and categorize them: food, transportation, hygiene, school, clothes, home maintenance, etc. Each receipt is recorded into an excel. Date, amount, and description, all typed out. I take the organized receipts to the office, and two days later I return to pick up a check. When the check is cashed I dole out funds to the house-parents and the tutor, any staff member who has a legitimate need for Casa Gabriel money, and write down every cent. It may not be a glamorous part of my job, but I enjoy it. I enjoy taking numbers and turning them into something, turning them around so we can all keep going.

From behind me, Moises says my name and pokes me. I jump with surprise and he apologizes, grinning. I grin back, telling him it's fine. In truth it makes me happy to see him tease me. When he first came to Casa Gabriel he was shy and withdrawn, as many of the boys are at first. To see them come out of their shells and be interactive and happy is so good. One day it was clear that Moises was no longer the boy who asked to be excused from the dinner table the moment he was done eating so he could go be alone. He is one of the boys. One of the family.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Snipets Of Daily Life

"It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense."
 - Mark Twain

From the backseat of a taxi, waiting at a red light, I see a man without hands walking between the cars. Using the stubs of his arms, he carries an open bag, asking for change by simply pointing it towards the car windows. No verbal or written words are required. Before I can reach for my purse or open the window, the light changes, and I am drawn away.

The 18th-month-old baby girl in Casa Adalia sits on the floor and wails. I reach down, lift her up, but she struggles angrily against me, twisting and crying. She wants whatever wrong was done in her mind to be made right, wants her mom to come and undue this injustice. Yet as I hold her, she drops her head slowly against my shoulder. With a sigh she wraps an arm around my neck and holds on. We stand there in silence, holding on, breathing, and being okay.

"Quieres jugar conmigo?"
Janoah's brown eyes are wide and expectant.
"Que quieres hacer?" I reply, and she takes my affirmative reply that yes, I will play with her, takes my hand, and leads me to the couch which is transformed by make-believe into a home. I am the mother and she is the daughter, and I take her to school and buy a cake for her birthday. Then she is the mother, tucking me gently into bed.
"Tu estas dormiendo," she informs me, and as instructed, I close my eyes in pretend sleep. She smiles, planning the next part of grown-up life she will walk through in make-believe.

Parking cars is the family business: bright orange vests are worn by the wife, the husband, and draping down over the knees of the son and daughter. They direct the traffic in front of the church, helping cars parallel park or back out along the narrow neighborhood street. I walk down the sidewalk to Casa Gabriel and see the daughter, swallowed in the huge orange vest. I smile at her and she drops her eyes, dark hair falling across her face. Her hands are tiny, yet even so, they can help direct traffic; she on one side of the street and her mother or father on the other.

Monday, November 2, 2015


"We've come a long way you know, living inside a dream
Waking to find that we are kings and queens"

 - Kings And Queens, by Brooke Fraser

Gracie has long brown hair and bright eyes. At church, nearly everyone knows her name, knows her laugh, and expects to see the wheels of her wheelchair decorated with large, colorful paper circles.

Gracie was born with Down Syndrome and diagnosed with Leukemia at age 2. Complications from many rounds of chemotherapy which were battling the highly aggressive cancer left her brain very damaged. She is unable to speak or walk or feed herself, though she can communicate through expressions and grunts and her glowing smile. Her daily life is totally dependent on other people. Yet the fact that she survived at all was a miracle.

A few years ago, when Gracie was attending Georgetown High School, a campaign started to nominate Gracie for Homecoming Queen. The idea of a few students took off; on the night of Homecoming, Gracie wore a sparkling dress with pink tights and was wheeled onto the football field by her father to wait with the other nominees. When the name of the Queen was announced, everyone in the auditorium began to clap and cheer. A photographer friend of mine gorgeously captured the event: the shock and wild delight, the sheer joy of the moment, was written all over Gracie's face. No words of surprise or thanks were needed.

Gracie was crowned the Queen, and a moment later, the King was also crowned: Jared, a fellow student who also had Down Syndrome. Jared stood beside Gracie in her wheelchair, the King and Queen smiling and smiling as the rest of the school cheered.

Because of Gracie, her parents founded Brookwood in Georgetown (BIG), a place where adults with disabilities can find purpose through community and learning life-skills. They bake, create pieces of pottery and greeting cards, and grow sunflowers. They are told that they are valued. That they have something to contribute to the world.

As children, most of us pretended to be princesses and knights, inspired beings from fairy tales. We were told by encouraging adults that we were beautiful and brave. But what about those who grew up with other children looking sideways at them, asking their parents why that child had almond eyes and just seemed ... different? How wonderful, then, that those children can grow up to be kings and queens. Just for a night, perhaps, yet captured forever in photographs and the sound of cheering. Our beautiful and brave kings and queens.

Brookwood (BIG):