Monday, August 22, 2016

The Language Of Beautiful Feet

"We bring this to the streets because we knew the streets
I pray that more would be burdened to have beautiful feet
You never knew the streets but truth is what you preach
I pray to God you'd be burdened for beautiful feet.
Go, go, go (run with those beautiful feet)
You hold the truth that saves so run and shout it to the world
They can't believe in something they ain't never heard
Go, go, go and run with those beautiful feet"
 - Beautiful Feet, by Lacrae

I hadn't seen dust like that - so permeating, clinging to everything as though it desired to become a second skin - since visiting Tanzania. There, the red dust rose and covered all, traveling with you throughout each day.

A team of twelve people from Holland was visiting Ecuador for three weeks. They were from Desi's home church, and I loved seeing Desi able to speak with them in her native Dutch. As with most Europeans, the team also spoke some English, though no Spanish, so Desi asked if I'd help with translation.
That first week, we took a bus to the edge of North Quito, going as far as we could go before getting out to walk. The road turned to dirt and the dirt to dust. The dust was so soft and fine, laying the ground inches thick like snow drifts. We waded along the road, shaking it not only off our feet and legs but our arms as well, shielding our faces when the wind caused a mini cyclone to spin towards us.

The team was there to lay groundwork for when they'd return in a week and a half. They'd spend a week at the coast (while I watched baby Sael), then return to this community. A woman in Miguel and Desi's church, Maria, lived there and had several families in mind who could use help and love. She and others went around and invited children to come participate in games. We set up in the road - a part with harder packed ground - and played games before crowding into Maria's small home. All the buildings were made or cement blocks. Must were unpainted, simply one grey building after another, with dogs keeping watch from the flat roof tops or doorways. Most of the team went inside with the children to tell a Bible story, while three of the guys and I went with Maria to meet a family she wanted us to help.
"They have five children. The oldest son is 23 but has an illness which effects his muscles and won't let him speak. It's very difficult. But he's smart. They also have a fifteen-year-old daughter who is pregnant."
Maria explained this to me and I translated it in English to the men.

We came to the low-ceilinged home, nicely kept outside with flowers planted around the clothes line. The mother led us inside and introduced us to her son, Angel. I wasn't prepared for how tiny he was, a man who looked more like an eight-year-old boy, terribly skinny, his limbs curled in a fetal position. He lay on a bed, flopping one way and another, turning his head to look at us while grunting. We introduced ourselves and asked if we could pray over him. The men prayed in Dutch and some English, and I closed in rapid Spanish. When asked, the mother explained that the biggest need in their home was to have an indoor sink. She only had one outdoors, away from the house, which made cleaning and doing dishes difficult. I explained this to the men, cautiously trying not to promise anything beyond the team's skills and resources.
"My husband can install the sink, we just need the parts," the mother explained. So the team agreed to get a list of parts from her husband and see what they could do.

When we returned a week and a half later, the men bought the parts and delivered them to the home. They had also noticed that, taped above his bed, Angel had a couple of hand-drawn posters for the Ecuadorian Barcelona soccer team. So they bought a jersey, child-sized, as a gift. Angel's mother handed the jersey to him, and to our amazement he held it up in the air by his toes! He turned it this way and that, admiring it even as he lay on his back with his arms twisted at strange angles. Then he placed the jersey in a bag hanging from the wall, keeping it safe.

We asked if Angel would like to come with us to hear the worship music we were playing for the kids. His mother and sister (2 months pregnant and not yet showing much) strapped him into his wheelchair and up the hill we went. Maria had set up a small one-room building for us to use. There were 15-20 kids there, including an adorable, gap-toothed, African Ecuadorian boy named Surgio who sidled up to me and eventually held my hand as we watched the team perform a funny skit. I stayed near Angel in his wheelchair, becoming more and more amazed at what he could do with his feet. The children played a game where they had to dash and grab a ball, so Desi placed the ball in front of Angel 'to guard it'. Angel stretched out his legs, so I picked up the ball and immediately he grasped it with his feet. Throughout the game children would run up, gently take the ball, and when it was abandoned I'd hand it back. Later, when the children were doing a craft, I tossed the ball to Angel, who enthusiastically kicked and caught it. His fingers remained stiffly twisted upwards, while his toes flexed more useful, I'd think, than my own. When his sister came to talk to him, he nodded yes or no with his feet. It was encouraging to see people communicate with Angel. He couldn't speak, and often couldn't look anyone in the eye, his head lolling and jerking, yet it was clear that he heard and could respond in his own way.

Before we left that day, Maria thanked everyone for coming to show love to her community.
"Look at your feet," she said, smiling. We all looked down, laughing especially at those wearing flip-flops, their feet grey with dust.
"Your feet are proof of your time here, of how you've stepped into this community and given time and love. This dust is part of our lives, " she said, gesturing to the coated walls, "And you'll take some back with you."

We said goodbye, and thank you. The sun had blazed all through the day, and as it went down everything cooled enough for sweaters and hoodies to be pulled on. We waded back down the dusty roads.  Desi and I talked about trying to get Angel's sister into a home which helps young pregnant girls, helping them finish high school and make a plan for motherhood. I though about Maria, selflessly reaching out to people in her community. Every day the dust clings to her skin and seeps into her home, yet she is not deterred. She can communicate with Angel just through the motions of his feet. She sees the dust on the feet of strangers, and finds it beautiful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Semi-nonsense verses in the grain of fantasy. 

The day I was supposed to die
It never, ever came
And so I grew all old and grey
But never, forgot my name

So now I roam about the earth
A ghost, with good intent
I watch the living and all the
Guardian angels, who are sent

I asked one once what must I do
To be, an angel like him?
Hapless roaming I tire of
Yes at times, it feels grim

The angel spoke to me he said
“Dear soul, I wish I knew
It’s different for each soul who roams
Across the earth like you”

He said that he would recommend
My soul, to God above
And so I wait, and roam, and pray
To heaven, to show me love

I'd be a guardian of the living
if this was granted to me
To guard and protect I hope for yet
So I may be set free
To guard and protect I hope for yet
So I may be set free

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Guilt and Grief and Gratitude

"I would give anything
To make you better"
- Better, by Brooke Fraser 

As I said in the previous post about watching one-year-old baby Sael for a week, the sweet boy was sick with a bad cold. When I took him to a nearby clinic, I explained to the doctor that his parents were especially concerned because when he was six-months-old he had a bad bronchial infection. At that time, there was one night when he stopped breathing. His mother Desi screamed for her husband Miguel, who grabbed Sael and ran into the street, jumping in the first taxi he saw and racing to the hospital. Miguel rubbed Sael's chest and patted his back and tiny Sael breathed shallow, difficult breaths. They spent the night at the hospital, and though Sael recovered and was fine, Desi and Miguel are understandably cautious when it comes to their son having any kind of cough and congestion. Desi describes how, as Miguel ran with Sael to get him to the hospital, all she could do was sob, her three-year-old daughter clinging to her, both nearly catatonic with fear. "It was the worst time in my life," she's told me.

I explained the concern to the doctor, who examined Sael as he sat, surprisingly calm, in my arms.
"There's no infection," she told me, and I was filled with relief. I repeated it back to her just to make sure. "No, but you need to give him these three medicines for his cough, congestion, and mild fever," she said. I pushed Sael in his stroller to the nearest pharmacy and bought the medicines. I gave them to him every day as prescribed. At the end of the week, he was still coughing but seemed better. He was congested but was falling asleep fairly easily. He was playing, laughing, smiling. I too, was still coughing and congested so I thought, "It'll just take a little more time. He'll be fine soon. We both will be."

The evening Miguel came and picked up his baby, Sael puked again. Concerned that he still wasn't well, Miguel took him to the doctor - a different one - the next day.
"How is he?" I asked, when I saw the two of them that Monday afternoon at Casa Gabriel.
"Mal," Miguel said, shaking his head. ("Bad"). "The doctor says he has a serious infection, all through here," to which he placed a hand over Sael's chest.
I was devastated.
"The doctor at the clinic said no. I asked specifically."
"It's okay, he'll be alright," Miguel assured me, though I could see he was worried. Sael looked at me with tired eyes: tired from the doctor visits, tired of medicine, tired of being sick.
"He'll be alright," Miguel repeated. Yet something in me felt broken. I couldn't shake it. I said goodbye to Miguel and Sael and headed out to run some errands. Walking down the street, I began to cry behind my sunglasses. I couldn't stop. I cried for hours.

I wish I were exaggerating. Finally home, I messaged Rachel while sobbing, trying to make sense of why I was such a basket-case.
"They trusted me with their child. I feel like I should have known he was more seriously sick, maybe taken him to a different doctor. I know that I didn't know and did what I could, but I feel terrible for him."
"Oh Sonnet, " Rachel exclaimed, "You must be exhausted! You were sick while caring for him and doing everything else. You were running around feeding the Douce's dog and doing the orientations and finances. I know you took good care of him. It's not your fault."
"Thank you, I know, I do, it's just that for nearly eight days all my emotions and energy went into caring for him, feeding him, rocking him to sleep, bathing him, carrying him with me everywhere, trying to make him feel as safe and loved as possible - so to have him gone and hear he's not okay is a little devastating," I admitted. "It feels like the worst kind of failure."

We messaged back and forth while I kept thinking I was done crying and being proven wrong. Feeling sick and tired certainly makes emotions that much more vehemently earnest.

The next day I went with Miguel and Desi to help them translate for the team from Holland. I cried a little when I saw Desi, but not too much. The team was split into those who could fit into Miguel's car and those who had to take a bus. I went with Desi and the bus crew and we talked about their trip to the coast. Desi smiled warmly as we chatted about the mission outreach to the coast. Her friendship is a huge blessing, another reason why thinking I had let her and Miguel down in caring for their precious baby was so terrible. We drove and walked out to the northern edge of Quito, to a very poor neighborhood with plain cement homes. We did various outreaches there while the sun beat down, giving me and others a wicked sunburn. We spoke and sang in Spanish, English, and Dutch. I love seeing the mixing of different cultures and languages. The different tones of skin and eye colors, just like Miguel and Desi: dark African-Ecuadorian, pale Dutch, and the beautiful children who are the result. Or like my own parents, Hispanic and Caucasian, and the freckled, dark-haired children who are my siblings and I.

When it was time to head home, Miguel drove, Desi walked with the rest of the team to get taxis, and I sat in the back with Sael. Miguel told me, "Someone else from the team was holding him yesterday, but he kept crying and reaching for me. He knows you, he'll be happier with you."
 The team and I were all dusty and hungry and content. Four of us squished into the back of the car while Miguel drove in true South American fashion: changing lanes without a blinker, honking to communicate and warn that he was passing a cross street and had the right of way, and of course having his two kids in the car held in laps without car seats or even seat belts. I settled Sael in my arms. He looked up once to see who was holding him, then began to play with my phone. He nestled in my lap, cuddled cozy, fell asleep in my arms. It felt redemptive.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Murphy's Law

"Loo, loo, loo, I'll take you dreaming
Through the rainy night
To a place behind the raindrops
Where the stars are bright
You may not find gold or silver
But a richer prize 
Waits for you behind the raindrops
If you close your eyes"
 - I'll Take You Dreaming, sung by Danny Kaye

For months my friends Miguel and Desi were planning a mission trip with a team of 12 people coming from Holland. Part of this trip included going to the coast for a week to help with earthquake relief. Desi asked if I'd go as a leader and translator; however, the week they were going was one in which I had to give three Orientations (which is when a short-term team visits Casa Gabriel and I give a presentation about that ministry and Casa Adalia). There was no one to take my place, so sadly, I wasn't able to go. Instead, Desi asked if I'd consider watching their nearly one-year-old son, Sael, during that week. I've spent enough time with the family to nearly be an aunt to their kids. So, I said yes.

For the most part, it was a smooth week. Yes, Sael was sick and I took him to the doctor and had to give him medicine every day. Yes, he gave me his cold. He woke up every night around 2:00 or 3:00 am to eat, and again around 5:30 or 6:30. But overall he was happy, he was incredibly sweet, letting me soothe him fairly easily. My biggest concern was that he'd want nothing to do with me: he'd cry for his parents, inconsolable, pushing me away. Instead, I learned that he loved to look outside, so if he was crying all I had to do was take him to a window, cradle him with his head resting on my chest, and he'd quickly calm, letting me feed or rock him. However there was one day which seemed to be a comedy of errors ...

In catching Sael's cold (my second one in three weeks), I completely lost my voice. I could only whisper. Ironically, of course, I had the three Orientations to give. The morning I woke up with no voice, I scrambled to type up a synopsis of my memorized talk, so the team leaders could read it in my place. I got Sael and myself there before 8:00 to set up the videos, prayer cards, and EsperanzArt jewelry for sale, ready when the team arrived at 8:30. I stood in the back of the room holding Sael, feeding him apple slices and answering questions in a whispered rasp. Overall it went well, but by the time everyone had left at 10:00, Sael was more than ready for a nap. He started to melt down while I scrambled to put away the jewelry and lock the money in the office. He fell asleep on the way home. I stood in my doorway, twisting around until I could extract my keys from my purse which was strung from the arm holding Sael. I made it inside, laid him down ... and he woke up immediately, not to be comforted.

I carried him into the kitchen to make him a bottle. Of course the can of formula was nearly empty, and as I opened a new one, the metal peel-away top sliced open my finger. I paused for a second, then continued to make the bottle with my right hand while carrying him in my left arm and holding my bleeding hand aloft. Bottle made, I wrapped a tissue around my finger and sat down to feed crying Sael. He relaxed and so did I. I expected him to just drink a couple of ounces before falling asleep. When I realized he had nearly finished the whole bottle, I thought, 'He must really have been hungry!'
That was when he sat up and puked everywhere.

For a moment, I simply held him in stunned confusion. "Oh Sael," I finally sighed. I left the puddle of puke and took him to the bathroom to clean him up. I changed his clothes and commenced rocking him back and forth. He calmly stared at the ceiling as though it were the most fascinating thing ever, then looked at me. I smiled back, wishing I could sing to him, yet unable to do anything but walk and rock. Finally, finally, his eyes closed and I laid him down without incident. I washed and bandaged my finger. I cleaned up the puke with a towel. I stripped off my clothes and threw everything into the washing machine. I re-dressed.

When he woke up, the day commenced more as less as "normal". Him: playing, eating, second-napping. Me: feeding, rocking, cooking, cleaning. I love to have music playing in the background, and that week it was all about upbeat music. The Beatles, David Bowie, Cage The Elephant, Gallant, Fitz And The Tantrums, and soundtrack compilations such as "Guardians Of The Galaxy", "Stranger Than Fiction", "The Martian", "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" and "500 Days Of Summer" comprised our playlist. There were other ups and downs of course. Nothing quite like that one day of blood, puke and tears ... thankfully. He is a darling, beautiful baby boy and I was honored to watch him. Many more tears would come later, on a related note. Yet that's a story in process for next week.