OK – here are the details for today. I am going to tell you everything so hopefully you find it as interesting as I do. :-)
There are a lot of great things about the trip and some that aren’t so great – so far. The showers here are FREEZING, the food is all local foods so sometimes I am afraid to eat, and my bunk area is very small – but other than that – the facility is awesome and incredibly safe. It’s better than I expected to be completely honest.
Breakfast yesterday was questionable so I chose to have some yogurt and granola. I am adventurous – but there is only so much I can process at once… Today’s breakfast was fried eggs and ham, but there are over 30 of us here at the home base and 20 of them are ROTC cadets so by the time I got to breakfast the eggs were looooong gone. So I stuck with oatmeal and that was fine by me. I’m kind of glad that was an option instead of being forced to try something new. Like I said, I love adventure, but that one “normal thing” just gives comfort sometimes. This morning – that one normal thing for me was oatmeal.
Directly after breakfast we wasted no time getting over to our placement. Hogar Manos de Jesus is an AMAZING nursing facility. The administrator was incredibly impressive. He met us right away and took over an hour showing us the facility and grounds, talking with us, and introducing us to the residents. He knew every resident by name and knew their story as well. I was very impressed by that. The nursing homes back home are half the size, have twice the residents, and half the staff – and I would be shocked if the administrator could come out and tell people the name of every resident AND their story. It is obvious that the administrator here cares very deeply for these people and for this facility. Emotions were stirred up when he told us that there were only three essential things needed to volunteer there. Knowing the Spanish language (which, of course, neither my co-worker or I know), knowing how to love someone, and knowing what it is to live a solitary life. This brought tears to my eyes. I’m still not sure that placing me in a nursing home so soon after the death of my parents was a very good idea, but I can say that I knew EXACTLY what the director was talking about today. I knew I met the requirements to be able to understand these people and their needs. I think the director was touched by my getting choked up a little. I spoke to him about the recent loss of my Mom and he was very comforting. He is a very kind and very real person who deals with very real issues every day. I admire him greatly.
At their facility they have their own mini “E.R.”, a doctor on staff, nurses, physical therapists and several aides. They are currently making several structural improvements so some things were kind of cramped but the grounds are HUGE. Resident rooms, very large bathrooms, new large laundry facility, physical therapy room, large grounds and gardens, and they even have chickens for the residents to feed! He also took us into a chapel that they have built – it’s a very large chapel for a nursing home. It’s basically a church! It was here that he told us the story of how Hogar Manos de Jesus came to be. There was a family 20 years that wanted to help an elderly homeless man and took him into their own home. Less than a month later, they took in another elderly homeless person. A year later they had five elderly homeless people staying with them. Now, 20 years later, this place has assisted over 100 elderly people and currently have over 40 residents! It’s an amazing story to hear. The residents at the facility are VERY poor, mentally ill, homeless or a combination of those things. Most are abandoned by their families. The facility is funded by government funds which provide 50% of their budget and the rest is provided by campaigning for funds.
The people that we met were so incredibly amazing. It was the kind of people you would expect to see at a nursing home – many with diminished cognitive capacities, some who could no longer speak anything but gibberish, and some who were still of good mental capacities and only needed to be there for the medical care. But it was the amazing good nature and upbeat ora of the place that made it so amazing. Several of the residents fight for the attention of volunteers. One woman spoke directly to us and thanked us for taking the time to spend with all of them there. She explained how it was very important and how she was very grateful to have us there. Another man kept yelling for us to come and visit him. Two of the men speak a very small amount of English so to have the language barrier broken down a bit was a welcome reprieve. Two of the women walked right up to us and hugged us and wouldn’t let go! People are very affectionate here. (I have started taking photos of people who are more openly affectionate and intend to start a photo diary of this.) It was amazing to feel the love that these two women had to give right from the start! We also met two “grumpy old men” as they were described “with such great big hearts”. It was fun to sit and talk with them a little today as well. One of them explained to us that he used to be a boxer and used to win every fight. His story was fascinating! Although my co-worker Justin doesn’t know Spanish, he IS fluent in Italian and one of the residents speaks Italian so he was able to communicate all day with her and that was awesome to see as well!
After we met a lot of the residents we were requisitioned to help with the laundry for a while so we did until we were called in to help the physical therapist with the residents. You are never going to believe this but they were DANCING!!! Yes – DANCING! These residents range in age from 66 to 100 years old and they were either up and dancing (better than I can) or dancing in their wheelchairs. How inspiring it was to see music move people to get up and dance at those older ages. These people didn’t even let disabilities stop them! This is where we were able to introduce ourselves to them. We told them our names, ages, occupations, and hobbies. Many of the old men were delighted to hear that I was a bartender (as was the director and the staff). It was comical to see their reaction to that! “Whiskey” shouted one resident. “Cerveza” shouted another. They were also given the opportunity to ask us questions and they asked me if I liked to dance. I told them no – but that I liked to play and I pretended to play the guitar. Several of them were very happy to hear that I can play the guitar and serve them drinks. You probably had to be there but it was really quite funny and heartwarming to have them “like” me so much just based on this information.
There was one man, Javier, who speaks a little bit of English. We approached him two different times today and started talking to him but the moment he spoke in English he started to cry – both times. It was a bit heartbreaking and made me very sad to see him so depressed. I am almost afraid that something bad happened to him in America. I am hoping to hear more about his story as the days go on. Later, when all the residents were in the chapel to meet the new priest, I saw a man who looked and acted so much like my father that it literally took my breath away. I had to walk away after watching him for a few minutes so that I could allow the tears to flow in private. Sometimes the sorrow of all that my family has been through these past few years is entirely too overwhelming not to cry. It is this man, above all the others, that I hope to get to know the best. He may be the very reason I am here. Only time will tell.
Tomorrow I am planning on bringing a guitar with me along with some old hymns and am hoping to get some of the residents to sing or hum along with me. I am also going to be able to start taking photos tomorrow so I will be excited to be able to have you meet the people I am working with. I think you will fall in love with them just as I already have.
Thank you again for all of the support that you have all given me and continue to give me. This is an amazing experience that I wish I could gift to all of you. I’ll talk to you more tomorrow!
Day Two Adventures:
Things are starting to loosen up at the home base now. The volunteers are starting to get to know each other better, interacting more, and building relationships. It has been a true pleasure to make new friends and have new experiences with all of them. There are four of us that are over 30, two teenagers, and 30 volunteers in their in their early 20’s. We all seem to be getting along very well and I am glad to be a part of this phenomenal group of people working to make a different in the lives of the people here.
It was a very interesting and fun day at the nursing home today. Many of the residents remembered our names and called for Justin and I as soon as we were in sight. We started the day by feeding some of the residents breakfast. This truly forced me to step out of my comfort zone as I have a pretty weak stomach. It wasn’t easy to feed an older person some mushy food and then have to clean them up afterwards, but it was rewarding in the sense that we were able to assist the aides. They are very busy and do so much for the residents! You can tell that they, as well as the residents rely quite heavily on the assistance from the volunteers. After breakfast we helped out in the laundry room for a while again. The woman who does laundry is injured so she appreciates the help. She doesn’t speak much English but I believe she was trying to tell us that she had carpal tunnel syndrome so the weight of the laundry makes her job very difficult for her. We were able to get to know her better today and even in spite of the language barrier she was able to share some about herself, which was good because we will be working with her a little bit every day. This time also allows Justin and I to get to know each other better. He comes from a wealthy family but down to earth and has a GREAT sense of humor. We laugh a lot and I really appreciate the opportunity to get to know him better and to work with him at this facility.
After we finished working on the laundry we went to work with the residents again. I played guitar for them today and Justin sang. It was pretty awful – can’t even kid about that – but the residents LOVED it! We tried so hard but I messed up the chords a lot, and Justin didn’t know any of the songs we were singing but we kept right on anyway! One resident got his harmonica out and started playing with us and another resident got up to sing! I have asked the employees to try and find me a hymnal from a church so I can try and learn how to play some songs that they would know and then they can sing along with us! The best part of playing for them was being able to sing some of the DeColores song in Spanish. I brought this music with me just so I would have a song to sing to them where they would understand the words but the amazing part was that there was a person there who KNEW the song! She took hold of the microphone and sang DeColores right along with me!!! I could hardly believe it! For those of you who know what DeColores is you can understand the significance of this moment. It was incredibly moving to share that song together when we live thousands of miles apart and when we both know what that song means! I spoke to her for a while after we sang and she explained that she was a part of the movement here! If that doesn’t prove that God is everywhere, I don’t know what does. He DOES inspire that movement, my friends. How blessed I am to be a part of such an amazing tool that God uses to bring people closer to Him.
When we finished with the “jam session” Justin and I were able to sit with some of the residents for a while. One of the residents shared that he used to work on the coast and sailed on the banana boats for a living when he was young. He has been all over the East coast from South America to Canada. He has an amazing story and he is going to be full of great stories! I asked him today to tell me about the craziest day of his life. He just smiled and took a deep breath and didn’t say a word. It was GREAT! We both encouraged him to keep talking and all he could do was smile and laugh. I am soooooooooo curious as to what his story is. I think I will keep after him to tell us about it. Hopefully I will be able to share it with all of you if he tells me but I have a feeling it’s a pretty “naughty” story. Haha!!
I was able to see the gentleman who looked so much like my father again today. He was in his room reading his Bible. I’m serious you guys – he reminds me so much of Daddy! It’s difficult for me not to stare at him but the resemblance is amazing. It brought me to tears again today. I am going to ask the director of the nursing home to help provide me with a translator so that I can try to sit down and have a good talk with this man. I want to talk to him, hear his story, and share some of mine. I am praying that God allows that to happen so I really hope that he is still cognitive and is able to chat with me.
I also made a boyfriend today. There is an older gentleman who apparently falls in love with all the “white” women. He pretty much clung to me the last little bit that we were at the nursing home today. It was cute. He even kissed my hand a couple of times. Justin had fun laughing at that one. ;-)
After we left our placements and had lunch at the home base CCS took us out for a field trip. We went up into the mountains and we were able to see some scenery that was AMAZING. This is truly a beautiful country. It wouldn’t be difficult at all for me to live here. We stopped at a place that sold hand carved wood items also which were beautiful! It was a pleasure to support a local artist. We also went to some ruins of a church that was built in the 1500’s. This was a really cool spot to be. I went hiking out behind the church and got some really amazing shots of how the people live in the country here rather than the city. After the church ruins they brought us to a hot spring/picnic area for a bit too. There was a group of older people from a local nursing home (not the one we work at) at the picnic area and several of us from our group ended up dancing with them. I have some really awesome photos and video of that. It was very moving to see all of these older people dancing with people 3 generations younger than them! I took several pictures of the Costa Rican people at this location. I will be sharing all of those with you later.
The administrator of the nursing home also offered to help me learn Spanish in my free time. He is so friendly and so nice to Justin and I. I am excited to be able to work with this man more. It’s an honor to know that he is willing to take time out of his busy schedule to help me. It is inspiring and refreshing to see someone in an executive position who is friendly, caring, and down to earth. Corporate America could learn a lot from this man.
The showers are still FREEZING and the food is still questionable – but the rest of it is coming together and I think that this is an experience that will hold in my heart forever. Thank you again for all of your support. I will be posting more tomorrow. J
After a super tasty oatmeal breakfast the third day has proven to be very a informational and interesting day. I spent over an hour with the director of the nursing home today and we talked about the facility itself. How it works, how they get residents, where the money comes from, what the facility needs, etc… He explained to me that not one resident pays to be at the facility. He explained that these residents are “abandoned” by their family members. That health costs are an issue for poor families and they will take a sick family member to the hospital and leave them there – never to return to pick them up – due to financial, family, and social issues. He talked about how many people visit Costa Rica because it is a beautiful country with its mountains, but that there are very poor people who suffer greatly that live up in the mountains. He also offered to take Justin and I on a ride to see some of the really bad areas of the city so that we can get a better understanding of where these homeless people come from. He is not required to do any of that so it was a very kind offer for him to make. We are going to be doing that one day next week. The director and I also shared information about the nursing homes that I have seen back home. I was intrigued to learn that the nursing home here never turns away a homeless person, and he was very intrigued to learn from me that the U.S. has entirely too many homeless people that our facilities could ever accommodate. He is a very educated and intellectual man so he realizes that there is poverty everywhere but when most foreigners think of the United States, they think everybody is rich so he was interested in learning that there are so many homeless people in the U.S. – that a country like ours could have so much wealth and still have so many homeless people. We shared more about each other’s homelands and a little about our personal lives even. It’s incredibly interesting to hear about this place and how it works, and it gets more and more interesting by the day to see how well he manages these facilities.
Justin and I were also in charge of activities with the residents today. We honestly had no idea that we were going to be in charge of the activity so we did our best to laugh our way through it. We got some balls out and played ball with the residents for a while. The awesome part of this is that the man who looks so much like my father played ball for a while. I did learn a little more about him today though. He suffers from schizophrenia. It still breaks my heart to look at him. I have pictures of him that I can post in a few minutes. I really do hope to learn a little more about him while I’m here. I think he is precious. After we played ball with the residents, Justin sat with one of the men and they showed each other what was in their wallets. It was so cute because Justin gave the man a Supercuts coupon and he put it in his wallet and treasured it. It was obvious that other volunteers had given him other things. He even had an Army card in his wallet. I gave him some American change and he had a blast with that. It really was cute to see him interact with us. I have some pictures of him that I can post too. I also spent some time with one of the residents that is cognitive and speaks English. I showed him all kinds of pictures of family, friends, and places I have been to visit. He liked my Mom and Dad, and thought that Montana was beautiful. We all also listened to music and the employees even danced with the residents. She even tried to show me a couple of moves – but that didn’t work out so well. A chubby white woman with no rhythm and bad knees is no competition for a beautiful Costa Rican woman who could probably dance before she could walk. ;-)
The rest of the day was spent at the home base having lunch, going to get ice cream, and then going out for dinner. We also had a cooking class on how to make corn tortillas, and we had a class on the history and politics of Costa Rica. (I think their government is just as corrupt as the government in the US!) Tomorrow Justin and I are hoping to get some sidewalk chalk and try to get the residents to do some artwork on the walls of the courtyard so hopefully we can have some fun with that.
I am learning so much about the country of Costa Rica and its people! The people here are so different from us – but in many ways they are the same. They like to smile, they like to dance, and they like to be happy. In the end, isn’t that all that really matters anyway? I’ll be in touch with more that I have learned tomorrow. Love you all!
No oatmeal today as I was not feeling well when I woke up. Not sure what was up but I was sick to my stomach so I just had a couple of tortillas with butter. The food here is tasty – but I really do miss the things I eat back home. I would give just about anything for a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios right now…or scrambled eggs with ham and cheddar…
The day today at the nursing home was a day filled with more busy work than spending time with the residents. Justin and I went right to work feeding the residents breakfast, talking to our “regulars” – the ones who know us by name and seek us out, and then we did a LOT of work in the laundry room. I have worked in a nursing home before so I know how much laundry is generated in such a place but I think Justin is amazed at how much there is. He has even expressed that he has a deeper appreciation for his mother after working in the laundry room. J The fun part of working there is getting to talk to the employee who handles the laundry. She doesn’t speak English but we do our best to work through the language barrier and we find out more and more about her every day. She is very friendly and has a good heart. She knows the residents, what they need, and provides what she can in a “behind-the-scenes” kind of way. It touches my heart to see her hand a resident a handkerchief or a sweater. We had a lot of fun with the other employees today because of her and I am glad to be able to get to know her as much as we have.
I am at the point now where the language barrier is really starting to bother me. Justin finds it to be something of a challenge – he enjoys trying to figure out what people are saying to us. Me? I am just annoyed. I want to TALK to these people! Ask them questions, tell them about where I’m from…and I am unable to do that. I want to understand more when we are trying to communicate. I want to communicate more clearly to them without having to look in a dictionary. I truly do wish that I had studied the language more. I know that with recent events in my life I was unable to fit that in – but if I could have done one thing to be better prepared it would have been to learn the language. It is a beautiful language and I should have done better in this area. When I do a trip like this again I will learn the language first – it is essential! I am very lucky that some of the people I am working with know some of the English language. I believe I will learn Spanish even when I get home. It just amazes me that people can talk to me in several different languages and I am arrogant enough to only know ONE! This is something that I need to work on.
We did get to work with the residents for about an hour today. We spent some time just coloring with them and talking with them (or letting them talk to us). One of the ladies that is soooooooooooo tender and loving tried to read my palm today. She wanted to determine how many kids I was going to have. Haha! As my friends you should all know how funny that is. Even though we didn’t “do” much today with them, there was still a lot of gratification, and satisfaction in just being there and watching them communicate with one another. I was sitting with three women and witnessed what I am POSITVE was a bunch of girl talk! Haha! I was almost laughing at one point. Many of these residents are not cognitive and don’t speak clearly anyway but I am 100% certain that what I was witnessing was a few hens cackling and it was GREAT! Some things will never change when it comes to human behavior – including women cackling about men and kids and God and the world. Hahahahahaha!
I did get to see the fellow who looks so much like my father again today. He has such a gentle nature. I want to take him home. I really do. I want to take him fishing. I truly feel like I am in the presence of my Dad even though we cannot speak to each other with any understanding because of the language barrier (and party due to his condition which I won’t share here). I am just quietly appreciating him from afar and knowing that he will be with my Dad one day in heaven.
Justin and I did make plans with the director today to have the residents do some work on a cement wall with some sidewalk chalk next week so I am excited to see what comes of that. I’m hoping one of them is secretly an artist and might be able to depict something for us pictorially. I will be sure to post some pictures from that activity! I hope it goes well – they might not be interested but we are going to try.
Today after lunch starts two days of free time. Everybody in the house is going to spend some time together as a group so you many not have a blog post to read for a couple of days. This is going to be our time to enjoy the country and I am hoping that we will be able to fit some fun things in.
Thank you all for reading every day, thank you for caring enough to send me here, and thank you for believing in the power of love. It’s making a difference in the lives of these people. Don’t waste a single second doubting it. I love you all very much!!!
First Day of Week Two:
I skipped breakfast altogether today. There were pancakes ready for us, but I just didn’t feel like trying them. I’m really craving those honey nut cheerios. I think that will be the first thing I have when I get back home.
All of us here at the house had an awesome weekend full of some recreational activities and much laughter, but today we found ourselves back to work. I really look forward to going to the nursing home every day. The residents are very peaceful and appreciative. We started with feeding breakfast to the residents and worked on our Spanish a little bit with the employees. The physical therapist at the facility is learning English so she is trying to learn as much from us as we are from her. She is very friendly, and a BEAUTIFUL woman. I am hoping we can continue to be friends even after we leave here. We also spent a lot of time in the laundry room laughing with Maria. She is good fun and I truly wish I spoke the language so we could learn more about her. I would love to go out with her one evening and get to know some of her friends and family. She seems to be a very fun person. We do what we can with the language barrier and we laugh a lot. She has been a pleasure to work with. I am going to post a video for all of you to see how funny Justin is and why it’s so much fun to work with him. He is very animated and makes me laugh so much that my laughing muscles hurt every day.
After the laundry room we helped the physical therapist with resident activities. We played hangman and it was surprising to me how involved the residents were. Justin and I did Spanish words and had them guess letters, then they did a Spanish word and had Justin and I guess. We did that twice and LOST. One of the residents was even trying to help us cheat but we failed miserably at guessing the Spanish words! But then we did an English word and they lost as well so all was even and fair. It was good fun to see them all so interested in playing that game.
The best part of spending time with the residents today was when I was able to have someone translate for me and tell Juan that he looks so much like my Dad. He smiled and said that Dad must have been a very good man. Then he told me that he does not have children, and I told him that I loved my Dad very much but that he was gone now. Juan said that he could be my Costa Rican Dad and I could be his Costa Rican daughter. I was then able to give him a hug and it was a very touching moment for me. I am so intrigued by this man. I would love to be able to sit and talk with him for hours.
By the time we finished hangman the day was pretty much over. (The residents take a while to play games like that…) Justin and I then headed back to the home base to catch up on some much needed rest. I have a Spanish class tonight and I we are hoping to do the sidewalk chalk tomorrow. We’ll see…
This place is truly a beautiful and inspiring place. The landscape, the weather, and most of all the people are truly intoxicating. I believe that American citizens could learn a lot about love, affection, and learning to relax from the people down here. I have only learned a small portion about the culture but I hope to learn as much as possible before leaving. I would give every one of you the gift of coming down here if I could. It’s worth considering if you are planning on an adventure any time soon. PURA VIDA!
Second Day of Week Two:
I have forgotten that pasteurized milk exists. I vaguely remember what honey nut cheerios even are. I truly love being here and I find myself not even wanting to leave the nursing home every day – but I long for the day to have a “normal” meal again.
The nursing home was pretty calm today. After helping with breakfast for the residents we spent a lot of time in the laundry room today helping Maria. We brought our own music for her to listen to and she recognized a few of the songs. Michael Jackson being one of them. I also showed her the video of Justin dancing in the laundry room the day before. She laughed at that one quite a bit.
Eduardo, the director of the nursing home asked me to take his camera and take pictures today. I used his camera for a few pictures and then used mine for several. I was able to play dominoes with some of the men today and it was very interesting to see how they interact with one another, and with Justin and I. I took pictures while they played a few games, the whole time watching them and learning how they were playing. Then asked if I could play when one of the others had to leave. Justin and I usually fail pretty miserably when we play games with them due to the language barrier and what not – but we were actually winning at dominoes! One of them even kept count of how many times I won vs. Justin winning. Due to his enthusiasm with tracking our progress, I am thinking that he is more competitive than the others. J Since I have a tendency to be somewhat competitive myself I could really relate to this characteristic in this resident. After every game he and started keeping track together and laughed about it as we went.
It brings joy to my heart to know that these residents are used to seeing us here now. They know us by name, call out our names when we are walking by, and talk to us a LOT even though they know we can’t understand them. Many of them are not cognitive, but some are, and it makes me smile to see them light up when we are able to spend time with them and pay them some attention. A few even speak English and will say, “Good morning Penny!”. I do wish that I had more time to spend here. The more I find out about these people, the more I enjoy being here with them. I find it interesting how happy they seem to be. I think that the volunteers at this facility have a lot to do with that. It has made me wonder why nursing homes do not pay someone to be a companion. Or even recruit more volunteers. It only helps the residents – they are more active, more attentive, they keep busier… It just makes sense. Hiring someone probably would never be in the budget, I’m sure, but companionship is just as important to the health of these people as physical therapy for medications. I am convinced of that.
After dominoes, one of the residents asked me to go for a walk with him to see the chickens so I gladly wheeled him back there. There was another employee feeding them, and another resident working in the garden area. She took a lot of time explaining some flowers to me. I don’t really have any idea what kind of flowers they are but I listened intently. She seemed to be very glad to have someone to talk to about the flowers. I get the impression that she cares for them a lot. I even picked one and put it in her hair and she was touched to have received it. I like to tell the residents that they are hermosa (beautiful), or hermoso (handsome). They usually give me a smile that can light up the darkest night. This is why I’m here. I’m here to give joy to these people. I’m here to laugh with them, and be kind to them. Many volunteers pass through here, and these people may not remember my name past Friday, but I know that the kindness and the love that I have shown them has done nothing but make the world a better place.
I can only hope that all of you can learn from this example. That some of you will now be inspired to volunteer some time. That some of you will see just how important it is to give back, and to develop relationships with people Nothing else matters folks. Nothing else matters.
Week 2 Day 3
Well, I ate breakfast today. We had scrambled eggs with ham and had a glass of chocolate soy milk. It wasn’t too bad. I think I could get used to it – but I think I would forever crave American food. We did have hamburgers for lunch today too – but they just weren’t the same. I will be so glad to have meals with food I am used to once I get home. It is one of the things I miss the most. That and hot showers. And Bud Select. Oh – and the people I love of course. J
Today was a GREAT day for me in Cartago. Justin and I spent time helping at breakfast as usual. I feel kind of bad because I really struggle with feeding the residents who can’t feed themselves. I have a weak stomach and I really struggle with that sometimes. It makes me grateful for a body that functions without assistance. I am glad that there are people in the world who will help take care of others who can’t take care of themselves – and I’m glad to be experiencing this – but I struggle with the feeding. This will be the one thing that I will be glad to be done with when my time is over in Cartago.
After breakfast Justin and I went to help Maria in the laundry again. She is so sweet! I just love her facial expressions and the way she greets us every morning. She likes us a lot I think. I wish that we could spend more time with her outside of “work”. That is the REAL cultural experience right there. I appreciate the opportunity to help the underprivileged, and I would appreciate the opportunity to spend time at a resort with the wealthy people of Costa Rica – but more than anything I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to spend time with the regular, every day, working people of this country. I would love to hear about their lives and how they live and what they enjoy and what they do with their free time. Maria would be the best person to spend time with. She seems to have a strong sense of family and a strong sense of how to balance between work and play. Honestly, just about everybody we have gotten to know seems to have this ability. There is MUCH more balance here than back home in the U.S. and I am grateful to experience it and see this first hand.
The laundry room didn’t last long for me today. We were lucky enough to be volunteering when a new admission arrived to the facility! Eduardo asked me to join in on the admission process and it was sooooooo interesting. The woman who was admitted was 84 years old and living in a shack by herself high up in the mountains. She is now wheelchair bound and must be cared for so she came to Hogar Manos de Jesus. It was fascinating to watch as Eduardo questioned her about her home, her care, her past, and other things. She has never been married and has no children and was upset about being alone in life. Eduardo took the time to introduce her to every staff member. That’s right – the director of the facility took the time to do this. I was fascinated by this! He also took the time to comfort her and tell her that everybody there was her family now and was going to take good care of her. We even had Maria from the laundry room come up to meet this woman! What an amazing facility this is! It was very interesting to see the facial expressions of her friends as she answered questions. It was not too long ago that it seemed I was in that same position answering questions for my Mom. It made me miss my Mom so much I almost broke down crying but I was able to restrain myself and I am proud of that. This moment and this experience was not about me – it was about the new admission and I owed it to her to keep collected. The best part of this whole admission process is that I was able to understand some of the Spanish they were speaking! Of course they were talking about Coca-Cola but HEY! At least I’m picking SOME of this language up! Haha! I’m just kidding! The new admission did talk about not wanting coffee in the mornings and wanting Coca-Cola, and we all got a chuckle out of that, but I WAS able to decipher some of what everybody was saying and I was very happy about that. If I had another month here I would fluent!
Another exciting thing that happened today was a photo opportunity for the nursing home. All lottery proceeds here go towards non-profit organizations. The lottery tickets here feature a photo of the non-profit organizations that are benefitting from the profits. Eduardo asked me to help take a picture of the facility that will appear on these tickets. Several residents and some employees posed in front of the building for this picture. It was amazing. I am so glad to have been a part of this! It is a wonderful marketing opportunity for Hogar Manos de Jesus! I wish them all the best in their fundraising endeavors. I hope to be able to get them some of the items that they need and send them down in the near future.
After the photo shoot we spent a little more time with the residents. I had a guitar with me today and played some music and one of the residents took the guitar from me and pretended to play while Justin and I cheered him on. I was head banging and making people laugh. I have a GREAT picture of him “playing” with us. I think he got a lot of enjoyment out of it.
I was able to go to dinner with the director of the nursing home tonight. He is a very busy man so I appreciate that he was able to spend some time with me. We talked all about the nursing home, Costa Rica, and talked on a personal level also. He speaks English fluently and I am incredibly grateful for that. He explained a lot about how things work here, the way people are, and how he came to be where he is in life. I don’t think that all of the volunteers have had this opportunity to really connect with the local culture. I believe that he and I will continue to be friends outside of “work” so my cultural submersion will continue even past this trip which makes me very happy. Eduardo is really an amazing man full of love and compassion for other people. I only hope that I can be as successful at serving others as he is.
I am in awe of the support that all of you have given me throughout this experience. I am so very blessed to have the friends that I have and that all of you would allow me to represent all of you, the United States, and humanity in the way that I have served here. I have shared ideas with Eduardo about possibly starting my own NGO and I am excited to be able to give this some more thought in the future. It all starts with the kindness you have all shown me. Thank you, my friends. From the bottom of my heart…THANK YOU!
Week 2, Day 4
Today I skipped breakfast again. I just can’t get used to the food here no matter how hard I try. I had brought some granola bars and some other snacks with me from home and I stuck with that this morning. It was nice to have something familiar. I am 3 days away from some honey nut cheerios and I am almost delirious with anticipation. I think I will make sure that Aaron stops on the way home from the airport so I can get a fresh box and a fresh gallon of milk!
Today was a very interesting day at the nursing home. We skipped serving breakfast. Probably not the best thing to admit but I think Justin and I both felt like we just couldn’t do that for one more day. I’m glad there are people in the world who can – but we are not those people. We went directly to the laundry room to spend some time with Maria and fold clothes. We were there a while when the physical therapists came to get us so we could finally do some sidewalk chalk on the walls! It was awesome! Turns out that there were a couple of residents in the crowd who were artists and I got some great pictures of their work.
The best part of the day though was a tour of the worst part of town. Eduardo, the nursing home director felt that it would be beneficial for us to see where a lot of the residents of the nursing home come from. It is an incredibly poor area. He talked to us some about the social issues that surround the reasons for their poverty, and Justin and I got into a pretty heated debate about poverty in Costa Rica vs. poverty in America. I feel that the only difference between the two places is the fact that in America there is more relief available for people that are underprivileged. In Costa Rica there are very few resources for them to go to when they are experiencing hardship. It was interesting to see that area, and to reflect on what all I am privileged to have. I am very blessed to live where I live and to have the luxuries that I have. For those of you who doubt the power of gratitude, you should come here and see the conditions that these people live in. Every single one of you are wealthy – whether you want to believe it or not – YOU ARE. I will be posting pictures of this area later today. I am very grateful to Eduardo for taking us to see this area. It is a dangerous place to be, and is NOT sanitary. Nobody else would have taken us there and it was extremely beneficial to see what other people have to go through just to survive. Thank you Eduardo. You are an amazing person and have taught me more than I thought I would ever get to learn on this trip.
Upon return to the nursing home, we finished doing chalk drawings with the residents, I went back to the laundry room while Justin worked with the residents more. Maria was not feeling well today so I did a lot of that on my own. It was insightful in the sense that I was able to experience what Maria experiences every day when we are not there. After Justin was able to return to the laundry room to help, Eduardo came to the laundry room and we started talking and joking. He was teasing Justin a lot and we had a lot of fun laughing about Justin’s “Taco Bell” and “Burger King” face. Just was a good sport about it and took it all in stride – but did say a few choice words to Eduardo in Italian. I don’t know what he said which is probably good because he wouldn’t be happy with me reporting it here. Haha!
Our time went quickly today. It is difficult not to think about tomorrow being our last day at the nursing home. I have come to love these residents so much. I will miss them greatly when I am gone. Eduardo has assured me that they will remember us. He said that a few of them would know me again if I were to return even a long time from now. Eduardo has also told us that we are the craziest volunteers that he has had at the nursing home. Are you surprised? J I think Justin and I are both very animated and laugh a lot so I know in my heart that we have brought joy to this place. Even to some of the employees.
I am anticipating going home, but dread leaving tomorrow as well…I am torn between love and love. Not a bad place to be at all.
Week 2 Day 5
Got on the scale at the nursing home today to discover that I have lost 6 pounds in two weeks and I’m positive it has something to do with not eating breakfast every day. I’m always looking for that silver lining! Can hardly wait to get home to some honey nut cheerios!! It’s so close now that I am finding myself salivating when I think about American food.
Today was an extremely emotional day for me at the nursing home. Justin and I spent some time assisting residents at breakfast and then went directly to the laundry room to help out there. Our time didn’t last long there though as we were called outside to play games with the residents. We got our old dominoes pals together and played several games of dominoes. I am happy to say that I am the reigning champion with eight wins! Mike, one of our favorite residents, had seven wins and we were neck and neck with wins the whole time we were playing. The fun that these gentlemen have playing this game is incredible! The dominoes even belong to one of the men and he keeps them in his room. People like their hobbies, and dominoes is it for these fellows. I feel lucky to have been able to share in their domino time and watch as they “live it up” and get animated just by playing a very simple game.
When we were finished playing dominoes, we helped feed the mid morning snack to the residents. There is one resident, Javier, who spoke volumes to me with only one sentence today. He is the one that I told you all about in one of my first posts – he speaks a little bit of English but most of the time when he speaks it he begins to cry. As I was feeding him, he stopped me and said (in English), “I think I love you too much”, and had tears in his eyes again. I told him that I loved him too and the reality of us leaving truly began to sink in at that moment. The residents here do know us, whether they are cognitive or not, they can sense our presence there. The funny thing is that shortly after that, Javier actually cussed Justin out in English – several times! It was so funny to hear such awful words coming out of the mouth of the man who had just expressed himself so beautifully only minutes before. Justin took it all in great stride though and we got a hearty laugh out of it.
We then realized that our workday would be over in about an hour and decided to start saying our goodbyes. We said goodbye to a few of the residents, one of which told us that it was sunny when we were there, and rainy when we were gone. It was a simply way of saying that she enjoyed our time there, and I really wish that I had the language skills to say something as beautiful as that in return. We thanked her and hugged her and made our way to another resident, one of the sweet old women who was always so sweet and filled to the brim with grace. She started speaking to me and even though I could not understand her words, I knew she was thanking me for our service and blessing my return trip home. That’s when the tears started to flow. After that we said our goodbyes to Maria, which only made matters worse since we had come to know her fairly well in our time there. I am going to miss her laughter and her smiling face every day! Then we moved on to Eduardo, the director of the facility. He sat us down to talk to us and ask us about our experience at Hogar Manos de Jesus. Justin went ahead and answered him but I just couldn’t do it. I was so emotional!!! Eduardo is so sweet and kind and he just allowed me to cry and not answer the question, knowing full well that I would be posting about my feelings online. I am so glad to have had the privilege to work with such a man. I am excited to know that my friendship will continue with him past our volunteer time there.
As we were finishing up with Eduardo, I asked him to please talk to Juan for me (the resident who looks so much life my father). I wanted to ask him some questions and have Eduardo interpret for me. A couple of years ago, when my father was sick and dying in the hospital, I had this fantasy that at some point my Dad was going to look at me and just give me some advice on life – maybe one simple rule to live by for the rest of my life. As my Dad became more and more ill, that moment never came, but I have always wondered what his advice might have been to live life the “right” way. So, I asked Eduardo to talk to Juan and ask him if he had any advice for me. Eduardo explained the situation to him and the two of them spoke for a few minutes and finally Juan said to me, “I don’t have to tell you to be a good girl because you already ARE a good girl.” While I believe that Justin and I had an amazing opportunity to touch the lives of the residents and exceeded the expectations for doing so, this moment was by far, one of the more moving moments of my life and was the main “personal” reason for to have made this trip. I truly believe that it was the spirit of my father talking to me, telling me not to worry. Not to analyze life so much. To just continue on the road I have been traveling and everything would be OK. Juan then asked me to send him some cards after I returned home to the United States and I fully intend to stay in touch with my Costa Rican father. He is a beautiful man, and I will never forget how much he touched me during my time in Costa Rica. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to my Father the first time, and then my Mother after that. Leaving Juan today felt as if I was saying goodbye to another parent all over again. I gave him a hug, a long loving hug, and it was unbearably hard to leave his side.
After I spoke with Juan, I walked up to Mike, who is another one of my favorite residents. He is the man who came so close to beating me at dominoes, the man who greeted us every single morning by name and in English, the man who asked me to marry him! Haha! I gave him a hug and told him that I loved him very much. And do you know what he said back to me? He looked me straight in the eye and said only one word, “Remember.” I was pretty much sobbing at this point and reassured him that I would remember forever – and then left Hogar Manos de Jesus for what will probably be the last time in my life.
That one word says it all. REMEMBER to love your neighbor as yourself. REMEMBER that there is always, always, always something to be grateful for. And most of all, REMEMBER that LOVE has, does, and always will reign triumphant. Remember, my friends. Remember.