January in Review

As usual, I am forgetful and late and even a little bit lazy…but here is the month of January in photo review. I was able to ring in the New Year and celebrate in the coolest place ever, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador!

Paz y bien.

We celebrated 3 Kings Day by going to a waterpark!

We celebrated 3 Kings Day by going to a waterpark!

Everyone, young or old(er), enjoyed the day.

Everyone, young or old(er), enjoyed the day.

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Sitting on the back of a larger than life giraffe statue, looking cool.

Sitting on the back of a larger than life giraffe statue, looking cool.

He kept teasing her, and then threw her shoes in the pool. So she answered back by shoving him in to retrieve the shoes!

He kept teasing her, and then threw her shoes in the pool. So she answered back by shoving him in to retrieve the shoes!

It was Tío Ole’s (our national director) birthday, so we celebrated with some songs and a sweet treat for everyone. Each house took turns giving him a nice card and saying a little something.

It was Tío Ole’s (our national director) birthday, so we celebrated with some songs and a sweet treat for everyone. Each house took turns giving him a nice card and saying a little something.

They look THRILLED to be eating lunch.

They look THRILLED to be eating lunch.

It’s the story of my life, always ruining pictures with my squinty eye syndrome. So I overcompensated in this one, haha.

It’s the story of my life, always ruining pictures with my squinty eye syndrome. So I overcompensated in this one, haha.

Sweet sisters

Sweet sisters

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January birthday party shenanigans!

January birthday party shenanigans!

Improvisation at its best. When there’s no ladder, use a high chair haha.

Improvisation at its best. When there’s no ladder, use a high chair haha.

That was the toughest piñata to break. Ever.

That was the toughest piñata to break. Ever.

The girls getting pumped for the marathon. We opened the school year and welcomed each other back with a nice little run around the community. It’s also part of one of several events we’ve got planned as a way to build up to our 15th anniversary celebration in June!

The girls getting pumped for the marathon. We opened the school year and welcomed each other back with a nice little run around the community. It’s also part of one of several events we’ve got planned as a way to build up to our 15th anniversary celebration in June!

Twins. These guys are just awesome, even when they’re not matching.

Twins. These guys are just awesome, even when they’re not matching.

…aaaand they’re off!

…aaaand they’re off!

First place winner for the 2 kilometer race! Her older sister would later win the 8 kilometer distance.

First place winner for the 2 kilometer race! Her older sister would later win the 8 kilometer distance.

Our university students helping the younger kids make their way to the finish line.

Our university students helping the younger kids make their way to the finish line.

The boy in white had long finished his 8km race when he saw the boy in the striped shirt come in, struggling to finish. So he came and helped him finish! That’s just one reason why I love it here.

The boy in white had long finished his 8km race when he saw the boy in the striped shirt come in, struggling to finish. So he came and helped him finish! That’s just one reason why I love it here.

Caught off guard, being silly, as usual.

Caught off guard, being silly, as usual.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

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Like A Speck of Dust

One night after dinner as I was standing outside talking to a friend, the power suddenly went out all over campus. Floodlights on buildings, interior lights, the few streetlights we have…all of it was gone in a matter of seconds.

This has happened before, but the few times that it has, we have all been together so usually the screams, shouts, and shrieks of joy mixed with those of terror are much louder. This time however the reaction was quieter as it was after we had all mostly dispersed for dinner so there wasn’t too much activity going on. The younger kids had already gone back to the houses, and the older kids who were in charge of the dishes that night were busy carrying things from the cancha to the kitchen.

We are so very fortunate right now that it isn’t the rainy season because it means we can eat dinner outside every night, gathered as one big family instead of eating it separate sides of the cafeteria, with the babies eating in their own little cafeteria at their house. When I got here in June, we rarely ate outside during the week for dinner, and if we did, it was always on the weekends weather permitting of course. It hasn’t rained in 4 months, save for one random night last weekend, and even then it was a surprise and short-lived burst of hard rain.

All that said, instead of finding myself in the kitchen or in the house, I was in the middle of the street when the lights went out. Immediately, I looked up and gasped.

The night was almost cloudless. I had ringside seats to a beautiful night sky. For the first time in a long time, I found myself standing slack jawed in amazement, just staring at the stars. Now, we’ve had plenty of beautiful night skies here, but this was the first night I can recall not being under the trees or at the cancha (where we turn on the stadium lights); it was the first time I did not have an obstructed view. No trees, no lights. Just the stars.

And it was awesome.

Have you ever considered just how tiny we really are? In comparison to how big the world is, nay, how the big the universe is?

At that particular moment, I felt so very tiny. Not in a bad way, but in a very good way. A fulfilled way. I was filled with a sense of understanding, albeit just a tiny bit more, of who I am and where I am in all of this.

After gleefully telling my friend to look up at the sky, I laughed at his bewildered reaction to my unrestrained excitement and awe. He said, why are you so happy about the sky? In reply I said, “look at how BEAUTIFUL the sky is. Doesn’t it just make you think about how small we really are?” Then he too looked up at the sky and became real quiet for a few moments. I took that for understanding and for contemplation. Though he’s younger than me by just a few years, this friend of mine has suffered a lot in his life. Much more than I would think humanly possible. I don’t think he’s ever just looked at the sky, the way we both did that night.

A little while later, I remarked that, even if the night sky was cloudless, I often didn’t see stars back home, at least when I lived in the city during college. Light pollution isn’t just about obscuring the pretty view. I think it takes away from views that have the power to change people or to at least wake them up from whatever stupor they’ve been in.

It wasn’t just a breathtaking view. It was a healing view. It was something that reminded me that I am just tiny speck in the grand scheme of things, that I am here and want to be here to do my part, in whichever way the Lord calls me to.

I walked back to the house humming “I Like Giants” by Kimya Dawson. Rather than just share one line or two, here are the lyrics to the whole song. The entire song itself speaks to the night sky moment, of my place in the world, of your place in the world, and everything in between.

When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road, turn out the lights, get out and look up at the sky
And I do this to remind me that I’m really, really tiny
In the grand scheme of things and sometimes this terrifies me

But it’s only really scary cause it makes me feel serene
In a way I never thought I’d be because I’ve never been
So grounded, and so humbled, and so one with everything
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything

Rock and roll is fun but if you ever hear someone
Say you are huge, look at the moon, look at the stars, look at the sun
Look at the ocean and the desert and the mountains and the sky
Say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye

When I saw Geneviève I really liked it when she said
What she said about the giant and the lemmings on the cliff
She said ‘I like giants
Especially girl giants
Cause all girls feel too big sometimes
Regardless of their size’

When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road and run and jump into the ocean in my clothes
I’m smaller than a poppy seed inside a great big bowl
And the ocean is a giant that can swallow me whole

So I swim for all salvation and I swim to save my soul
But my soul is just a whisper trapped inside a tornado
So I flip to my back and I float and I sing
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything

So I talked to Geneviève and almost cried when she said
That the giant on the cliff wished that she was dead
And the lemmings on the cliff wished that they were dead
So the giant told the lemmings why they ought to live instead

When she thought up all those reasons that they ought to live instead
It made her reconsider all the sad thoughts in her head
So thank you Geneviève, cause you take what is in your head
you make things that are so beautiful and share them with your friends

We all become important when we realize our goal
Should be to figure out our role within the context of the whole
And yeah, rock and roll is fun, but if you ever hear someone
Say you are huge, look at the moon, look at the stars, look at the sun
Look at the ocean and the desert and the mountains and the sky

Say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
And I don’t wanna make her cry
Cause I like giants

So you see, I am just a speck of dust inside a Giant’s eye. What a great thing it is to be. Grounded. Humbled. One with everything.

P.S. – Don’t forget to go back to the main page to give “I Like Giants” a listen!

Alegría

What is alegría?

In its simplest form or definition, it means joy in Spanish.

The word “joy” is a nice English word in and of itself. For me, it conjures up beautiful images and can be manifested differently. However, as much as I like sound of the word, I’ve come to discover that I much prefer the Spanish word, alegría.

In my time here in El Salvador, being surrounded by and using Spanish, I’ve noticed that I do that a lot lately, prefer Spanish words over English words. Sometimes there are words in Spanish that, for me, capture an entire thought or idea or whatever…that is, what I feel can sometimes be expressed in one or two words in Spanish rather than several words in English. I think that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, back to the point – alegría. According to my experiences in the Spanish-speaking world (and also Merriam-Webster’s Spanish dictionary), alegría is defined as: joy, cheer, happiness.

Joy, cheer, happiness

Now, there are other, similar words such as: gozo, felicidad, placer. But for some reason, for me, alegría just does it for me. If words could “get” people, then alegría gets me. Know what I’m saying?

In my almost 8 months here, I’ve had an infinite number of joyful moments. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately though because of two things in particular – a conversation and a photograph.

It was no surprise for me that when I got here, there would be children that wouldn’t want to talk, that wouldn’t come up and ask me millions of questions. There are shy kids, quiet kids…kids just like I was. Well, just like I am. Whatever the reasons may be, we’re just quiet with and around each other. Here’s an example from a previous post:

…almost 5 months had passed when one of the older girls finally opened up and started talking with me; at least it became more than just saying hello in passing. Just a few weeks ago, she felt comfortable enough with me to cry on my shoulder. I would never have expected that when I first met her.

In addition to shy, quiet, and/or reserved kids, the other issue is that I don’t see the university students very often. Those few that I have made connections with just so happened to have stayed here at our main facility for an extended amount of time; or, they were here finishing their years of service and have just recently left the campus to go study and live in our university houses in Santa Ana.

So, it wasn’t until the days leading up to Christmas that I created a bond with two of the university guys. For whatever reason, we just clicked and now get along swimmingly. We’re able to joke and tease each other, but we can also talk about serious things or subjects with much depth.

They both left not too long ago, at different times. The one guy returned for the weekend the other day, and we picked up our usual banter as if he hadn’t left and been away for a few weeks. That moment in itself was joyful and full of alegría when I ran into him.

However, it wasn’t until the conversation left its usual lightheartedness and became serious that I fully understood what alegría is. I’m not one to betray confidences, so I won’t discuss what he and I talked about. Suffice to say though, it was a very deep and beautiful conversation.

It’s not very often (really, ever) that I get those moments with the pequeños. Where all the barriers are down, and life is looked at and discussed for what it is.

That is alegría. Being human. Being human and sharing the human experience with someone.

It is being able to be trusted and confided in. It is joyful, full of cheer, full of happiness. And everything else that I simply can’t put into words. Oh how I wish you all could just feel what I feel by being here!

So there’s the first thing – the conversation. The easier and shorter moment to share with you is a photograph. Well, I lied. It’s multiple photographs…

This is the picture I intially thought of. Keep thinking about it, honestly. She's just so alive and joyful. Alegría.

This is the picture I intially thought of. Keep thinking about it, honestly. She’s just so alive and joyful. Alegría.

You see...

You see…

...what I mean?

…what I mean?

I know for a fact that I didn’t do the word and the meaning justice, but it’s my attempt nonetheless. Alegría, what a wonderful thing.

December in Review

While I shared a lot of pictures in my Christmas-related post, I just couldn’t leave these gems behind! Oh and there are some events/activities pictured here that I didn’t mention in the previous post.

So here is a glimpse of my time at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador in the month of December, in photo review…

Coloring some neat Christmas drawings with the girls one afternoon

Coloring some neat Christmas drawings with the girls one afternoon

With 2 of my dear friends from the office at the employee Christmas party

With 2 of my dear friends from the office at the employee Christmas party

Almost all of the employees (caregivers, office staff, clinic staff, cafeteria staff, teachers, psychologists, and directors – we’re missing some of the maintenance and farm employees as well as a few nurses) …I think we’re around 100 people or so.

Almost all of the employees (caregivers, office staff, clinic staff, cafeteria staff, teachers, psychologists, and directors – we’re missing some of the maintenance and farm employees as well as a few nurses) …I think we’re around 100 people or so.

Blah! Love it.

Blah! Love it.

This picture makes me smile. Every month our national director hands out candy to the kids who are celebrating birthdays. He was teasing these boys and said they shouldn’t get any since we lost the international fútbol tournament the month before, haha!

This picture makes me smile. Every month our national director hands out candy to the kids who are celebrating birthdays. He was teasing these boys and said they shouldn’t get any since we lost the international fútbol tournament the month before, haha!

We didn’t plan to dress alike (even our hair was done the same!), but what we enjoyed more than that was discovering that we have the same tan lines on our feet…haha.

We didn’t plan to dress alike (even our hair was done the same!), but what we enjoyed more than that was discovering that we have the same tan lines on our feet…haha.

The 3 amigas!

The 3 amigas!

Tío/Tía Christmas party, complete with embarrassing games! We refer to all the caregivers as Tío or Tía.

Tío/Tía Christmas party, complete with embarrassing games! We refer to all the caregivers as Tío or Tía.

All of us minus the one taking the picture!

All of us minus the one taking the picture!

They're so much fun. The 2 on the left are former pequeñas who are now employees. The one on the right is a university student who also works at our home. They’re all so wonderful!

They’re so much fun. The 2 on the left are former pequeñas who are now employees. The one on the right is a university student who also works at our home. They’re all so wonderful!

Me with all of the tías of Casa Santa María

Me with all of the tías of Casa Santa María

I made this one day while I sharpened a humongous box of colored pencils. I learned the coloring trick after watching the kids decorate so many letters. It’s quite nifty and cool!

I made this one day while I sharpened a humongous box of colored pencils. I learned the coloring trick after watching the kids decorate so many letters. It’s quite nifty and cool!

Goofing around in the cafeteria while doing letters…

Goofing around in the cafeteria while doing letters…

Waiting around for an activity to begin

Waiting around for an activity to begin

We went to the river a lot in December. This is the first time I went with all of the kids (that other time was at a different location farther upstream with just the youth group), so it was a lot more fun because all of the girls who couldn’t swim well or who just wanted me to cart them around kept me occupied the entire time. In this photo, there are 3 girls attached to me.

We went to the river a lot in December. This is the first time I went with all of the kids (that other time was at a different location farther upstream with just the youth group), so it was a lot more fun because all of the girls who couldn’t swim well or who just wanted me to cart them around kept me occupied the entire time. In this photo, there are 3 girls attached to me.

This picture is misleading, as there is a 5th girl attached, you just can’t see her! But oh how much fun I had. I was really sore for the next few days though, haha.

This picture is misleading, as there is a 5th girl attached, you just can’t see her! But oh how much fun I had. I was really sore for the next few days though, haha.

The older girls wanted me to jump off the bank with them, but first I had to climb up…with their help and way too much laughter.

The older girls wanted me to jump off the bank with them, but first I had to climb up…with their help and way too much laughter.

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Our choir went to a local hospital to sing at Mass and then go caroling in different locations within the hospital.

Our choir went to a local hospital to sing at Mass and then go caroling in different locations within the hospital.

They were so good and everyone was rather impressed!

They were so good and everyone was rather impressed!

At the end of every set, they sang “Feliz Navidad and Prospero Año” and threw their Santa hats in the air.

At the end of every set, they sang “Feliz Navidad and Prospero Año” and threw their Santa hats in the air.

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Love it.

Love it.

Every year on Fr. Wasson’s birthday, we have Mass and then remember him in a special and fun way by eating his favorite treat afterward…donuts!

Every year on Fr. Wasson’s birthday, we have Mass and then remember him in a special and fun way by eating his favorite treat afterward…donuts!

The girls being silly (and strong)

The girls being silly (and strong)

With my most favorite little one! I love her smile.

With my most favorite little one! I love her smile.

Christmas decorations at work!

Christmas decorations at work!

Last day of work before Christmas! We even matched (not on purpose – that’s how cool we are)

Last day of work before Christmas! We even matched (not on purpose – that’s how cool we are)

The next few photos are from dinner on Christmas Eve. Almost all the younger girls wore pink, fuchsia, or purple!

The next few photos are from dinner on Christmas Eve. Almost all the younger girls wore pink, fuchsia, or purple!

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Second trip to the river. This time the boys came.

Second trip to the river. This time the boys came.

My brother and me. He said, “hey Ashley climb up the bank and jump with me! Right now!!!” Of course, he had to help me climb up the bank haha. The picture isn’t very good, but it’s still a nice reminder of the fun we all had that afternoon.

My brother and me. He said, “hey Ashley climb up the bank and jump with me! Right now!!!” Of course, he had to help me climb up the bank haha. The picture isn’t very good, but it’s still a nice reminder of the fun we all had that afternoon.

With my friend and favorite tía!

With my friend and favorite tía!

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot (Not) Like Christmas – In a Good Way

The Christmas season and experience here in El Salvador was excellent, awesome, and at some points it seemed altogether unreal. So why did I paint my Christmas experience with such terms? One would think Christmas is Christmas…right?

Wrong.

Sure, the feast day itself is the same. It is the recognition of, remembrance of, and opening of our hearts to the coming of and birth of Christ.

Unfortunately, this world-altering day isn’t celebrated the way it ought to be in many places, and I’ll come right out and say that the United States is one of those places. For quite some time now, I’ve felt that the US is a little too commercialized in its celebration of Christmas. From my perspective, too much is placed on the value and quantity of things that one receives (or even gives) during the season. The center and focus is not the Church and Jesus, but instead is a store and a sweet deal.

This sentiment was confirmed after experiencing Christmas here in El Salvador at NPH.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family’s traditions, and I still believe in the magic of Santa Claus. I’m blessed to have the family that I do because we value the time we have with each other; my grandparents come over to our house in the morning and then we go to theirs later in the day. We celebrate my Grandpa’s birthday, since he’s so cool that his birthday falls on Christmas. We open presents, but we also go to Mass. We also have a terrible tradition of at least one person being miserably sick each year. I think I started that tradition, haha.

Anyway, I think what I’ve been hungering for is a culture that places more emphasis where it rightly belongs, on Christ. I found that culture here in El Salvador and especially here at NPH.

The quite beautiful and large nativity scene just outside of the cafeteria

The quite beautiful and large nativity scene just outside of the cafeteria

We began the season with the novena for Our Lady of Guadalupe, which started on December 4th.  Every night, a different house or group of employees was in charge of leading the novena. A novena is a special prayer and devotion that lasts for nine days; in this case, the novena was for Our Lady of Guadalupe, asking for her intercession for us. So we all gathered and prayed the rosary together, and afterwards we had a little snack. What I particularly enjoyed witnessing was the community novena, in which we invited those who live along the road outside of our home to come in and pray with us. We then served them dinner.

With boys before the novena, waiting for the others to arrive.

With boys before the novena, waiting for the others to arrive.

Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of the boys’ home – Casa San José

Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of the boys’ home – Casa San José

With the boys who led the rosary on the first night of the novena (and the house director too)

With the boys who led the rosary on the first night of the novena (and the house director too)

Second day of the novena, this time held at the girls’ house – Casa Santa María. Here’s my living room!

Second day of the novena, this time held at the girls’ house – Casa Santa María. Here’s my living room!

With the girls who led the rosary

With the girls who led the rosary

Third day of the novena, held at the babies’ house – Casa Niño Jesús

Third day of the novena, held at the babies’ house – Casa Niño Jesús

You see! Father Wasson’s practice of unconditional love isn’t just within the confines of NPH, but instead extends itself into the practice of loving your neighbors.

On the night of the community novena, serving food to the community members who came

On the night of the community novena, serving food to the community members who came

I’m pretty sure this is from the night the novena was held by the year of service pequeños. Every night the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was place in a different area and decorated differently.

I’m pretty sure this is from the night the novena was held by the year of service pequeños. Every night the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was place in a different area and decorated differently.

The novena finished on December 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day, and in addition to the rosary, a mixture of high school students and year of service pequeños did a nice dramatization of the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady’s appearances to him.

The final night of the novena, held by the cafeteria staff. Here are some photos from the production of the story of St. Juan Diego

The final night of the novena, held by the cafeteria staff. Here are some photos from the production of the story of St. Juan Diego

DSC_1565 DSC_1578Another really cool thing that we did was the posadas. A posada is an activity in which we remember the journey Joseph and Mary took just before Jesus was born. A group seeking a place to stay goes house to house, asking for a room. The occupants deny the travelers, and this is all done in song. The different parties sing a number of stanzas back and forth (the ask, then the refusal), until the traveling party moves on to the final home. When the group is finally granted room and received into the home, there is usually some kind of fun activity or party and of course, food. Posadas are usually done in the week leading up to Christmas, with the last posada falling on Christmas Eve.

So in our case here at NPH, the different houses took turns hosting the posada and being the traveling party. For example, our first posada was done by Casa San José, which is our boys’ house. They went singing to Casa Niño Jesús (the babies’ house) and then to Casa Santa María (the girls’ house). After they were refused entrance, they traveled to la cancha (the playing courts) where everyone was waiting for them. At la cancha, they were finally welcomed and given a room.

The boys arriving at the babies’ house to begin the posada

The boys arriving at the babies’ house to begin the posada

The babies, year of service girls, and tías on the other side waiting to refuse the traveler’s request

The babies, year of service girls, and tías on the other side waiting to refuse the traveler’s request

The boys on their way to the girls’ house, with images of Joseph and Mary up front

The boys on their way to the girls’ house, with images of Joseph and Mary up front

Attempt #2 at lodging

Attempt #2 at lodging

Yay! They finally found a place to stay…

Yay! They finally found a place to stay…

After everyone took a seat in la cancha, some of the boys put on a little skit and dance. It was great! Their creativity always surprises me, and as always, they made the crowd laugh. After the presentation, we began with the piñatas! Every section of boys and girls got their own piñata, so breaking those took some time. Once they were all done, we had dinner outside (it hasn’t rained in 2 months, so we’ve been able to eat outside almost every night.)

Their skit was about the value of Christmas and about a young boy who learned the value of giving rather than receiving

Their skit was about the value of Christmas and about a young boy who learned the value of giving rather than receiving

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And now, for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dance!

And now, for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dance!

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With the boys after their skit and dance

With the boys after their skit and dance

Only the beginning of a week full of piñatas and lots of candy…

Only the beginning of a week full of piñatas and lots of candy…

One of the year of service boys really enjoying his job of working the piñata

One of the year of service boys really enjoying his job of working the piñata

In total, we had 5 posadas. And again, displaying that wonderful NPH spirit and love, we had a posada for the community one night. I missed the girls’ posada because I was quite ill one afternoon/night, but I was fortunate to see their dance during the last posada a few days later. The last one was held in honor of the Hermanos Mayores (big/older brothers and sisters), who are former pequeños. We had about 25 come for Mass and then the posada, and because it was the last one, all of the houses performed their dramas/skits/dances.

The community posada

The community posada

More chaos and candy!

More chaos and candy!

The posada for “Hermanos Mayores”

The posada for “Hermanos Mayores”

Inside the babies house, waiting to refuse the traveler’s request for a room

Inside the babies house, waiting to refuse the traveler’s request for a room

Piñatas, piñatas, and more piñatas

Piñatas, piñatas, and more piñatas

The babies’ house did a dance about the 3 Kings

The babies’ house did a dance about the 3 Kings

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The girls’ did a fun and comical dance with Santa as the star

The girls’ did a fun and comical dance with Santa as the star

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

I never tire of watching kids snatch up candy after a piñata breaks.

I never tire of watching kids snatch up candy after a piñata breaks.

The boys taking care of business and demolishing the piñata in record time.

The boys taking care of business and demolishing the piñata in record time.

On Christmas Eve morning, all of the children assembled in our multipurpose room to receive their gifts. It took less than an hour to hand them all out, especially because many of our children are not here right now and are instead on vacation with any family members they may have (who are capable of hosting them for a short time.) I was expecting Christmastime to be a bit sad, what with us missing almost half the population, but it was far from being sad. I was also unsure about their reactions…admittedly, I’m used to multiple presents under the tree, not just one item (although their bags had tons of cool stuff inside!) From my perspective, it seemed quite joyful and full of laughter.

Handing out gifts on Christmas Eve morning

Handing out gifts on Christmas Eve morning

DSC_3866 DSC_3873 DSC_3959Later that night, we had Mass in near darkness, with just a few candles to illuminate the altar and the choir. It was unimaginably beautiful. I returned to my seat after serving as a Eucharistic minister and closed my eyes. The children were singing and it seemed as if I were in the largest cathedral ever built with the biggest choir in the world. The sound lifted us up into the night sky.

Our manger scene in front of the altar

Our manger scene in front of the altar

The church just before the kids came

The church just before the kids came

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The church just before the last lights were turned off and Mass began

The church just before the last lights were turned off and Mass began

After Mass, our walk to la cancha was lit up by a few hundred candles. We prayed and then ate a traditional dinner. After dessert, we all piled onto one side of the court to watch the fireworks.

These 2 university students saved me a spot and grabbed a plate of food for me at dinner since I was walking around taking pictures. So sweet!

These 2 university students saved me a spot and grabbed a plate of food for me at dinner since I was walking around taking pictures. So sweet!

Fireworks!

Fireworks!

Yes! Fireworks. That’s a Christmas tradition I’ll take to the bank, and I think the United States should definitely adopt it, of course! What’s better than fireworks on the eve of Christ’s birthday?

We were all out later than usual that night, but I stayed out even later and hung out with two of my friends, watching a movie (one is a nurse/tía who was a former pequeña here and the other is a university student/pequeña who also works at the home.) I didn’t go to bed until around 12:30am.

For me, our Christmas Eve celebration felt more like Christmas Day back in the United States. Christmas Day was actually like a normal day here, the only exception being that we woke up and ate breakfast much later than usual.

The many traditions I experienced truly lengthened the Christmas season and celebration for me. Instead of just one thing or a singular event with many parts, like Mass on Christmas Eve/Day and then the opening of presents, the entire month of December seemed like one big long celebration interwoven with various events and activities that combined the Divine with the rich cultural and secular festivities.

And I really, really love that.

Paz y bien.

The Value of a Despedida

*Despedida means farewell or goodbye in Spanish.

In the more than 6 months that I have been here, I’ve left the NPH campus for various things: monthly birthday celebrations with the kids, several trips to the immigration office in the capital, extracurricular/off-site activities with the youth group, and a handful of times with visitors to do special tourist-y type excursions with them. Those brief trips away have all been day trips more or less; sometimes they’re just in the morning or in the afternoon, so I’m not even gone that long.

I have left for the entire weekend (which for me and how transportation works, is from Friday night until Monday morning) 3 times since I arrived on June 10th: July during the city’s patron saint’s festival weekend/celebration, September during Independence Day celebrations, and then in the beginning of October.

With those weekends “off”, I made a point to tell the people that needed to know (that is, the directors of the house where I live and my supervisor) that I was leaving and when I’d be back. Along the way, some of the kids found out. It was never my intention for the kids to not know or keep it a secret; of course they would realize when I wasn’t at meals or outside playing or whatever, that I wasn’t here. It’s impossible for me to tell each and every pequeño that I’m leaving for the weekend. So I wrongly assumed that I could rely on the grapevine to spread the word.

When I’d return, there was some surprise and conversation about where I had been. In fact, when I came back from my first weekend away, some kids thought that I had left and gone back to the United States. I laughed and said no, but whenever that time comes, I would of course say goodbye to you before I left, silly!

But my nonchalance about announcing that I would be leaving backfired on me when I left for more than a weekend.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to Guatemala for 6 days. It was a working vacation, more or less, and I found out that I had to go around 12 hours before I had to leave! I almost didn’t have time to catch up with myself after hearing the exciting news, let alone tell the kids. So I made my usual rounds and told the people that needed to know that I would be leaving. I can’t remember how many kids I told, but it was far less than the usual. Again, I relied on the grapevine to do the rest of the work for me in my absence.

The trip was great. I was able to visit another NPH home (which I’ve wanted to do for a long time – it’s my dream to see all 9 homes!) and experience the beauty of Antigua and then also Lake Atitlán and its quaint little towns all along the shore, mainly Panajachel, San Juan, San Jose and Santiago. It was a wonderful time.

During the course of the trip, I realized that as much fun as I was having, I actually missed being in El Salvador. I don’t know why that came as a surprise to me, but it was nonetheless. I was happy to return home.

Some of the girls met me at the gate and helped me carry my things. We were all chatty, and it was great. They surprisingly didn’t know where I had been, but it didn’t matter to them. They just asked tons of questions about the trip.

Later that night, I went to stand with my section, las chicas, while the girls lined up for prayer before going to dinner. Some of them came over and were also very talkative. I immensely enjoyed being back home with them and sharing my experience with them.

However, over the course of the night and the next few days, I realized that one of the girls wouldn’t speak to me. I repeatedly tried to engage her in conversations, and I was always shut down.

The more this occurred, the more distraught and frustrated I became. It was particularly hard for me because this girl is one of my favorites, and she happens to bear a striking resemblance to my youngest sister.

I finally asked one of the tías in charge of the section to help me, because I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Had I done something before I left without realizing? Did I do something when I got back? I had no clue. In talking with the tía, I thought the girl’s silence might have been because of my abrupt disappearance for 6 days. So for the next few days, I left the girl alone and let the tía do her investigative work.

After all was said and done, the official reason was that she was embarrassed/too shy to talk with me in front of the others. Unbeknownst to me, either while I was gone or even before I left, some of the girls had been teasing her that I was her mother (a highly sensitive subject, given the circumstances and her presence here…if you catch my drift). We don’t look too much alike, but we’re both called “chelita” because we have light/white/fair skin. So it isn’t too much of a stretch for the kids to make that nonexistent mother-daughter connection, seeing as she and I are part of a very small group of fair-skinned members of the NPH El Salvador family.

Anyway, I accepted that reason. Things got better between the two of us and have certainly improved, though it isn’t quite like it was before I left for Guatemala the first time.

I still can’t help but think that my unexpected and unannounced absence for a week caused part of the communication problem with her. It had to have played some role.

I’ve come to learn that relationships and communication are incredibly intricate and so valuable here. Building trust with some of these kids takes time and effort, especially given some of their backgrounds and personal histories. So each new interaction or deeper conversation with any of the children for me is a victory because that means we are getting closer and leaving superficiality behind.

For example, almost 5 months had passed when one of the older girls finally opened up and started talking with me; at least it became more than just saying hello in passing. Just a few weeks ago, she felt comfortable enough with me to cry on my shoulder. I would never have expected that when I first met her.

I studied interpersonal communication in college, and I absolutely loved it. In hindsight I feel like an idiot for not realizing this sooner, but the value of saying goodbye is incredibly important not just in dealing with delicate relationships with children and their possible issues of abandonment and trust; but also in every interaction with the ones we love it is incredibly important.

Even if you’re just running next door, going to do errands in the afternoon, leaving for that long-awaited week-long vacation, or moving to another country for at least a year…whatever the context and however long the timeframe, saying goodbye is a good thing to do. Just a quick acknowledgement that you love that person and you’ll be back or see them soon can make a difference. Not only does it reaffirm that connection and bond you share, but it also could be a source of comfort if something were to happen to you. Leaving without saying goodbye robs a person of a certain kind of closure, I think anyway.

Know the value of a despedida.

It’s important.

Torneo de Fútbol

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent the last week of November at NPH Guatemala, for the 7th annual NPH International Soccer Tournament. The tournament is held every year in honor of NPH founder, Fr. William Wasson. Five of the nine homes join together to play a lot of fútbol, laugh, and so much more.

This year, the tournament was named after Ryan Rossi, and NPH was so blessed and fortunate that the Rossi family could support us. Without them, the tournament would not have been possible. Welcome to our NPH family!

I went with our directors, the drivers, and one of the office employees. So basically, we were the smallest cheering section of the 5 countries, haha. I tagged along to document the experience in addition to helping take care of the girls. It was such an incredible experience on so many different levels! In 6 days time, I took almost 2,600 pictures. That number doesn’t include what I deleted on the go, and I can’t take credit for all of the pictures, as I did hand my camera off to some of the kids who love taking pictures as well.

So, here is the rest of November in photo review – this time from NPH Guatemala!

The boys checking out the field minutes after we got to NPH Guatemala

The boys checking out the field minutes after we got to NPH Guatemala

The weather was much chillier than anything the kids have experienced in El Salvador. For me, it felt like fall in East Tennessee (so, it was awesome, haha), but the girls didn’t let the cold stop them from having fun and being silly the first night there.

The weather was much chillier than anything the kids have experienced in El Salvador. For me, it felt like fall in East Tennessee (so, it was awesome, haha), but the girls didn’t let the cold stop them from having fun and being silly the first night there.

Here I am checking out the week’s schedule, trying to memorize it haha.

Here I am checking out the week’s schedule, trying to memorize it haha.

Looking sharp

Looking sharp

Our teams with the Rossi family parents. They are such a great family!

Our teams with the Rossi family parents. They are such a great family!

This year’s tournament logo

This year’s tournament logo

El Salvador’s first match: our girls versus Guatemala

El Salvador’s first match: our girls versus Guatemala

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Our national director came up behind me and scared me, haha. I’m not crying in this picture, but laughing instead.

Our national director came up behind me and scared me, haha. I’m not crying in this picture, but laughing instead.

The girls won! We started and finished every match the kids played, win or lose, with prayer.

The girls won! We started and finished every match the kids played, win or lose, with prayer.

The boys’ first match was against Mexico.

The boys’ first match was against Mexico.

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Just a few minutes after our loss to Mexico, we went over to watch another game. Here’s one of our kids sitting with one of the players from NPH Mexico. That’s an example of being part of the NPH family right there!

Just a few minutes after our loss to Mexico, we went over to watch another game. Here’s one of our kids sitting with one of the players from NPH Mexico. That’s an example of being part of the NPH family right there!

Oh don’t pay any attention to the awesome backdrop we had over at the girls’ playing field.

Oh don’t pay any attention to the awesome backdrop we had over at the girls’ playing field.

Girls’ first match of the second day of the tournament – versus Nicaragua

Girls’ first match of the second day of the tournament – versus Nicaragua

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Boys’ first match against Guatemala

Boys’ first match against Guatemala

Girls second match of the day – against Honduras. Also, the girl in focus is readying herself to block the kick with her back. She did that countless times during the match. I was so impressed! She never did complain about her back hurting or being sore…I know I would haha.

Girls second match of the day – against Honduras. Also, the girl in focus is readying herself to block the kick with her back. She did that countless times during the match. I was so impressed! She never did complain about her back hurting or being sore…I know I would haha.

The United States, Mexico, and El Salvador all in one.

The United States, Mexico, and El Salvador all in one.

Boys second match of the day – against Honduras

Boys second match of the day – against Honduras

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That’s what I like to see, helping each other out.

That’s what I like to see, helping each other out.

My boys! Such a fierce looking group, no?

My boys! Such a fierce looking group, no?

Boys against Nicaragua for a spot in the semifinals.

Boys against Nicaragua for a spot in the semifinals.

We lost…and closed the game like this.

We lost…and closed the game like this.

“Let’s all pile on Ashley!” What’s unfortunately missing are the photos preceding this event, in which 6 girls all piled on top. We were all hanging out and having fun in the grass, as we had the entire morning/early afternoon free on the third day of the tournament.

“Let’s all pile on Ashley!” What’s unfortunately missing are the photos preceding this event, in which 6 girls all piled on top. We were all hanging out and having fun in the grass, as we had the entire morning/early afternoon free on the third day of the tournament.

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Girls against Mexico for a spot in the semifinals.

Girls against Mexico for a spot in the semifinals.

Culture night. A thorn between 4 roses.

Culture night. A thorn between 4 roses.

Girls game against Guatemala for a spot in the finals. We lost.

Girls game against Guatemala for a spot in the finals. We lost.

I spent my Thanksgiving at NPH and in Antigua! That’s pumpkin pie sitting in front of me 

I spent my Thanksgiving at NPH and in Antigua! That’s pumpkin pie sitting in front of me 

Seconds after the time ran out and the Guatemalan girls won the final match, on their home turf! Congrats.

Seconds after the time ran out and the Guatemalan girls won the final match, on their home turf! Congrats.

The final match between Honduras and Nicaragua was a good one.

The final match between Honduras and Nicaragua was a good one.

The Honduran boys celebrating their win with their national director

The Honduran boys celebrating their win with their national director

More celebrations on the field! This photo makes me happy.

More celebrations on the field! This photo makes me happy.

Both our girls’ and boys’ teams won the “Most Disciplined” award. We’re awesome!

Both our girls’ and boys’ teams won the “Most Disciplined” award. We’re awesome!

It can’t be a journey without at least one meal at Pollo Campero!

It can’t be a journey without at least one meal at Pollo Campero!

With the girls in Antigua’s town center on our fun/outing day in one of my favorite cities

With the girls in Antigua’s town center on our fun/outing day in one of my favorite cities

Taking the traditional photo with the arch in the background

Taking the traditional photo with the arch in the background

We were standing under a tree looking for someone when I turned and saw the bird poop. Haha! He literally just finished making fun of me for having to buy size 41 sandals (like a women’s size 11 in the US) in the market. Payback’s the best.

We were standing under a tree looking for someone when I turned and saw the bird poop. Haha! He literally just finished making fun of me for having to buy size 41 sandals (like a women’s size 11 in the US) in the market. Payback’s the best.

November in Review

I’m breaking up the November photo review into 2 parts. This first run of pictures includes everything up to the fútbol tournament which took place at NPH Guatemala. More on that later…

For now, here are my experiences at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos during the month of November in photo review. It was a wonderful time full of many things, people, and activities. It was the month that was, and was not.

Enjoy!

The boys being silly when I brought my camera out.

The boys being silly when I brought my camera out.

My “brother” and me during the October birthdays’ celebration, haha.

My “brother” and me during the October birthdays’ celebration, haha.

A party so good it puts you to sleep.

A party so good it puts you to sleep.

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Went on walkabout with my camera one night, found this nice sky.

Went on walkabout with my camera one night, found this nice sky.

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The fun and not so perfect art of wheelbarrow racing

The fun and not so perfect art of wheelbarrow racing

An afternoon of games and playing with the hose on the field!

An afternoon of games and playing with the hose on the field!

December birthdays!

December birthdays!

I know I show you a lot of piñata pictures, but it never gets old for me watching them have so much fun!

I know I show you a lot of piñata pictures, but it never gets old for me watching them have so much fun!

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The remnants of piñatas can be used for hats you know.

The remnants of piñatas can be used for hats you know.

Someone in the girls’ house wrote my name on the list of November birthdays, how sweet! Haha and my name is Ashley Cole, not Colo.

Someone in the girls’ house wrote my name on the list of November birthdays, how sweet! Haha and my name is Ashley Cole, not Colo.

All but one of the tías during their surprise party for me. They’re so sweet!

All but one of the tías during their surprise party for me. They’re so sweet!

Here’s my birthday haul. It was such a beautiful day full of surprises and lots of love. My face hurt at the end of the day because I laughed and smiled so much.

Here’s my birthday haul. It was such a beautiful day full of surprises and lots of love. My face hurt at the end of the day because I laughed and smiled so much.

Milkstache

Milkstache

These next 3 photos are proof that you are never too old to have tons of fun on a trampoline.

These next 3 photos are proof that you are never too old to have tons of fun on a trampoline.

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My favorite Tía and me at an activity for the kids!

My favorite Tía and me at an activity for the kids!

It’s a privilege for me to witness child-sponsor interactions. Beautiful!

It’s a privilege for me to witness child-sponsor interactions. Beautiful!

As part of a spiritual workshop in which we hosted 4 other NPH homes, we went on a tour of important cultural/religious sites in El Salvador. On a wall in the museum for the martyred Jesuits at the University of Central America there’s a collection of portraits of influential Latin American bishops. Here’s a picture of the bishop (bottom left) who ordained Fr. Wasson (the founder of NPH) right next to a drawing of Monseñor Oscar Romero, who was killed for standing up for the poor during El Salvador’s civil war. This is seriously one of the coolest things ever. And it’s a bit of divine providence too.

As part of a spiritual workshop in which we hosted 4 other NPH homes, we went on a tour of important cultural/religious sites in El Salvador. On a wall in the museum for the martyred Jesuits at the University of Central America there’s a collection of portraits of influential Latin American bishops. Here’s a picture of the bishop (bottom left) who ordained Fr. Wasson (the founder of NPH) right next to a drawing of Monseñor Oscar Romero, who was killed for standing up for the poor during El Salvador’s civil war. This is seriously one of the coolest things ever. And it’s a bit of divine providence too.

This is a Sister who works at the NPH Dominican Republic home. She’s so cool! I wish she could stay here with us!

This is a Sister who works at the NPH Dominican Republic home. She’s so cool! I wish she could stay here with us!

Here’s the whole group (minus 2 university students) from the Spiritual Workshop 2013!

Here’s the whole group (minus 2 university students) from the Spiritual Workshop 2013!

Fr. Ron blessing the kindergarten and 9th grade graduates during Mass

Fr. Ron blessing the kindergarten and 9th grade graduates during Mass

She’s so beautiful!

She’s so beautiful!

There really are no words to describe the level of cute and adorable that you see in this picture.

There really are no words to describe the level of cute and adorable that you see in this picture.

Such a beautiful family, inside and out.

Such a beautiful family, inside and out.

Getting ready to throw their caps…

Getting ready to throw their caps…

They did it! So proud of them.

They did it! So proud of them.

Looking good in their graduation shirts

Looking good in their graduation shirts

My friends from the parish came down for a visit! St. Thomas the Apostle has got some great parishioners, let me tell you.

My friends from the parish came down for a visit! St. Thomas the Apostle has got some great parishioners, let me tell you.

The quinceañeras and their escorts on the way to Mass

The quinceañeras and their escorts on the way to Mass

So pretty!

So pretty!

I love this picture, a lot.

I love this picture, a lot.

And this one too. All joined in for a blessing for the girls.

And this one too. All joined in for a blessing for the girls.

“Hey look at our socks! Take a picture!”

“Hey look at our socks! Take a picture!”

The whole group lookin’ pretty good!

The whole group lookin’ pretty good!

Our birthdays are in November, just days apart. How cool!

Our birthdays are in November, just days apart. How cool!

They did a total of 4 dances, all very well done and more than I could ever dream of doing haha.

They did a total of 4 dances, all very well done and more than I could ever dream of doing haha.

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Cake time!

Cake time!

One of the tíos and his boys. They’re both always so happy.

One of the tíos and his boys. They’re both always so happy.

Before the dance started

Before the dance started

The 4 Amigos/Muskateers. I love these guys. Now 2 of them have left for our university house in the city and the last guy will go in a few weeks…so I’m both happy and sad. Happy because they’re moving forward with their education but sad because they’re leaving me the lone amiga/Muskateer!

The 4 Amigos/Muskateers. I love these guys. Now 2 of them have left for our university house in the city and the last guy will go in a few weeks…so I’m both happy and sad. Happy because they’re moving forward with their education but sad because they’re leaving me the lone amiga/Muskateer!

October in Review

Again, my sincerest apologies for my terrible tardiness.

Here are my experiences at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador during the month of October in photo review…just in time for the end of 2013! Ha.

Paz y bien.

October 1st is Children’s Day in El Salvador, so we got up early to go to a water park to celebrate. They’re so…excited.

October 1st is Children’s Day in El Salvador, so we got up early to go to a water park to celebrate. They’re so…excited.

First one to fall asleep on the way there

First one to fall asleep on the way there

In the wave pool!

In the wave pool!

Brothers horsing around, making me laugh.

Brothers horsing around, making me laugh.

Yay!

Yay!

T.K. = shorthand slang for te quiero, which means I love you. One of the girls came in exceptionally bubbly and with a marker…so she wrote me a little note on my hand.

T.K. = shorthand slang for te quiero, which means I love you. One of the girls came in exceptionally bubbly and with a marker…so she wrote me a little note on my hand.

We have donkeys! Here I am with Shrek, and I think that’s Fiona in the background.

We have donkeys! Here I am with Shrek, and I think that’s Fiona in the background.

Remember that post from a long long time ago about hiking and then going to the river? Well here’s just a few more shots from that outing!

Remember that post from a long long time ago about hiking and then going to the river? Well here’s just a few more shots from that outing!

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Such happy sisters

Such happy sisters

Helping with one of the year of service girls on Visitor’s Day. She's awesome!

Helping with one of the year of service girls on Visitor’s Day. She’s awesome!

They’re so beautiful and what smiles they all have!

They’re so beautiful and what smiles they all have!

A nice, sunny day on Lake Coatepeque!

A nice, sunny day on Lake Coatepeque!

With my friend and coworker, the lovely Carmina!

With my friend and coworker, the lovely Carmina!

Our national director and his wife. I love them and this picture.

Our national director and his wife. I love them and this picture.

The next couple of pictures are from the hotel in Antigua where I stayed with the family that came to visit the NPH houses in El Salvador and Guatemala. The hotel is a former monastery, founded and built in the 1500s. Yeah, it was awesome to say the least!!!

The next couple of pictures are from the hotel in Antigua where I stayed with the family that came to visit the NPH houses in El Salvador and Guatemala. The hotel is a former monastery, founded and built in the 1500s. Yeah, it was awesome to say the least!!!

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“Welcome to NPH” just outside the Guatemala home’s entrance

“Welcome to NPH” just outside the Guatemala home’s entrance

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The kids made these in their metal/welding workshop! How cool is that?

The kids made these in their metal/welding workshop! How cool is that?

NPH Guatemala’s tortillas are much thinner than ours here in El Salvador, but they were still just as tasty!

NPH Guatemala’s tortillas are much thinner than ours here in El Salvador, but they were still just as tasty!

These next few shots are from Panajachel, Guatemala which is a city located right on Lake Atitlán. I could see 3 volcanoes from my window. 3! If you don’t know me, just know this – I love volcanoes.

These next few shots are from Panajachel, Guatemala which is a city located right on Lake Atitlán. I could see 3 volcanoes from my window. 3! If you don’t know me, just know this – I love volcanoes.

Boat tour to 3 different cities

Boat tour to 3 different cities

Cheesin’ it with a volcano backdrop!

Cheesin’ it with a volcano backdrop!

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The first city…I’m pretty sure this is San Juan.

The first city…I’m pretty sure this is San Juan.

This picture is turned sideways for a reason…the mountains make a FACE!

This picture is turned sideways for a reason…the mountains make a FACE!

More of San Juan

More of San Juan

Met this guy with the rockin’ hoodie in San Jose…had to be “that” girl and take a picture with him haha. Once a Vol, always a Vol.

Met this guy with the rockin’ hoodie in San Jose…had to be “that” girl and take a picture with him haha. Once a Vol, always a Vol.

A nice sendoff the morning we left Panajachel.

A nice sendoff the morning we left Panajachel.

Hammock!

Hammock!

I’m standing with a longtime friend of Fr. Wasson and supporter of NPH, Mr. Frank Krafft. What an incredible person and what an honor to not only have met him but helped him and his family. Thank you!

I’m standing with a longtime friend of Fr. Wasson and supporter of NPH, Mr. Frank Krafft. What an incredible person and what an honor to not only have met him but helped him and his family. Thank you!

Update and A Slice of Happy

Well, this is embarrassing.

The whole point of this blog was to help in sharing my experiences. What have I done? I’ve been quiet for the last 2 months. My sincerest apologies!

I know it’s an easy way out, but it’s the truth when I say that I have been busy. There has been soooo much going on, it’s great! At times, it’s an exhausting kind of day when I get back to my room, so I tell myself, oh I’ll write tomorrow. Then I don’t.

My only disclaimer is that my Facebook friends have been kept up to speed…it’s way easier for me to post updates there. Though I also have more constraints with that medium. Here on the blog, it feels like the world is my oyster, so to speak. And I tend to go more in-depth with my experiences here (which requires more time than a quick Facebook status takes), few and far between though they may be.

Anyway…here’s a quick recap. Then I’ll start posting posts with some more meat to them, as they say.

I realized I never told you this, but back in the middle of October, I went to NPH Guatemala/Antigua/Panajachel, Guatemala for 6 days (note: got a post coming up that’s sort of related to the trip). A family that has been instrumental in supporting and fundraising for NPH, practically since its inception back in 1954, came for a visit. They have worked with NPH for what seems like forever, so it was a wonderful opportunity to have met them. It was almost like meeting Fr. Wasson himself with the stories that I heard. Anyway, the family’s original travel plans changed right before they left NPH El Salvador, so they “borrowed” me for a few days to help translate while they visited at NPH Guatemala and went to do a few tourist-y things. You could say that it was an awesome working vacation. It was great!

November came. I ceased working at the school because classes were over, so I went full time in the office. We had a lot of visitors for various reasons, and I had roommates for practically the entire month. We hosted a spiritual workshop for 5 of the NPH homes, a large group of sponsors from the US came to visit; we celebrated kindergarten and 9th grade graduations and quinceañeras for 12 of our beautiful girls. In the middle of all of those activities – which happened within the same week – I turned 23. It was the best birthday that I have ever had, seriously. I’ve never received so many surprises in one day. Who knew that 23 could be so awesome?

The last week of November, 25 of our kids went to NPH Guatemala to participate in the 7th annual NPH International Soccer Tournament. I was fortunate enough to go along and document the experience and be a caregiver for our girls’ team. For me, November was the month that was and wasn’t. It flew by so fast and there was so much going on, I sometimes don’t remember that it happened, though I have the photographic evidence to prove otherwise. In one November week alone, I took almost 4,000 pictures, and I’ve been here 6 months!

The majority of December has also been incredibly busy and packed full of many fun things. Of course, we’re still in December so more on those experiences and happenings later on.

As many of my friends who have visited and become a part of the NPH family can attest, NPH is a wonderful place and is creating positive change in the world one child at a time. In speaking with a friend, our mutual discovery was that you really can’t find this kind of happiness anywhere else outside of NPH. It’s almost unreal. Recently I’ve come across two magnificent quotes, and I’d like to share them with you. The first comes from this season’s Little Blue Book (daily reflections and prayer for the Advent season; they also make books for Lent and Easter – check it out!):

“Whatever God wants me to be is the happiest life I could ever have.”

This next quote is from Vicki L. Kucia:

“Life is too short not to do something you love every day.”

My challenge to you is (if you haven’t found it already) go find that something that makes you happy. Find that something that you love and invest yourself in it, heart and soul. I think it’s safe to say that I’m doing what God wants me to do, and I couldn’t be happier. I also can’t imagine not being here at NPH.

At NPH, we always say that our doors and our hearts are always open to you. So come visit! Perhaps being a part of the NPH family is just the “thing” for you.

Paz y bien, Ashley.