On Embarrassment and Love

Two very good friends and outstanding young men.

Two very good friends and outstanding young men.

In El Salvador, Mother’s Day was celebrated on Saturday, May 10th. The Friday before, we had a little office luncheon to celebrate. I jokingly asked if I would be included since I wasn’t a mother. Fortunately for me I was included, and we all had a merry ole time. One very nice thing that one of my coworkers said was even though this day celebrates mothers, we also want to celebrate any future mothers. He pointedly looked at me and my friend (who is also without children) and jokingly said, “so hurry up with that then, okay?!” Ha! Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

On Saturday right after Mass, our house coordinator stood up to do his usual announcements. When he finished, he then asked for all of the tías from Casa Santa María (girls’ house) and from Casa Niño Jesús (babies’ house) to come up to the front. I was sitting practically in the back of the church, and I had no intention of coming forward for a few reasons. The two most important ones being A) I am not technically a tía so I didn’t think I was included in whatever was going to happen and B) I had a feeling it had something to do with Mother’s Day since only the female caregivers were asked to come forward…

Of course it had something to do with Mother’s Day because NPH is a kind and loving place, and whether for the most trivial or most important of events, we do for people. If you get what I’m saying.

While I sat there watching the tías untangle themselves from sitting in the middle of pews, I noticed that the girls around me and the boys across the aisle were all saying my name and telling me to go up front. I refused them several times. Then they started getting louder and louder! I panicked because, what if maybe, just maybe, I was included? Then I thought, no I can’t possibly be included. The house coordinator didn’t specifically mention for me to come forward, just the tías.

“¡Pase Ashley! ¡Pase, pase, pase! ¡PASE ASHLEY!”

So at the alarming increase in the mild yelling of the kids near me telling me to go up, I slowly stood up. I sheepishly made my way to the front of the church and stood amongst the tías. I knew my face had become a red beacon for all those embarrassed souls in the world.

After some nice words, all of a sudden some of the children from the babies’ house popped up like daisies from their seats. I inwardly groaned because I saw that they all had something in their hands, which also confirmed my suspicion and fear that this little Mother’s Day surprise was in fact planned. Planning involves numbers! I’m pretty sure I wasn’t included in those numbers!

Each child picked a tía to come to. I was fully prepared to not receive something, since obviously they would be short a little candy rose. To my great surprise (and relief because let’s be honest, who wants to be left on the altar with nothing, ha?) one of my favorite boys came and hugged me. I squeezed him so very tight and thanked him. I had also hoped that that embrace would catapult me back to my seat. Alas, it did not. After what felt like eons in front of everyone, I sat back down. Some of the girls around me all of a sudden started saying, “Happy Mother’s Day, Ashley.”

God I was so embarrassed. I just felt weird because I had this gut feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be up there, and I think one of the tías did not receive a rose. I did! She didn’t!

After exiting the church Octavio*, the little boy who gave me the rose, and some of his pals came up to me and were all chatty. Octavio said that when he saw me walk up that he had picked me to give his rose to. How sweet and adorable is he! I gave him another hug. Then the other boys asked me if I was a mother. I am not. But that didn’t seem to matter to them as they said, “well you’re like a spiritual mother/sister to me!” After that, some of the older boys and year of service youth saw me and hugged me, saying Happy Mother’s Day. At first I was sure they were just being smart alecks since they know I don’t have children. I realized though that they were being sincere, and that left me all confused. Granted, some did tease me because of how red my face was and because they know I don’t have children. “Haha, why did you go up there Ashley? Why was your face SO RED?!”

Much later in the day, I called my Mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. She asked me how my day had gone. After telling her what happened after Mass, she said, “Well maybe you weren’t included by the adults who planned the surprise, but it says something that the kids thought you should go up there. Right?”

I didn’t think about that. (Thanks for pointing that out, Ma.) Moms are so smart! In my abrupt explosion of embarrassment and chagrin, I failed to see the blessing right in front of me. I failed to see the love surrounding me. The kids wanted me up there for a reason. Perhaps some of them see me as motherly figure. I know for sure many see me as a friend and at least a sister.

Fast forward to Tuesday. I got wind of a celebration for the tías later that night, but since I hadn’t heard about it through official channels, I assumed I was not invited. I was totally okay with that, by the way. When I went to check out the decorations, two of the year of service guys were there working on the last minute details. (Keep in mind that these specific two were also the first ones to hug me and wish me a Happy Mother’s Day after I left the church on Saturday.)

Abraham* came over to talk to me. He had earlier asked me for help in taking/finding pictures of the tías so that he could put together a slideshow for that night. I asked him when I could see the finished product, thinking he would pass it to me via jump drive. “No,” he said. “You’re going to watch it tonight. You’re invited!” At first I didn’t believe him, so he called over to Alfonso* who affirmed the invitation. As it turns out, they also had invited Maki, the new volunteer from Japan. She’s only been here a week, but I was oh so happy that she was included! Inclusion is a powerful element in a work environment after all, and she is so very far away from home.

I know it’s ridiculous, but even when I arrived to the party, I still felt weird being there! I don’t know why I did because I was not the only person present who doesn’t have children. There are tías that don’t have kids. So why was I making such a big deal about it? Only God knows. Seriously, I haven’t a clue.

As the night wore on, that feeling of embarrassment left me completely. We had a delicious meal, and Abraham’s slideshow was very well done. The silliest part of the evening was the entertainment. I’ve long known that I live with a bunch of hams, and the boys’ production of a classroom full of bad students only reaffirmed that fact. They’re hilarious! The girls and year of service young ladies did some very cool dances.

As a gift to all of us, they gave us hand sown aprons. Each had a different painted design on the pocket. I might add that about half of those pocket paintings were done by my friend Katie Ann when she came here to visit me, ha! Kudos to you, my friend.

The best part of the evening, in spite of all the silliness and revelry, was picture time. I walked away with a picture of Abraham, Alfonso, and myself. Because of those two wonderful, thoughtful, and kind young men, I was reminded of what love is and that it manifests itself in infinite forms.

Abraham*

Abraham* and I pretending to dance.

Alfonso*

Alfonso* looking cool.

It is a fact that I am not a mother to any child, legally or biologically. However, Saturday’s debacle and Tuesday’s celebration tell me otherwise. I was included not because another adult thought I should be, but rather I was included in the former at the urging of half of the church full of my kids and the latter because those two sweet young men said I was invited, no ifs ands or buts about it.

Even in the midst of feeling uncomfortable, awkward, and out of place, these kids made and continue making me feel loved and appreciated. That’s all anyone could ever ask for.

Paz y bien.

*Names changed to protect the pequeños’ privacy.

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April in Review

The month of April was, to say the least, awesome. A lot of fun and cool things happened here at NPH El Salvador, not least among them being Holy Week and Easter. Lent is my favorite liturgical season, but there’s something about Holy Week that I can’t explain. I love it! It was very neat to have experienced new traditions here with my NPH family.

Here is the month of April in photo review at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador! I included a lot of pictures in this post (more than usual) because of how much went on and simply due to the fact that I cannot make a decision on which picture to use. I hope you don’t mind that (but really, why would you mind more pictures?)

Also, I should note that at some point after Easter, something happened with the inner workings of my camera, and now a black mark appears in the corner of every picture. Unfortunately I have not been able to figure out how to make it go away.

Enjoy!

Paz y bien.

The boys are working (mostly) on some drawings, but near the end of the afternoon they spent more time goofing off than working, ha!

The boys are working (mostly) on some drawings, but near the end of the afternoon they spent more time goofing off than working, ha!

On our way to see FAS play! (FAS is a professional soccer team!)

On our way to see FAS play! (FAS is a professional soccer team!)

Our special treat to the boys was going on the field. In this shot, the players are going back inside to change before the game. Those are my boys lining the tunnel. How cool!? The leading scorer in all of El Salvador is the guy in blue about to give out some high fives.

Our special treat to the boys was going on the field. In this shot, the players are going back inside to change before the game. Those are my boys lining the tunnel. How cool!? The leading scorer in all of El Salvador is the guy in blue about to give out some high fives.

The story of my life – an unsuccessful group picture, ha. I got a few of the boys and some of the players looking at my camera.

The story of my life – an unsuccessful group picture, ha. I got a few of the boys and some of the players looking at my camera.

It wasn’t actually raining, but she needed a picture with an umbrella. So we improvised!

It wasn’t actually raining, but she needed a picture with an umbrella. So we improvised!

With the boys and their homework assignment. Kudos go to the Tía who helped them make the very delicious pudín.

With the boys and their homework assignment. Kudos go to the Tía who helped them make the very delicious pudín.

With the girls while they prepare chilaquiles…

With the girls while they prepare chilaquiles…

The finished product, chilaquiles. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you. IT IS AWESOME.

The finished product, chilaquiles. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you. IT IS AWESOME.

How the frontlines look just before dinner time.

How the frontlines look just before dinner time.

Beans and cream for dinner, one of my favs.

Beans and cream for dinner, one of my favs.

The life of that beheaded piñata was short. There was still candy inside!

The life of that beheaded piñata was short. There was still candy inside!

April birthdays!

April birthdays!

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Going for a spin on the track! I gave some of the girls a ride later on because they don’t know how to ride a bike, but they still wanted to experience it.

Going for a spin on the track! I gave some of the girls a ride later on because they don’t know how to ride a bike, but they still wanted to experience it.

Palm Sunday procession!

Palm Sunday procession!

An NPH El Salvador Holy Week tradition is to go to the Lempa River. It’s a 2 hour walk from the foundation. This is a bridge you have to cross. Really. Haha. I opted to walk through the stream. On the way home, I walked across. It was mildly terrifying as you’d imagine.

An NPH El Salvador Holy Week tradition is to go to the Lempa River. It’s a 2 hour walk from the foundation. This is a bridge you have to cross. Really. Haha. I opted to walk through the stream. On the way home, I walked across. It was mildly terrifying as you’d imagine.

She needed to borrow my shoes, but I wouldn’t let her until I took a picture documenting the stark difference between our feet, ha.

She needed to borrow my shoes, but I wouldn’t let her until I took a picture documenting the stark difference between our feet, ha.

All 3 of the gallinas at the river.  Gallina means hen in Spanish. Our nickname for each other happened because of a misunderstanding between the word for flip flop and the word for hen. The silliness will never go away, and the nickname stuck.

All 3 of the gallinas at the river. Gallina means hen in Spanish. Our nickname for each other happened because of a misunderstanding between the word for flip flop and the word for hen. The silliness will never go away, and the nickname stuck.

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In order to cross the strong current to get to the other side, you had to use the rope that the year of service boys somehow managed to string across. They’re awesome.

In order to cross the strong current to get to the other side, you had to use the rope that the year of service boys somehow managed to string across. They’re awesome.

I kept walking around making kissy faces with my algae mustache. The girls hated it, I loved it.

I kept walking around making kissy faces with my algae mustache. The girls hated it, I loved it.

The boy in the middle had just basically fallen off his seat, which happens to be a water jug that caved in on itself. Haha.

The boy in the middle had just basically fallen off his seat, which happens to be a water jug that caved in on itself. Haha.

Walking home

Walking home

Enjoying a lovely sunset. I walked home with 3 girls in less than 2 hours! We were very proud of ourselves.

Enjoying a lovely sunset. I walked home with 3 girls in less than 2 hours! We were very proud of ourselves.

Holy Thursday is my favorite! Washing of the feet.

Holy Thursday is my favorite! Washing of the feet.

On Good Friday, the year of service youth put on their production of the Stations of the Cross. We all lined the field to watch.

On Good Friday, the year of service youth put on their production of the Stations of the Cross. We all lined the field to watch.

I love Pilate’s outfit. It makes me giggle, especially since this guy is always so serious!

I love Pilate’s outfit. It makes me giggle, especially since this guy is always so serious!

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It was awesome watching the guys put the crosses up, so very smooth and skilled.

It was awesome watching the guys put the crosses up, so very smooth and skilled.

This is the thief who defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he arrived in the Kingdom…well that guy happens to be my little brother, E, who said those words. Although Holy Thursday is my favorite of the Triduum, Good Friday ALWAYS gets me and makes me cry. I lost it, internally, when E said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” This time it wasn’t just words I heard from a lector. It was my brother, hanging from a cross, who said them.

This is the thief who defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he arrived in the Kingdom…well that guy happens to be my little brother, E, who said those words. Although Holy Thursday is my favorite of the Triduum, Good Friday ALWAYS gets me and makes me cry. I lost it, internally, when E said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” This time it wasn’t just words I heard from a lector. It was my brother, hanging from a cross, who said them.

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Good Friday was…good...to say the least.

Good Friday was…good…to say the least.

Veneration of the Cross

Veneration of the Cross

All of the year of service youth and Padre Ron being silly!

All of the year of service youth and Padre Ron being silly!

Blessing of the fire on Easter Vigil

Blessing of the fire on Easter Vigil

I could make an album just from pictures from that night, titled “Boys who squint because of the flash.”

I could make an album just from pictures from that night, titled “Boys who squint because of the flash.”

Easter morning’s only light at 4:30am was a path lined with these votive candles in sand.

Easter morning’s only light at 4:30am was a path lined with these votive candles in sand.

Padre and the guys before Mass started

Padre and the guys before Mass started

Happy Easter! The sun has risen, Christ has risen! Alleluia.

Happy Easter! The sun has risen, Christ has risen! Alleluia.

With my friend! He studies on the other side of the country, so we rarely see him.

With my friend! He studies on the other side of the country, so we rarely see him.

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Hahaha. This is a beautiful and silly picture.

Hahaha. This is a beautiful and silly picture.

The week’s other Peter Parker.

The week’s other Peter Parker.

“This is my beloved family, with whom I am well pleased.”

“This is my beloved family, with whom I am well pleased.”

One of the tías and her girls

One of the tías and her girls

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Easter Sunday activities…I promise, she clears it and makes a big ol’ splash.

Easter Sunday activities…I promise, she clears it and makes a big ol’ splash.

This kid is awesome. He asked to see the picture, and when he saw it he yelled, “WOW I LOOK SOOOOO COOL!”

This kid is awesome. He asked to see the picture, and when he saw it he yelled, “WOW I LOOK SOOOOO COOL!”

Even the year of service girls got in on the fun.

Even the year of service girls got in on the fun.

I love the smiles.

I love the smiles.

I spent part of my Easter afternoon in the clinic because of a gnarly blister I got on our hike to the river.

I spent part of my Easter afternoon in the clinic because of a gnarly blister I got on our hike to the river.

More homework time in the kitchen, this time it was sopes! Delicious.

More homework time in the kitchen, this time it was sopes! Delicious.

This year of service guy, who is not assigned to work in the kitchen, randomly stopped by and started helping the tía prepare beans without being asked. I love it! Yet another reason why my kids are way cool.

This year of service guy, who is not assigned to work in the kitchen, randomly stopped by and started helping the tía prepare beans without being asked. I love it! Yet another reason why my kids are way cool.

“Haciendo la paja” is what the boys told me (doing the lie, literally). The boys didn’t actually make the tortillas, the girls helped them ha. So I took a picture of them pretending to work.

“Haciendo la paja” is what the boys told me (doing the lie, literally). The boys didn’t actually make the tortillas, the girls helped them ha. So I took a picture of them pretending to work.

Their final product was chilaquilas (though the name is only one letter different from what the girls made – see the earlier picture – it is in fact much different but still just as delicious!).

Their final product was chilaquilas (though the name is only one letter different from what the girls made – see the earlier picture – it is in fact much different but still just as delicious!).

My best friend Katie Ann came to visit me for a little over a week. She’s so cool!

My best friend Katie Ann came to visit me for a little over a week. She’s so cool!

She made friends in the clinic too, haha.

She made friends in the clinic too, haha.

Photographic evidence that I do in fact wash my clothes by hand…

Photographic evidence that I do in fact wash my clothes by hand…

…and then almost cry because the sun is shining in my eyes when I hang them up to dry. Ha.

…and then almost cry because the sun is shining in my eyes when I hang them up to dry. Ha.

Friends making friendship bracelets

Friends making friendship bracelets

After a few days at NPH, Katie Ann and I went to the beach!!! This is looking at the tide pool area at high tide!

After a few days at NPH, Katie Ann and I went to the beach!!! This is looking at the tide pool area at high tide!

First time for me swimming in an ocean, ever. First time for Katie Ann seeing the Pacific Ocean (I’ve seen it before but had only gotten my feet wet.)

First time for me swimming in an ocean, ever. First time for Katie Ann seeing the Pacific Ocean (I’ve seen it before but had only gotten my feet wet.)

Low tide! Such awesome views.

Low tide! Such awesome views.

The tide pool when you can actually swim in it.

The tide pool when you can actually swim in it.

Let’s just say, I was nerding out after witnessing the tides come and go and what is left behind.

Let’s just say, I was nerding out after witnessing the tides come and go and what is left behind.

Lens kept fogging up, which annoyed me, but I did get some cool pictures.

Lens kept fogging up, which annoyed me, but I did get some cool pictures.

Ah, if only that pesky black spot weren’t there.

Ah, if only that pesky black spot weren’t there.

February in Review

Not too late this time…here is the month of February in photo review. It was a very full month and lots of cool things happened here at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador.

Paz y bien.

Acto civico is a short program the school does every Monday morning, in which the kids sing the national anthem and focus on civics and being a good citizen as well as human being.

Acto civico is a short program the school does every Monday morning, in which the kids sing the national anthem and focus on civics and being a good citizen as well as human being.

There is always a skit of some sort in which the whole school learns about a new theme or topic. For example, the month of February was all about friendship and values related to that. The skit was very good and funny, as you can tell…

There is always a skit of some sort in which the whole school learns about a new theme or topic. For example, the month of February was all about friendship and values related to that. The skit was very good and funny, as you can tell…

That same day there was no power in the office, so my friend and I went and took pictures everywhere. We started with the school.

That same day there was no power in the office, so my friend and I went and took pictures everywhere. We started with the school.

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Making piñatas!

Making piñatas!

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“Faith and works have to be united together.” – Father William Wasson (the founder of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos)

“Faith and works have to be united together.” – Father William Wasson (the founder of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos)

Our walkabout continued to the old fields. As you can see, it’s a little…dry. Tis the season here, as we haven’t had rain in 4 months.

Our walkabout continued to the old fields. As you can see, it’s a little…dry. Tis the season here, as we haven’t had rain in 4 months.

We both had never been to the milpa (the crop fields) across the river, and we both really wanted to go…so we went.

We both had never been to the milpa (the crop fields) across the river, and we both really wanted to go…so we went.

Can you spot the year of service boy through the sorghum? I can.

Can you spot the year of service boy through the sorghum? I can.

Best walkabout ever. This is a beautiful view, but I want to come back once the rains return and get a shot when everything is green again.

Best walkabout ever. This is a beautiful view, but I want to come back once the rains return and get a shot when everything is green again.

Our little river is a little sad.

Our little river is a little sad.

Cows!

Cows!

Since we still didn’t have power, we decided to have our special lunch at the office in the city. Here, my coworkers are cracking up about something while we wait for transportation.

Since we still didn’t have power, we decided to have our special lunch at the office in the city. Here, my coworkers are cracking up about something while we wait for transportation.

One really cool thing that happened was the visit of FAS (Club Deportivo Futbolistas Asociados Santanecos), which is a regional soccer team that plays in the best professional soccer league in all of El Salvador. They came to host their practice on our field, then they held a short scrimmage with our boys’ team. Just to reiterate the awesomeness, it’s like going to an NFL practice or having an NBA team come to your gym to just hang out. That’s a pretty big stinkin’ deal!

One really cool thing that happened was the visit of FAS (Club Deportivo Futbolistas Asociados Santanecos), which is a regional soccer team that plays in the best professional soccer league in all of El Salvador. They came to host their practice on our field, then they held a short scrimmage with our boys’ team. Just to reiterate the awesomeness, it’s like going to an NFL practice or having an NBA team come to your gym to just hang out. That’s a pretty big stinkin’ deal!

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Coach giving the boys a pep talk before their scrimmage.

Coach giving the boys a pep talk before their scrimmage.

One of our boys (orange shoes) had the chance to run some drills with FAS during practice. They asked for the best player to come participate. HOW COOL IS THAT, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.

One of our boys (orange shoes) had the chance to run some drills with FAS during practice. They asked for the best player to come participate. HOW COOL IS THAT, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.

The scrimmage

The scrimmage

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The kids were pretty excited to meet the players afterwards. It cracked me up how shy some of the kids were.

The kids were pretty excited to meet the players afterwards. It cracked me up how shy some of the kids were.

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I went to the workshops one afternoon. Look at what the girls made in the bakery workshop. I really wanted one!

I went to the workshops one afternoon. Look at what the girls made in the bakery workshop. I really wanted one!

Sewing workshop

Sewing workshop

“Ashley, are you STILL eating that mango?!” Haha.

“Ashley, are you STILL eating that mango?!” Haha.

I went out for the weekend and spent it with my Salvadoran family!

I went out for the weekend and spent it with my Salvadoran family!

My friend and coworker. She’s the best.

My friend and coworker. She’s the best.

Since I hadn’t been able to visit them since October, we celebrated my November birthday super late in February! It was a great surprise.

Since I hadn’t been able to visit them since October, we celebrated my November birthday super late in February! It was a great surprise.

FAS came again! The kids got to cut class, with their teachers of course, to watch a few minutes of the practice.

FAS came again! The kids got to cut class, with their teachers of course, to watch a few minutes of the practice.

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I love this!

I love this!

St. Valentine’s Day celebration, games, and fun in the girls’ house.

St. Valentine’s Day celebration, games, and fun in the girls’ house.

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A cool view of the backyard.

A cool view of the backyard.

My girls and me right before we played “Amiga Secreta” (which is the same idea as Secret Santa)

My girls and me right before we played “Amiga Secreta” (which is the same idea as Secret Santa)

They had a hard time guessing who her secret friend was.

They had a hard time guessing who her secret friend was.

My nice haul after playing “Amiga Secreta”

My nice haul after playing “Amiga Secreta”

Later that night all the tíos and tías celebrated with our own little party.

Later that night all the tíos and tías celebrated with our own little party.

Couldn’t resist the cheese-opportunity

Couldn’t resist the cheese-opportunity

Haha. Pointing at “love”

Haha. Pointing at “love”

This is my friend and I goofing off per usual. He is one of the drivers and has accompanied me on many of my journeys to immigration as well as the 2 trips to Guatemala. We were having a little fun at our special lunch at the office.

This is my friend and I goofing off per usual. He is one of the drivers and has accompanied me on many of my journeys to immigration as well as the 2 trips to Guatemala. We were having a little fun at our special lunch at the office.

We had a special activity for the younger kids one afternoon.

We had a special activity for the younger kids one afternoon.

He’s so cute!

He’s so cute!

I gave my camera to a friend (one of the older boys is very interested in photography) one afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the pictures he took. These are awesome! Here’s just a bit of the flora we have around campus.

I gave my camera to a friend (one of the older boys is very interested in photography) one afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the pictures he took. These are awesome! Here’s just a bit of the flora we have around campus.

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Haha I love these two sisters. One always smiles in pictures, the other one, not so much!

Haha I love these two sisters. One always smiles in pictures, the other one, not so much!

He’s got a Knoxville, Tennessee shirt on! Wicked cool!

He’s got a Knoxville, Tennessee shirt on! Wicked cool!

Caught the boys hanging around and playing after a soccer game one Friday

Caught the boys hanging around and playing after a soccer game one Friday

Talking with my brother

Talking with my brother

Choir practice, getting ready for Mass later in the day.

Choir practice, getting ready for Mass later in the day.

Cutest birthday girl yet.

Cutest birthday girl yet.

The piñata was, well, decapitated. It made good fun for the rest of us!

The piñata was, well, decapitated. It made good fun for the rest of us!

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!

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.

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.

Wash Away

During the retreat with 4th grade, it started raining while we were in the chapel. At that time we were almost finished with the few kids brave enough to share a story (or stories) about how they know and feel that they are loved by God. There were some tears by those who talked, and there were also tears from those who simply listened. Though, it was more than just listening. It was feeling and perhaps reliving a story that they didn’t want to or just couldn’t share.

It was a “from the heart and deep within the soul” kind of moment. We’ve had a few retreats before with other grades of varying ages. Some shared more, others have shared less. But what made this particular retreat so different and so very special for me, and perhaps for them, was that it rained.

The rain not only washed away the stuffy heat inside the chapel, but it also washed away some of the hurt, I think. At least, it felt like a cleansing rain. During the brief shower, the kids also had to write something – a short letter to God. I didn’t want to hover or stare while they were writing, so I turned to look outside at the cornfields. I just stared and stared at the landscape and got lost in the view, in my thoughts, in my prayers of thanksgiving for the rain.

Out of nowhere, I started softly humming a song to myself. It was Joe Purdy’s “Wash Away (Reprise)”…

I got troubles oh but not today

Cause they’re gonna wash away, they’re gonna wash away

And I have sins oh but not today

Cause they’re gonna wash away, they’re gonna wash away

With each retreat, I learn something new, something different. For example – that the blood of Christ washed (and washes) away our sins. I have learned that in the pains and the sorrows of this life, we often struggle with our relationships – with our own selves, with family members, even with God. I have also seen that, at least through the stories shared, that even amidst the pains, sorrows, and tremendous hurts, God is there. He is always there, and oh how much He loves us. It’s an incalculable value. However, sometimes we fail to see Him. Sometimes we deliberately turn away.

Whatever the reason, sometimes there are blocks and walls between us and God. Despite our many shortcomings, God knows us well, and in all his infinite wisdom and love, He sent us the Way to wash away those sins, stumbling blocks, and pains.

The blood of Christ alone does the washing, but sometimes, God simply lets the rain do all the work.

(Now go listen to the song in the playlist on the main page!)

On Being Vulnerable

Part of my morning prayer every day is asking God to be vulnerable. Not the kind of vulnerability that would put me in the hospital or something drastic like that, but the vulnerability that comes with being completely open to people and situations. I want to be open and be willing to step outside of my “box” so to speak. I pray for this vulnerability with my Spanish, so that I can get past my failures and inability to speak at times. I pray for this vulnerability so that walls are broken down and relationships are fostered and strengthened.

With all of that being said, I firmly believe that God has a sense of humor. So when I was informed 3 hours before an athletic event/activity began that I was going to be on a team and play basketball and volleyball, I laughed. I first laughed out of disbelief, then mild hysteria. Then I started thinking of any possible way to get out of it. Not because I was going to have to play some sports with the tíos and tías (it was an event put on by us for the kids to sit back and enjoy), but because all of the children and any staff members who were not playing were all going to watch. That’s like, at least 300 people.

¡Qué vergüenza! (How embarrassing!)

300 people that were going to see just how uncoordinated I am, just how not good I am at playing sports. Factor in that I had no idea the event was going to happen, let alone that I was actually going to play! So, the afternoon seemed to move faster than usual. Oh and those excuses I was searching for, well the only two that I could think of didn’t work. The timing of what I had to do at the office didn’t interfere with the game, and I was also given permission to leave the office early to go play. But then…I noticed that the sky got darker and cloudier. I then started wishing for rain. I don’t usually go out of my way to ask for rain. And guess what? It never rained.

And you know what? After all of my inner turmoil and complaining to my friend, I could not have been happier that my excuses did not pan out and that it did not rain. I had so much fun! At one point, I started laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. Painfully so. It was all I had to not stop, fall on the ground, and just cry because I was laughing so much – we were in the middle of a game…pull yourself together Ashley!

My team won the first round of volleyball. We were actually really awesome. However, we lost the basketball game. And by lost, I mean we totally tanked. I totally tanked. My few shot attempts didn’t achieve anything but moans from my teammates, teehee. After a short break, we came back to play in the volleyball final. For some reason, what little skill I possessed earlier went on hiatus. I was terrible! But it was during that game that I had the most fun and laughed the most.

By then, everyone on the opposing team knew that serving the ball in my direction was the quickest way to earn points…and they actually did that for a while. In fact, one guy would shout across that he was going to serve the ball to me and then smile!

At the end of the event, my team did not do well. I received a healthy dose of being on the receiving end of athletic ability jokes. During dinner, a girl and I were talking about the evening’s events. I told her how my team did, and I said that it went pretty poorly for us. I played terribly. She looked at me and said, but you had fun right…well, that’s all that matters.

She’s right. That’s all that matters. I had fun. I had so much fun that I really didn’t care that the whole world could see how bad I was.

You just have to go and be. Sometimes, we spend too much time thinking and overanalyzing things. We put up walls and at any hint of vulnerability, we run away. We always have to be strong, to be invincible. I tried to run away, but it didn’t work. Vulnerability hit me in the face (literally – I went for a rebound and the ball landed on my face.)

But you know what? Vulnerability is a powerful tool and a great teacher. Though I never expected to be vulnerable in such a way, I definitely wasn’t expecting to learn so much from such a short experience. I prayed for vulnerability and for a chance to learn. God smiled (maybe even chuckled) and put me on a sports team.

A Photo Recap

Things have been really busy as of late. I actually meant to post this myriad collection of what I’ve seen and what I’ve been doing for the last month or so. With this post, there won’t be many words, just pictures!

Here is the month of July (and a little bit of the end of June), in review…

Me and some of the youngest ones!

Me and some of the youngest ones!

We had a great time playing all sorts of games during our 14th anniversary celebration. This boy's team won! Go blue!

We had a great time playing all sorts of games during our 14th anniversary celebration. This boy’s team won! Go blue!

Excellent crowd reaction to a most amusing game...

Excellent crowd reaction to a most amusing game…

During our 14th anniversary celebration, we had a little dance show/competition. These guys were great! They even got one of our little kids to come up and dance with them. So beautiful.

During our 14th anniversary celebration, we had a little dance show/competition. These guys were great! They even got one of our little kids to come up and dance with them. So beautiful.

Playing around on the cancha grama!

Playing around on the cancha grama!

Here is a snapshot of the fun we had from the June birthdays celebration.

Here is a snapshot of the fun we had from the June birthdays celebration.

Ah! This boy is so very kind.

Ah! This boy is so very kind.

He's helping me learn Salvadoran words.

He’s helping me learn Salvadoran words.

Love them so much!

Love them so much!

With my girls!

With my girls!

These are two of the coolest people ever...and I get to work with them everyday!

These are two of the coolest people ever…and I get to work with them everyday!

I kept trying to get her to smile...this is what I got. Even better.

I kept trying to get her to smile…this is what I got. Even better.

Yet another gorgeous afternoon here in El Salvador.

Yet another gorgeous afternoon here in El Salvador.

The little path to our cancha grama.

The little path to our cancha grama.

We had been taking pictures all morning...I was a little tired, haha.

Picture Day…we had been taking pictures all morning…I was a little tired, haha.

Our choral and dance group always open and close the fiestas julias every July. It's a celebration for the patron of Santa Ana, St. Ann.

Our choral and dance group always open and close the fiestas julias every July. The bishop invites them to perform at the cathedral in the big city. It’s a celebration for the patron of Santa Ana (St. Ann.)

They're all so talented.

They’re all so talented.

Some of the girls from choir found a rose and put it in my hair.

Some of the girls from choir. They’re all so lovely!

This is false advertising. I don't actually play the accordion and the hat barely fit on my head!

This is false advertising. I don’t actually play the accordion and the hat barely fit on my head!

Choral group doing their thing!

Choral group doing their thing!

She's so lovely!

I took more than 600 pictures during the two different performances...and this is my favorite shot out of all of them. These two kids are awesome.

I took more than 600 pictures during the two different performances…and this is my favorite shot out of all of them. These two kids are awesome.

Dancing at the cathedral.

Dancing at the cathedral.

Amigos!

Amigos!

I look a little silly, but I love the other faces. Lots of laughter and joy.

I look a little silly, but I love the other faces. Lots of laughter and joy.

:)

This is one of my favorite pictures. It captures 4 very different personalities. I love these boys so much!

This is one of my favorite pictures. It captures 4 very different personalities. I love these boys so much!

Carmina and me during the procession for Santa Ana. It was my first weekend away from the home.

Carmina and me during the procession for Santa Ana. It was my first weekend away from the home.

Visiting with Carmina's family. They are awesome and made my weekend so much fun!

Visiting with Carmina’s family. They are awesome and made my weekend so much fun!

Every morning, like clockwork, the cows walk down Carmina's street. It was interesting to see!

Every morning, like clockwork, the cows walk down Carmina’s street. It was interesting to see!

You can see mountains from every direction. No matter where you are in Santa Ana, you can see them. I love that more than words can say...a little reminder of East Tennessee!

You can see mountains from every direction. No matter where you are in Santa Ana, you can see them. I love that more than words can say…a little reminder of East Tennessee!