I woke up with conflicting feelings. It was our last day in Managua, the last day with all of these kids I had grown to know (and attached to). Yet I wanted to get home to my own kids as quickly as possible. It was depressing to ride out to House of Hope, knowing that it was our last day.
And while I don’t think the kids really knew that it was our last day, I think they could tell based on our moods. Out of my group, there were some that were in tears just about all day. Others took it relatively well. For the majority of the day, we played. And again, we played hard.
One of the key moments for me was in giving the kids the books that I mentioned in this post several weeks ago. The way they looked through them and carried them around made it obvious that they cherished them. It was very cool for me to see one child pointing out the creatures in Where the Wild Things Are (or, in this case, Donde Viven los Monstrous), and just in awe of them.
One member of our group also brought a few puzzles which the kids played with for hours. It was really cool to see how they worked with us, not being able to speak much Spanish, in putting the puzzles together. The day, in all honesty, was a big blur to me. It went by far too fast. My ribs ached a bit from all of the hugs these little kids gave me and for the next day as they ached, I couldn’t help but smile.
I had been wrestling with the idea that to these kids, the young girls in particular, we were just another group of Americans that came down, pretended to care, and then left. But they basically killed this idea on the third day. One girl that I had spent quite a lot of time with over the last two days drug the translator over to me and had her tell me a bit of disheartening news. Now, with the expression on her face, I knew it was a joke but all the same, it stung. The translator sort of giggled and said “She says when you’re gone, she’s going to be sad. She will cry and cry.” Another quick round of translation and more giggles added on: “She’ll cry a lot.”
We did everything we could to slow down our departure. One more hug here, one more high-five there. Then, as I was walking to the van, doing a pretty good job of not breaking down, I looked back and saw perhaps the most touching thing I had seen on the entire trip.
One member of our group was sitting on the ground, her back propped against one of the home’s boundary walls. She’d been sitting there for about half an hour before with two kids in her lap, singing with them and playing. Now there were four kids sitting around her, one hugging on her in a way that I think only parents can really understand. I felt bad for her because it was clear that she was really struggling to not weep uncontrollably.
And as I watched, she finally broke and cried. The children, rather than being weirded out and leaving her alone, hugged on her tighter. Another girl even cupped her face in her little hands and wiped away her tears. It was that moment that brought back a comment our team leader had told us during our planning meetings a few weeks before: We go down there to help them, but they end up doing so much more for us.
A thought went through my head which was later echoed by this member of our group later that night. As that little girl—probably no older than eight or so—wiped this woman’s tears away, I thought: Wow, that’s backwards. Isn’t this supposed to be the other way around?
Then, feeling the tears coming on, I made it back to the van without becoming a blubbering mess.
I understood her tears although maybe not as powerfully as a woman would. You cry because you know you may never see these children again. You’ve come to show love for them and are now leaving them to their lives where, ultimately, our few days with them did nothing to change what has happened to them in their past. It really is an overpowering sort of feeling.
We left with half of the van in tears. It was the largest silence between the twelve of us since leaving Virginia four days before.
Back in the airport in Atlanta, I ended up somehow on the phone with my grandmother and she asked “Did you enjoy it?”
My answer was “Yes.”
“Would you go back?” she asked.
“Today, if I could,” I said. And it was that comment that almost had me sobbing in the middle of the airport. Yes, I would have missed my family and the folks at work would have been pretty angry, but in that moment I didn’t care. I wanted to be on a plane, headed back. The ache in my ribs agreed and seemed to actually flare up a bit in response.
We came home. I shared stories and digested it all. Already, I am trying to figure out how to make another trip down there within the next sixteen months or so.
I took away a lot of lessons and personal stories which I won’t share here, as they are too personal. But I keep thinking back to that last scene—the little girl wiping away the tears of an American woman that had only experienced that lifestyle for three days—and it gives me a certain sort of peace. Those young girls, despite their past, know that they are loved and valued beyond what their pasts have taught them.
Credit it to God or good will or whatever you want…but this trip was proof to me that love and hope can thrive even in the most dismal of places.