I know, it’s been forever and day since my last blog post. Sorry not sorry as my roommate Jilli would say. I’ve been busy, our router was murdered in a crazy storm (thank you Tara for letting me use yours), and frankly I just haven’t been motivated. But recently, I’ve witnessed something that has made me remotivated, so hooray! Well, sort of. Hooray for being motivated, not hooray for what I witnessed. I guess I should start with some background.
Lately I’ve felt incredibly weak and exhausted. I wake up and just want to go back to sleep. Which, honestly, would not be abnormal for me if it weren’t for the fact that at no point during the day do I feel like I have energy. When I did live in the US I’d feel the same way about waking up for school, but eventually build up some energy during the day. The problem right now is that the energy is never building up – I’m just always exhausted. Of course there are plenty of reasons why I should be exhausted. I wake up around 7:30-8 every morning, I play with very undisciplined, hyper kids for most of my day, when I’m not with kids I’m doing chores, I’ve been battling lice for the past month, I’m living in 100 degree weather and not drinking nearly enough water, etc. In all honesty it makes complete sense why my body should be exhausted. And that’s what I was convinced was happening for the past few weeks. Physical exhaustion.
It was only yesterday that I realized how wrong I was. My body is fine. Sure, it’s facing some weak points with all of those factors raging against it, but it’s faced even worse exhaustion back home and I’ve still managed to store up some energy. The real exhaustion I’m feeling, the weakness that’s draining every last bit of my energy out of me, is emotional exhaustion. I’ve got a huge case of heart break unlike any I’ve ever faced before.
You see, I’ve been working (AKA playing) in a public orphanage called Nueva Esperanza for the majority of my week every week. I’ll go in anywhere from 4-6 times a week, start my day off by playing with the babies, and then going to play with the older boys after lunch. I know all the moms reading this right now are probably thinking “Yeah, babies do that to you.” Sorry moms, the babies are actually the easiest part of my day. It’s the older boys that are killing me. Well, actually not even the boys themselves that are killing me as much as the staff that looks after them.
These boys range from the ages of 8-12 (except for two which are 13, but are going to be moved soon). A handful of them are from the streets, a handful of them dropped off by family, and a handful who’ve been taken away from family. Each has a separate, heart-breaking story. Now these kids are in no way “angels”. They’re extremely unruly, constantly beating up on each other, cursing, stealing, etc. I break up about 6-10 fights per day; half the time it’s play-fighting (which I will never understand how getting beat up can be “fun”), the other half of the time it’s an intense brawl between a bully and a challenger. Knowing and understanding that these kids are pretty much out of control will help you understand the Tia’s a little bit more.
A “Tia” or “Tio” is what the kids call the workers at Nueva. “Tia” means aunt in Spanish, and “Tio” means uncle. I would say at least 99% of the workers there are Tia’s. Anyway, there’s only one Tia per shift who looks after this group of 20-something older boys. Imagine being in charge of that many chaotic children. Definitely not an easy job. It makes perfect sense for these Tia’s to be more strict, tired, and cranky. From my visits, I’ve noticed that these Tia’s mostly just yell at the kids. They don’t hug, they don’t love, just yell and discipline. And I find that 95% of the time an understandable thing. The kids need discipline. They need someone to yell at them, or they won’t listen. If the Tia’s suddenly become mushy-gushy with them and go soft, all hell will break loose. I’ve come to terms that it’s ok for them to be hard and cold to the kids, as long as they let me be warm and soft to them when I visit.
The Tia’s usually really like me. When they want a break I’ll watch their room for a certain amount of time, and we’ll have casual talks every now and then. I help them break up fights, and help entertain their kids. We’re usually on pretty good terms because of that. But at the same time, they don’t like it when the kids seem overly friendly to me. For example, there’s a 9-year-old kid who’s slightly ADHD that likes to jump on me to give me hugs. I’m not a fan of it and I’ll always tell him that he needs to be calmer when he hugs me. However, the Tia’s get really angry when he does it. They’ll scream at him and tell him to get off of me and go into the other room. I mean, I get it, you can’t let the kids jump on people; but I feel like screaming at him for trying to hug me isn’t exactly necessary, especially when I’ve already told him it’s not ok. They also don’t like it when the littlest kid, who’s 8 years old, comes up to me and snuggles under my arm. It bothers me more than I can explain when they yell at him for snuggling up to me. I mean, sure, I’d understand being angry if the 12-year-olds were being extra snuggly with me, but the little picked on 8-year-old? Isn’t that a little extreme?
The worst of the worst, however, happened yesterday. I was in the older boys room when the Tia asked me to watch the exit to make sure no one ran out of the room while she checked on a boy cleaning the bathrooms inside. While she was checking on him, one of the 13-year-olds who I’ve probably grown the closest to out of all the kids and have been working the most with, sat down to talk to me. While we were talking, another boy came up and started annoying him. Of course, being the biggest and toughest in the room, the boy went to go show the kid who’s boss. He chased him down and started beating him up. I quickly followed to try to stop and break up the fight. The Tia rushed out the bathroom and screamed at the older boy, who then ran past me and out the door laughing. The Tia was furious. She then turned to me and screamed at me, “IF YOU WEREN’T HUGGING ON HIM ALL THE TIME MAYBE HE’D ACTUALLY LISTEN.”
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to scream.
I was pissed off.
EXCUSE ME? I’M THE ONLY ONE HERE THAT WILL HUG HIM.
Don’t you know he’s been on the street since he was eight? Kicked out of his house by his own parents?
Don’t you know he’s from Guatemala, chased out of his own country by gang members?
Don’t you know he’s been addicted to drugs since he was nine years old?
Do you know how badly he needs to be hugged? How madly he wants love? How hard it is for him to open up to people? How amazing it is that he feels safe enough to hug me everyday and trust me? Do you not know how hard I’ve worked to break down those walls and get those hugs?
This is what’s emotionally exhausting me. The fact that these Tia’s, while they won’t show any love on their part, won’t let me show love either. I’m not a rule breaker. I hate conflict. In fact, whenever I feel like I’m breaking someone’s rules I get a mad case of anxiety. So it’s absolutely, positively killing me that doing the right thing (loving and caring for these kids) is so unacceptable to the Tia’s. These kids are becoming scarred for life. They’re never going to be able to have a normal, healthy relationship with anyone if they’re never shown love. They’re being set up for a loveless, lonely life where they never trust anyone.
You can give me sunburn, lice, no sleep and no water. You can push my body to it’s breaking points. But none of that can really exhaust me. I know now that the only way to truly exhaust me is to break my heart over and over and over again.
Pray that the Tia’s change their attitude. Pray that even if they don’t ever love on the kids themselves, that they’ll at least let me or other visitors love them. Pray that these kids can live normal lives after they’re out of Nueva. Just pray for them. Pray for everything about their lives. Pray. Because they need it, so very badly.