I’m getting used to the rooster. Perhaps I’m just exhausted. I don’t wake up before dawn this morning. We jumped in and out of truck yesterday finding shoes for dozens of kids. Even bringing Elizabeth’s nieces to help, I think it would be easier to get rid of the boxes and tie the shoes together and organize them by size. We have lots more little kid than big kid shoes so we bring some of the extra backpacks. The shoes are great but the backpacks are like a thousand Christmases to these kids!
Negotiating the mountain all day to find the poorest people and we still have 65 baskets to deliver. We bring as many as we can, plus the shoe bags and the cooler for the chicken. Each gift basket consists of a large round plastic basin that can be used to mix masa, wash a baby, or soak tired feet. The basin is filled with food and supplies – rice, beans, coffee, sugar, salt, spices, oil, toilet paper, toothpaste, bar soap, laundry soap and dry snacks. Plus we have bags of frozen chicken for a holiday meal.
The man whose truck we borrowed brought us a huge papaya. Everyone who can wants to help us. We breakfast on fresh papaya and coffee before repacking the truck. Nothing can be left out as it rains all night. It looks like we might have more rain today so we pick up a plastic tarp from Señor Cornejo where he’s getting his truck fixed on our way out of town.
We stop to buy green guavas to snack on. The fruit has the texture of an apple, tart yet sweet, so big we split them.
Our next stop is a rest stop. While Marlen finds out from the proprietor where to find the most needy families, I feed a parrot pieces of guava. The girls tease me that parrots will bite, but this one gently takes my offering. So far everyone I’ve met including the animals have been kind and friendly.
We drive up and up on narrow mountain roads deeper into the jungle. As we get further from the village, the houses are poorer. There’s a few nicer homes in the midst of wide expanses of land, mostly used for cattle and coffee, bananas and plantains. We pass quite a few cabarellos, riding solo or herding cows. Compared to the cities in the southern part of the country, the horses here are better fed.
We turn up a long mud road, nothing is paved this far out of town, but this road is even less well maintained. Here we might find the sick homebound elderly women we were told about at the rest stop.
When we can’t take the truck any farther, Elizabeth and I jump out and carry baskets to the nearest house. We interrupt a man building a clay oven to ask directions and he stops his work to send a young barefoot boy to leads us up a narrow trail about a third of a mile through the the jungle. There we find an elderly woman in a wheelchair and two little girls. We leave the basket of food for her and ask to take the children back to the truck to fit them with shoes. She gives us her blessing, so we make our way back down the hill.
Once we start fitting the children with shoes, more show up. Women from another household across the way bring their children. We fit them all with new shoes, clothe the little girls who live up the hill and give baskets of food to the families. We ask the boy to bring the little girls back to their grandmother and bring a basket of food to the man who helped us find all these needy people.
He refuses to take the basket without giving us something in exchange and runs across the road and up the hill to retrieve a huge bunch of bananas!
Thank goodness for the 4WD truck and Marlen’s expert driving. The roads slick with mud are difficult to negotiate but the baskets, shoes and kids stay safely put in the back of the truck. Just after our picnic lunch, this time we brought beans and rice for the girls who needed more than fruit and veggies, the tarp comes in handy during a down pour.
Marlen attempts to take us to the poorest area but the truck begins slipping back down the steep muddy road. I quickly help get the kids out of the truck and off the road so she can maneuver the truck out of ditch. After our muddy adventure, we cross back over the river to find other barrios.
It’s hard to choose who to give the baskets to as all the homes look impoverished to me, but Marlen seems to know who needs help the most. We do not fit children with shoes in the middle of the street, but park out of the way not to be overwhelmed by crowds. A young mother is washing clothes in the river with four little children. One of the girl’s entire arm is scarred, evidence of a bad third degree burn. Elizabeth points out that burns are common with open fire cooking in crowded households. The young mother is delighted to receive a food basket and luckily has enough children to help her carry it and the laundry back home.
By dusk we’ve given away thirty more baskets and three times as many as shoes, yet still have four huge bags of shoes left. But we must head back. I have meeting with the mayor.
The mayor of Quilali meets us at the house. We sit and have coffee with Señor Martin Gonzalez. This year he won a national award for the best use of federal funds to improve the city. He is anxious to help us however he can. I tell him that my concern is improving health care and education. I want to be sure that whatever we donate stays in Quilali. He assures us that he will do everything in his power to keep our donations where we intend them to be used. His newly elected assistant is a retired pharmacist who knows the health care system well and will act as our advocate. I am pleased with our encounter and feel like DDU has a powerful advocate here in Quilali.
After meeting the mayor, we take all of Elizabeth’s available nieces and nephews to help us give out the rest of the shoes. The children all wanted to help but we only had room for a few helpers with the truck filled with baskets. Now we take a dozen of them and her sister Erika and sister-in-law Magdalena too.
Marlen drives us to the poorest barrio at the edge of the city. We jump out of the truck and the kids help carry bags of shoes up the hill to the most impoverished houses. It’s dark now, we have nothing but a few cell phones for light, but we manage to fit another three dozen kids with shoes on a dirt road between two concrete houses. It’s a wonder we make it back to our truck with all our kids!
In celebration of a great days work, we stop to buy fireworks. The kids carefully pick out sparklers and we head home to unpack the truck. The children wait patiently, but when they see I’m finished, they cry, “Deborah! Deborah, andele!” Time to light the fireworks!
We celebrate in the backyard. These children have very little compared to children in America yet so much more than those we helped these past few days. The joy of giving is contagious and truly the greatest blessing of all.
Before I can even wash off the mud, I am asked to sit down for a pedicure. The young deaf woman DDU sponsored last year is here with her mother. We chat through sign while her mother starts the pedicure. She tells me she did well enough last year in her new business that she was able to get married. She shows me wedding pictures and I ask her about babies. Oh, no, not yet, she reassures me. She made enough to get long term contraception (much less expensive than in the US but still a significant investment for someone who makes $2.50 per pedicure).
Magdalena offers to massage my neck, while she shows me some of her nail designs. What do I want her to paint on my nails? I choose a golden butterfly in honor of Mom. Since dealing with her illness and subsequent death, now I find myself here in Nicaragua serving the needy, this has been a most transformational year. Butterflies symbolize spiritual transformation.
I pray through DDU I’ve been able to help others experience such beautiful transformations.
When I pay my new friend what I would have paid back home for an awesome spa pedicure, she cries. It’s more than she makes in a week. Her hug makes it most worthwhile.