Life is full to the brim here at the Hogar, could it ever be anything else?
In a fast flying few months, Christmas has come and gone, a new school year arrived, we saw sisters from our community leave to new placements while other sisters arrived to our community in Itocta, and we sadly bid farewell to one of sisters from the Hogar but are excited to welcome Hna Filomena to what we endearingly term the “nut house.” A few stories and some pictures to illustrate the fun!
January and February could have been aptly dubbed the months of cake–I lost count at ten. The congregation recently elected a new superior general, Hna Amarilis, who visited us from El Salvador, and whose presence merited the necessary line up of dances and dinner as well as, you guessed it, cake! shared together in the salon as we danced the night away under typical explosion of balloons and decorations.
Then came a duo of important birthdays, the 5th of February our dear Hogar Momma Hna Leti, and then on 15th our tiniest member, Belen, officially reached her 2nd year. Not to be outdone by the Hna Amarilis’ shindig, we enjoyed pinatas, cakes up the wazoo, another round up of dances, cards and presents from the girls, and a blissful evening with the speaker blasting our favorite numbers, seeing how late we could push the bedtime bell.
A smattering of other events–sisters’ birthdays, farewells for sisters sent to new placements in Bolivia–guaranteed that the cake count surpassed ten. Of course, no one here is complaining, least of all the kiddos.
When it Rains it Pours?
February and March brought with it rain, in both the literal and the metaphorical. It’s been pouring buckets here, unfortunately causing major flooding in parts of the city. We shipped off mattresses and blankets from our storage room to families whose houses have been quite literally washed away in the storm–a valuable reminder for myself and the girls to be thankful for a standing house and a bed to sleep in!
But indeed, it has also been a time filled with rainy day sort of happenings. Illnesses spread through the ranks of the girls and the Hogar sisters and myself. I’m thankful to live in the age of modern medicine, for our patient neighborhood-over doctor, and for my own personal medical attache–momma and brother, my pro medical experts who have provided excellent diagnosis and advice via FaceTime. From stomach ulcers, fevers, bronchitis, and pneumonia to usual infected cuts, sores, and bug bites, with their assistance we seem to have weathered the storm.
In the midst of the flurry of illness, the beginning of the school year, and more, we also encountered some plumbing problems–stopped up drains so stubborn that no quantity of boiling water, antisarro, or wire fishing seemed to do the trick, water pumps officially condemned to the machine junkyard, and pipes broken in just the right spot to cut off water supply (which is no small matter when 40 humans need to wash their clothes, shower, and do their cleaning chores–not to mention the water necessary to cook for them all!) Luckily we were able to pin down the best plumber around, who has graciously trooped around the Hogar for the last week and a half fixing toilets, shower heads, drains, water pumps and pipes and tanks, and some electric work on top of it all. The great relief of functional plumbing of course carried the requisite concern of how we were going to pay for it all. Hna Leti simply instructed that we had to have faith in Divine Providence. And would you know it–just a few days after the repairs were completed family of one of the community’s sisters sent a donation to cover all the plumbing costs and to buy cleaning supplies. Divine Providence indeed! Time and again generous people have stepped forward to assist– providing funds to cover surgeries for the girls, donating mattresses for all 40 of the girls, and bringing us new bookshelves and shelving units for the house. And every time it happens, it’s just as overwhelming. So, yes, perhaps when it rain it does pour. But the small acts of ordinary people scoop up the gathering water and we find ourselves on dry, solid ground.
Those Bolivian Things
There’s a grand menagerie of happenings or circumstances that are very “Bolivian,” some of them simply unique to life here at the Hogar. They will I imagine stay with me for the rest of my life and make me laugh as they do now.
For example: Up until three weeks ago, every shower I’d ever taken here was somewhere between freezing and cold. When I went to take a shower, it resembled less a normal, leisurely activity as it did a planned military maneuver. (PSA, given temperatures and humidity levels, one really only needs to shower every 3-4 days). I would hedge my bets that I could sneak in a shower during the relatively warm parts of the day, either Sunday mid-morning when all the kids had left for catechesis and I had a free hour, or on a weekday afternoon when the oldest kids and a couple of the youngest are around the house and I can leave them unsupervised without great risk of fire or loss of limb. Given that those free moments weren’t usurped by some task, one then had to hope that it wasn’t particularly cold outside, making said cold water even more unbearable. And then the actual act of showering itself was a coordinated dance–turn the water on before the water heater (which turned the water from freezing to cool) to avoid shocking oneself on the metal knob, hold ones breath and force oneself under the stream just long enough to get sufficiently wet, hop out of the stream, lather and scrub as quickly as humanly possible, etc. Not a leisurely slow dance, more crazed-hop-dancing. So tonight, as I climbed the stairs to my room I thought, I should probably heat up some water and steam out my congested chest and nose. And then I realized I could actually go take a shower that was HOT, thanks to our magic plumber/electric man. I laughed out loud to myself, shocked by the simplicity of it all. (BTW the girls are also enjoying their hot water, which has been even warmer of late thanks to a streak of sunny days).
Another particularly Bolivian happening is the molle-burning that happens this time of year when the mosquitos become unbearable. Given our house is semi-open-air and that we are in peak mosquito season, the girls solve this in the most entertaining way possible: FIRE. Mosquitos happen to not tolerate smoke, particularly from burned molle, and fall out in masses when exposed. So our resourceful girls gather up molle (think close to eucalyptus) branches from nearby trees, and then set to work getting a fire started with recycled school notes and the driest branches on top of no longer usable for cooking metal cooking trays or in the wheelbarrow. After a good half an hour of this flurry of gathering and fighting over best ways to get the flame going, they’ve got that sucker lit up, and then the real fun starts. They parade into the house with the tray and a good haul of extra molle, and then enter a room, shut all the doors and windows, and smoke the room up to the brim. All the while, the brave occupants of the room refuse to leave, especially if they’re in the middle of dancing or watching a movie, and instead endure the smoke, which I for one, am not capable of doing. Then when they’re sufficiently satisfied with the volume of smoke (usually when they can no longer see more than two feet in front of them), they scurry to gather the molle and the tray and they move to the next room until they’ve smoked out the whole house. There is of course the hilarious scramble by the older girls to remove the rack full of school uniforms from the bedroom, lest they go to school the next day smelling like they’ve spent the evening round a molle camp fire.
The phrase “Dios Sabe” or “God Knows” is one that is repeated often here in the Hogar. It’s not some trite platitude, it’s not some bandaid for the hardships faced. It is something we live, something that steadies us and transforms our chaos. Just this past Holy Week we lived it in a profound way, as one of our girls fell ill and needed emergency surgery. She was smiling and requesting Good Friday fish as I sat with her in the hospital late Thursday night awaiting news from her labs, and smiling even bigger yesterday as she shuffled around the Hogar, assisted by her eager sisters.
New faces arrived at our door late Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon the crew was enthusiastically assembling beds to welcome the Hogar’s newest residents.
With the sisters at the helm, we keep celebrating and living.
We filled our week with biscocho and egg hunting and 5 Am Via Crucis processing through town, and with dancing to bless the Holy Saturday water. With Día de Peatón strolling through town as the sun sets on Easter Sunday. With that great anticipation for music to fill the house again after the silence that follows Good Friday. With the excitement of fresh cheese made from a donation of milk from neighbors. Short on Padres, we filled the wait before masses with song, gathered around the fire or squeezed into pews as the little ones nodded off.
In the midst of constant uncertainty, it could be easy, even understandable, to fall into a state of chronic worry, frustration, and self-preserving guardedness. But the sisters continually instruct the girls to live in a state of openness, joy, generosity, and ultimately, trust in Divine Providence. The oldest girls are now well versed in transmitting that message to the younger ones, admonishing them for taking an extra piece of bread and trying to hide it away, repeating another phrase that echoes in this house, “The moment we start guarding what we have, is the moment that Divine Providence leaves us. The moment we start hiding away and refusing to share, we refuse to trust that God will provide when we most need it.”
There’s no naivety, no false prosperity gospel underlying this attitude—it’s just simple, pure, time-tested trust that if we use what we need, and give what we don’t need to others, we will always be taken care of.
This morning as I scroll through social media, I find myself reflecting on the myriad ways that people interpret the Easter message. And it strikes me as sad to see what springs forth from Christ stripped away from his person, as if to expect that the message could bring to bear without the bearer itself. Confounding, that in light of his Resurrection, this life which many would label unjust and nothing more, does not actually speak to the reality of what we live in our home in Itocta, which is not primarily injustice or suffering but a joy, a trust, a family. The girls say, “We are rich as Queens.” I believe them—they have lived through rejection, abuse, abandonment. And yet, they call themselves Queens. Will you call that naive? Will you call that blind, stupid faith? Will you instruct them to live as victims and call for reparations, to put on the mantle of the disenfranchised, when they know, deep in their core, that they are Queens?
And ultimately, will we look within ourselves to see what we have guarded, what we are afraid to give away, what we are unwilling to place into the hands of Divine Providence? Be it comfort or status, vanity or pride, bitterness or anger, an ideology or point of view. Will we play the last card we wouldn’t lay on the table so that we can look at the cross and at our lives and say with pure, simple, trusting hearts, “We are rich as Queens.”