A Job Is Not Defined By Money

Published: January 29th 2008
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Playa Santo DomingoPlaya Santo DomingoPlaya Santo Domingo

The kids and I swam, ate, played volleyball, and enjoyed the view of Volcano Maderas all day.
My first week on the island has been particularly hard for me in many ways.

It was my first week as a tia, or aunt, for a group of kids. We had nothing else planned, except for this. The day was wide open for this and the only structure was meal times.
I chose the older boys, hoping they would be easy for me. And, they were...but almost too easy. My first day, I walked over to my boys. I didn’t even know who was in charge...apparently, they have a tio, or uncle, but I didn’t know who he was. Well, I introduced myself as their tia for the week. They were welcoming for the most part, but also playing cool, not getting too attached to me at first. I remember trying to interact with them...however, after morning chores and breakfast, they all ran away from me! I think they just had their own thing to do...but I was sad. Here I was a young girl, and they were cool older boys...why would they want to hang out with me? Instead, I hung out with the girls. I think I connected with them better. I related to them better, and
Janet and IJanet and IJanet and I

Playa Santo Domingo
I had a better time with them, for we could do more together. We played silly girl games, I listened and danced with them to their salsa music, and I visited their sleeping quarters, which were so clean and nicely put together. The boy’s sleeping quarters were messy and smelly. I didn’t like it too much. Well, because I was a tia to the older boys, I ate with them and ate off of their dishes. They didn’t really wash their dishes...and when I washed them, I almost gagged at the smell of the kitchen.

Anyways, the first day was rough. From 7:30am to 7 pm, I was with them and it felt like the longest day of my life. I literally had to think of things to do with them...cards were a good option. There was a boy in my group who knew a ton of tricks. He was really fun. The kids loved the cards. I often lent them out, and didn't see them for a few days...word of advice: Don't lend anything out you don' t want broken or lost. Then, a game of volleyball was started. So, things picked up. However, when you don’t have
Casa Santiago: My homeCasa Santiago: My homeCasa Santiago: My home

Volcano Concepcion. My backdrop for the year.
a lot of resources or games and just an open field, you really have to invent things to do. I remember sitting in the swing in the deserted and dirt playground, just swinging, and being very bored. I have never felt this bored in my life. I started to feel sad and that couldn’t go on with this for a year. I returned to my quarters that night feeling like I never wanted to return to the unstructured days to come. I never wanted to be an orphan, with nothing to play with...

However, then the thought came to me...these kids don’t have many toys, however, this is only vacation. Their days are supposed to be open. Their lives will be busier when school starts. Furthermore, without toys, they can focus on building relationships with each other and having fun with the loving volunteers. And, the kids work so hard with their chores and with meal times and with each other, they don’t have time to be bored. Maybe it is bored for me, since I am used to a culture of abundance. However, for them, this is normal. They use their imaginations and are happy living the simple
Volcano MaderasVolcano MaderasVolcano Maderas

The tiolets sure offer a nice view!

The weeks were soon filled with excursions. One of them was to a beach called Playa Santa Domingo, a large stretch of beach in between the two volcanoes. It is a tourist spot. I had never been to the beach and this one was beautiful! It was also nice to see other white people...when you are around Latinos all day, a white person is really nice to look at. You may understand if you were me.

Another excursion was for my boys only. One of the other volunteers organized a trip to the Ojo de Agua, or eye of the water. It is the pool of water from the river that drains into the island from the lake. The "pool" is composed of fresh water and there are small fish. However, the water is still in certain parts and you feel like you are in a pool. It was there that I met Nicole, an NPH engineer building the new NPH home in Jinotepe. I was told to find her, as my connections in MN, and with the regional office in St Paul told me to do so. And, I found her! What a small world! The
My  boysMy  boysMy boys

I think they think they are cool...and they sure are! They warmed up to me.
day was spent watching my boys laugh and just having fun. Seeing them laugh was healing for me. They convinced me also that I needed to jump off the rope into the water from up high...and I did it. My top came off! I don’t think I will be doing that any time soon. When the water was overwhelming, I slept in the hammocks and also hiked up the hill to the bathrooms, where there was a beautiful view of Volcano Maderas. Only in Nicaragua I tell myself. I don’t think you can separate yourself from the volcanoes on the Pacific side of this country.

One day, we all went to the NPH farm on the north end of the island. Since the bus was broken, we took a large truck. All 50 kids and 7 volunteers went in the truck as well. When there are only sides to hold onto, everyone in the middle has to hold onto each other. When one person falls, so do 20 others. When the roads are bumpy, everyone sways and people fall. It is literally like the domino effect. When we are not ducking from tree limbs, swaying from left to right
Nature hike in Charco VerdeNature hike in Charco VerdeNature hike in Charco Verde

It is so windy, I feel I am about to fall off! Volcano Concepcion in the background. Maderas is not far away on the other side.
due to speed bumps, falling on top of each other for legit reasons, some kids find it particularly amusing to push their friends, just for the thrill of being pushed around. Very dangerous. Good thing for the ropes we had. I am just glad that nobody fell out of the back or sides of the truck. Riding in that truck was the best amusement ride I have ever gone on and it was for free! However, I regretted it the next day, as my neck was messed up. The farm was a 30-minute ride and was a nice open break from the smelly truck. It is in a nice location, for along the beach, you can see Volcano Masaya, almost 45 minutes away by car! I felt like I was on mainland and viewing a lake, when I was really on an island. I keep forgetting that. I think and see that I am on a lake, but it isn’t.

Another excursion was to Charco Verde, a beach close to the home. Once there, I had a great time seeing the kids throwing themselves in the lake. They could do that all day and be happy. They love water. Give them their own lake and they are set for life in the recreational department! Some of the volunteers toured the nature park. It was a steep hike up to the top of the hill, and a windy one! There were some spots where I felt I would be thrown off the cliff from the strong wind. Looking down was the beach and sheer cliff. Along the brown beaten path were birds and monkeys. It was so amazing to be so close to nature. It really was. Me, the singing wind, the brown path, the birds, ants, and insects...I was taking it all in. At the end of the path, there was a pointy dead end...and only one person could walk to it at a time. Hanging one arm on the tree, I allowed myself to stretch out from the cliff and see the view: the two volcanoes, one on the left and the other on the right. In the water was the little island in the middle of the enormous blob of choppy blue waters. If I let go of that tree, I was dead meat, while the wind carried me down to the shark-infested waters. However, the scene was so peaceful. And, from a perspective so unique! I felt on top of the world. Even better, this park was free of entrance! Just like a public park for them, like a normal thing to see. However, to me, this hike was paradise. Janet served as our tour guide, pointing to little lakes on the island, marshes, something equivalent to the everglades in Florida, and black moneys in the trees. When I got back from my peaceful hike, a few drunks that could not speak Spanish bombarded me. When I let them go, we ate lunch. A kid cut in front of me. As punishment, I made him speak English, or at least learn it, for 10 minutes with me. He went later to sit on my backpack, breaking my camera inside. I now need a new one.

Aside from these excursions, I have been doubting my decision to serve oversees for a year, not making any money. In fact, I was spending money, about 5 grand in total. Is this where I really needed to be, fresh out of college with debt? If you presented a choice to someone to either earn a lot of money or none at all, which would they choose?
This week is hard and I doubted whether or not I made the right decision, to not make any money.
However, apart from this doubt, I am doing something I am very passionate about. That, not money, should define the value of my work. And, I have the rest of my life to work. It's a big commitment to stop your money making career for a year to do something you are passionate about. It says something about the work you are doing. And, the work at NPH is God inspired and wonderful. Through salsa club and English classes and through spending time with the kids, relationships are being built. Trust is being formed and solidified. Faith is being harvested in the seeds we are planting.


30th January 2008

God is pleased with you
Michelle, Your final two paragraphs were very touching for me to read as you put your service to the needy above your service to yourself. God is very pleased with you. This year may have many days of doubt and lonlyness but your Lord will be with you through it all. I could not be more proud of you. Love you for ever and ever. Your DAD.
30th January 2008

A Different Type of Paycheck
It's completely understandable to have those kinds of questions and feelings when adjusting to the type of "culture shock" you described. You're right, there's no monetary compensation here. However, every time I read your journal, I'm amazed and humbled by the priceless insights and experiences that you receive each day. I remember too all the little miracles that brought you to where you are. I hope these thoughts bring you encouragement. We're here for you!
21st February 2008

Que linda aventura
Querida Michelle, Me encantaria estar en tu lugar. Creo que muchos de nosotros aqui en GAP podemos identificarnos contigo. Aun no leo los otros diarios pero estoy segura que cada dia te sientes mejor. Apuesto a que duermes muy bien por las noches despues de trabajar tanto. Estamos en contacto. Saludos a tus ninos. -Erika

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