Ginger: Visit 5, part 2

See Bryan’s posts on our retrieval of Syalom from school (At the School…) and her house (Visit 5). Here are a few of my impressions:

Syalom was much bigger than I expected! As Bryan said, she’s probably older than her reported age. I immediately began worrying that the clothes I’d brought her wouldn’t fit.

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I found out early in our visit to Syalom’s home that her mother has cancer (we weren’t told what kind), and she’s receiving treatment, thanks to Compassion. Often in urgent medical cases Compassion is able to provide money from their Complementary Intervention fund to help family members other than the sponsored child. In fact, Syalom’s mother had rescheduled a doctor’s appointment so she could meet us on the day we visited.

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Later, as we learned about the kitchen addition to their house bought by extra gifts I’d sent, I realized at least part of that project was paid for with my friend Linda’s gift money. Linda also has cancer. Both Linda and Syalom’s mom seem to be doing well for now. I was touched by the connection between these two women who live half a world apart, both struggling with a life-threatening disease, both loved and prayed for by Syalom.

I had another bad moment at Syalom’s house when I realized some jewelry items (two watches, for Syalom and her mother, and a necklace) had been stolen out of the luggage at some point, likely in Jakarta. Thankfully the watch I’d brought for the father was still in the bag. But I felt sad and angry that the gifts seemed a bit skimpy (by my standards). It was another distraction, another bump in the road.

Syalom was very quiet for most of the visit, though she cooked us fried plaintains and patiently showed me how to prepare them. At one point someone in the crowd of women urged me to pin up my hair, because of the heat. I accepted a little green plastic butterfly clip from Syalom. Later, when I tried to return it, she smiled and said, “It’s OK.” I was delighted to squirrel it away into my bag. I still have it, and think of her when I see it in my drawer.

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After the home visit we returned to the church. A team of cooks had prepared an enormous buffet lunch and we all ate heartily. I think the sweetest moments of the visit happened for me then, in that after-food lolling-about time. Syalom snuggled up close to me on the couch and we looked at the pictures on my phone and my camera. (I kept thinking, why didn’t I take any more exciting pictures?!) Syalom taught me a few words in her language, and I said things in English for her. We took some selfies.

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Finally, about half an hour after the time I’d thought would be the latest we could stay, we began saying goodbye. Our Compassion host said he thought the pastor had wanted to talk more—I worried we were offending by rushing off, made apologies, felt pulled in many directions. Syalom’s mother kissed both my cheeks, then we did it again for the camera. I hugged Syalom. We got in the car and she came around to my window. She said something to the host.

“She wants to kiss you,” he said. And so she did, a gentle feather touch on my cheek.

I am very grateful for moments like that one. They erase all the fretting, the cross-cultural gaffes, the logistical difficulties, the risks and expense. They’re magic.

Thank you, Syalom.

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Bryan: Visit 5, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Our final visit was with Syalom, in eastern Indonesia. She is reported to be 11 1/2 years old, but appeared a bit older, maybe 13. Records of ages aren’t accurate in some of these countries and people just don’t keep close track. Kids aren’t slotted to grades in school based on age but rather on ability. Many of the kids either start late or don’t go straight through. So you get a mix of ages in a grade.

Syalom lives with her mother and stepfather. They’re in a 4-room house. It was 3, but more on that later. They’ve got bare-bones electricity and running water.

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We met Syalom at her school. We paraded into the classroom and pulled her out (see previous post, At the School…). Luckily they were expecting us, so no kidnapping charges. But it really made Syalom the celebrity around the school. This center had a group visit once before, but never an individual, such as this visit.

Syalom is one of the kids who had asked Ginger to visit. She’d asked several times in her letters if Ginger ever came to Indonesia. It is fairly common that the kids (and many adults) don’t really have a clue how big the world is and what it takes to get around. But persistence paid off.

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We proceeded to Syalom’s home where her parents were waiting.

Below is Syalom’s mother:

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And her stepfather, putting on his new watch:

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The view below is from the street in front of the home. The two girls had just walked by. And got candy for their trouble.

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This is the view in the other direction. They are in a town with a mixture between lower and middle classes. You can see in the picture that their neighbor has a walled, gated home, with an at least partially paved driveway. And Syalom’s family seems to have a little more disposable income than some others we’ve visited.

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As is common, the neighbors wanted to get in on the action.

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After the home visit, we returned to the church/center. They had arranged a large lunch for us and a musical performance. 

The food is a common denominator in these visits. The family often will serve us food. And the center often will, as well. We tend to get a mixture of home-cooked and storebought stuff. Soda is often a purchased luxury item for the visits. And a whole variety of local foods.

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This was the final kid visit for this trip. Between this trip and going to Africa two years ago, we’ve now done 17 child visits in 8 different countries. Each one is unique and memorable. No two kids are the same. The families and situations are different. The centers are different. And each visit seems to have some hidden wonder in it.

But there are a few themes that run through all of the visits. The main common thread, of course, is Ginger.

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She works hard on the relationships, letter writing, and keeping up with the family situations. Whether it is with Abby, whom Ginger has supported and corresponded with for about 5 years, or Charissa Beth, whom Ginger has only supported long enough to send one letter before the visit.

One other theme is that Ginger has typically provided family gifts to the families of the kids she supports. It is often about $100, sometimes a bit more. Not a huge amount to us. Sometimes we find out, in detail, what they purchased. And sometimes the information doesn’t get passed on. In Syalom’s case, no information had been passed on. We got to the part of the visit where they were going to serve us food. The plan was for Syalom, herself, to cook a simple dish for us. So the entire party, including neighbors, adjourned to the newly added fourth room of the home: the kitchen.

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It had been added onto the back of the house, using a family gift we’d provided. It is great to see how such a small sacrifice from us can have a great impact on others.

It is common for the families to show us what our gifts have provided, when we visit. We’ve seen a water faucet and house addition in Rwanda; met a donkey in Burkina Faso; seen the land purchase in Uganda that restored a fatherless boy’s status in the village; been given report cards for kids who have been sent to school; and been given shirts sewn by a disabled boy who got tailoring equipment and training in Burkina. And now a room addition–a formerly outdoor kitchen moved inside.

Another common theme is that, through the letters, our family becomes a part of theirs. Below is a framed picture of Ginger and me from Africa, which Ginger sent to Syalom in an online letter. They had it printed in 8 x 10, framed, and was one of the few pictures hanging on the wall of their living room. (The picture in the corner is our son, Cameron, holding his cousin’s daughter.) Syalom’s grandfather asked me (through an interpreter) how my new job was going, recalling I’d started with my company a short time after Ginger started supporting Syalom.

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The other common theme is the strength of the relationships developed with people other than the child. One place this happens is with the translators in the center who translate the letters back and forth. They read everything and tend to feel pretty invested in the relationships.

But the strongest relationship tends to be with the child’s mother (grandmother, aunt, whoever is taking care of them). These are deep, often unspoken, and very emotional meetings. The look in a mother’s eyes on one of these visits can make the whole trip worthwhile.

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And, of course, with the child.

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