In her team journal entry, Ecuador volunteer Maddie Hite-Smaka describes the humbling experience of visiting the home of a child and being graciously welcomed by the family. The team was invited to visit the home of Ana María (mother) and Daniel*, a three-year-old with whom they worked at an early childhood development center for the most vulnerable families in the community. In this unique time spent with a mother of five, the team of volunteers was able to learn a bit more about what life is like in Calderón, on the outskirts of the Andean city of Quito. Maddie writes here about honoring this experience as a gift.
By Maddie Hite-Smaka
Our fourth day was a bit of a whirlwind. And as I step to the keyboard with the task of telling about today, I find myself hesitating. I wrote last time about my perspective, but tonight I choke on the thought. I feel there is no perspective for me to have, only somebody else’s to honor. Sitting up in a full bed with chocolate and music and shelter, approaching a birthday tomorrow that I will surely get to celebrate in some lovely way that I please, I try to remember to honor my gifts and not hold them graciously in any comparison to another person’s gifts.
It began tender but loud. I started my day in Teacher Gaby’s room with the “babies” of the center. Despite a language barrier, I found many ways to show Emiliano how to share with his classmates. After a couple days of admiring the fervor with which the profesoras (teachers) feed the children, I finally got a hang of it, getting over the fear of feeling like I was forcing, and finding the balance in a steady hand on the spoon and a soft hand under their chin. My Spanish trickled back and I remembered that it’s not about translating what I hear, but trusting what I know and learned in my childhood. Overall, a morning full of growth and kisses and head rubs and laughs.
After our lunch with Belén, we bought groceries for our home visit with young Daniel’s mother, Ana María. Maggie guided us through the small three walls of the market, selecting various grains and snacks and home essentials. I was preparing my perspective balancing. I knew I was going to walk into a home, somebody’s version of their home, that would be unlike anything I’d seen before. I knew I couldn’t imagine it, that it would be like nothing I would ever encounter and then some. We got back to FUNDAC and Ana María was already there. After collecting our stuff, we went to find her and Daniel.
“I knew I was going to walk into a home, somebody’s version of their home, that would be unlike anything I’d seen before. I knew I couldn’t imagine it, that it would be like nothing I would ever encounter and then some.”– Maddie Hite-Smaka
I want to be cautious of not becoming an unreliable narrator, adding in unneeded tension for the sake of a good piece of writing. So I’ll tell it as plainly as I can without exploiting the experience or our host.
Ana María and Daniel had already left the center, and had done so quickly. The three of us traipsed after them, Maggie hurrying to catch up. Ana María had hurried because Daniel, (“The Hurricane” as she calls him), was crying because he didn’t get afternoon snack. If she felt embarrassed or simply wanted to get him home, I’m not sure, but Maggie did a wonderful job ensuring we were still welcome, asking Daniel if we could visit his home. He obliged, and skipped forward, holding hands and sharing facts about his neighborhood. His heart radiates as brightly as his playful, questioning squint and rolling tremor of a giggle. It’s the energy of so many in Calderón, an honorable pride in what they’ve gathered. And they want to share every bit of their gifts.
“It’s the energy of so many in Calderón, an honorable pride in what they’ve gathered. And they want to share every bit of their gifts.”– Maddie Hite-Smaka
After a few blocks we came to a line of about five metal roll up doors, of which I so far had recognized as store fronts. Ana María’s home is an old store front; it is her ex-husband’s old store and now houses herself, Daniel, and two teenage boys. And one dog. Maybe a few more. It is a home for certain, they have their personal touches. And it is a space that I quite certainly have never known anybody to live in before. We sat, and we talked, and they offered us water that none of us drank. We laughed and had some silence and a cookie. She shared some stories of her ex-husband, an alcoholic, of how he refuses to help the family but still tried to claim she was an unfit mother. During our visit, Daniel became fully enamored with Craig. Their bond was immediate and mischievous and sweet and radiated even brighter.
When we all decided it was time to leave, since Ana María had to get back to work, Daniel didn’t miss a beat. Unlike his previous pout, this time he melted into a mess of tears that ignited a weird sensory/bodily trauma in me that my inner child soul recognized.
“Please don’t leave, we were just having fun and I just got comfortable.”– 3-year-old Daniel
He showed us the bed Maggie could sleep on to stay, and Ana María, for maybe the fifth time, told us that of course we were welcome. Whenever she had time she made sure to share it when possible. The other boys were present and invested in helping their mother and showing us photos of their life. They all walked us out, and Daniel cried as the door closed.
I wasn’t sure what to write coming into this journal, but I guess the summary is this: There are constants in the world. And I don’t want to look at a miracle worker wonder woman like Ana María as some offering for me to learn a lesson from and move on. I will take her gracious gift of welcoming us into her space as a reminder that there are constants. There is hurt and overcoming, there are pieces of our past lingering in our homes, and little joys that lift us like a pastry after school. There isn’t always hot water or ventilation, but there is choosing to live your life, if not for you, then for the gift of five healthy children who love you.
“There is hurt and overcoming, there are pieces of our past lingering in our homes, and little joys that lift us like a pastry after school. There isn’t always hot water or ventilation, but there is choosing to live your life, if not for you, then for the gift of five healthy children who love you.”– Maddie Hite-Smaka
Calderón is powerful, and Calderón is all over the world.
*Names have been changed.