While I was preparing to come to Bolivia, I spent a lot of time thinking about my fears and concerns. I wanted to be able to confront those fears as much as I could before leaving so I could be open to new experiences and not let my fear get in the way of my work. So far I've been able to get over or abolish most of them.
For example, I was worried my team might not work well together or we might not get along. It turns out I couldn't have asked to be with a better group. I was also a little worried about getting sick. I already did that and now I can drink tap water, so I guess we're good. I was not a fan of the idea of tarantulas and parasitic moths, but I held a tarantula this week and have yet to see a confirmed parasitic moth. I'm still not ok with lice, but I'm also not sure that's a fear I want to get over.
Despite all this, I realized this week that I am and will be encountering all new fears, ones I didn't even bring with me from home.
Blood in the Water
The first memorable incident this week involved the Guerreros and Rodrigo, one of the Harding boys. While it wasn't exactly fear-inducing, it was certainly a serious situation.
I was at the creek on Friday afternoon, taking my turn watching the boys swim so Carlo could leave and get ready for worship. Little 3-year-old Rogalio kept coming down to the creek from the Hardings, even though he was supposed to stay inside. The boys were throwing mud back and forth from their makeshift fortresses. And while I was supposed to be making sure no one drowned or got hit in the head with a rock, Rodrigo got hit in the head with a rock.
At first, I thought it was only a scrape, but the blood kept coming and was dripping down his back, so I decided this was going to be above my pay grade. He was a little stunned but was able to wash himself off in the outside sink, and fortunately, Sierra had brought suture kits. He remained stoic but was clearly in pain, and now he's doing much better thanks to Sierra's first 10 stitches.
Out of My Depth
Later that night, I was confronted with the fact that not only can I not suture physical wounds, but neither am I great and fixing emotional wounds.
I needed the keys to the front gate, and the only person with keys was Melissa, the director of Familia Feliz. When I went to ask her for them, she was looking at her phone and it was obvious she was trying to hold back tears. It turned out she'd gotten some bad news and was in no place to be worrying about keys. I realized I had no idea what needed to be said.
My natural instinct was to give her some emotional privacy and evacuate the situation as quickly as possible. However, it seemed like this was a moment when I needed to put my own goals and tasks aside to spend the time with her. However, I was terrified. I had no idea what to say, what could be said to make things better. Because so often there is no way to make things better. It felt like my involvement could only lead to a worse outcome or a heavier burden for Melissa.
I did the only thing I could which was spending time with her in grief and relying as much as I could on God for what I hoped were the correct words. We prayed together and she was able to share a small fraction of the overwhelming emotions she was having to bear, and I made sure she didn't have to worry about finding the keys. Walking away I myself was overwhelmed with fear of my inadequacy in the situation. The truth was, every single one of the kids I was interacting with every day was carrying enormous burdens, and I didn't have the words in my language to even begin to relieve some of that pressure, much less in the language they spoke. I was faced with the fear of being helpless to help.
For now, I'm praying that my actions will be enough to bring Christ into the lives around me, lives to which I can't even begin to relate on the level of trauma and heartache.
On Sunday a very different and more tangible fear presented itself. Zoro and I were fixing dinner for the Guerreros when their house mother, Saray, returned from her day off. In the chaos of a movie playing in the background, attempting to make popcorn in a pot for the first time over a possessed stove, and seven hungry young boys who were not afraid to be vocal about this fact, it was not immediately apparent that there were actually only six hungry and vocal young boys.
For me, Ricardo is so far one of the most memorable and omnipresent kids at Familia Feliz. He always wants to hang out with the volunteers. He's currently trying very hard to learn English from me and knife throwing from Carlo. I love talking to him because I can learn some Spanish from him and he can learn some English from me. Even though we don't know enough words to have very complicated conversations, we can at least hang out and have a good time. He's always showing up where ever I am, goofing off, calling me a monkey after I call him a clown.
However, after calling everyone to dinner for the fifth time had finally caused everyone but him to trickle into their seats at the kitchen table, it was odd to see him missing.
A rumor that Ricardo was at the Hardings led me there to retrieve him, although I couldn't find him there or at any of the other houses. At this point, I was mildly frustrated about having to walk all over campus. I hate looking for things that should be somewhere obvious, such as a large hungry child. A double and triple check of the beds upstairs, heavily obscured in makeshift bug nets, also returned empty-handed. It wasn't until Saray told us how unusual this was and I saw how upset she was that I started to get worried. Zoro and I searched the school area, the abandoned building on campus, and all the houses once again.
During the whole search, it felt more like an adventure or a mission. It wasn't until afterward that I felt how tight my muscles had gotten and how much cortisol was in my veins. I realized I had completely been overcome with irrational fears, ones that were especially evident when I had to check the creek by myself. I went expecting the worst so I would have an idea of how to respond, and it hit me after it was all over how sick this made me feel. It took the rest of the evening to work the stress out of my mind and body.
As it happened, Zoro, Lisiane, one of the other Guerreros, and I were going off into the brush to an even more abandoned building as a far-fetched possibility when we heard Ricardo whistling at us from the vegetable patch, a spot I'd already checked several times. He had gone without permission across campus to be alone, and started avoiding us when he heard us looking for him. Needless to say, Saray was quite upset with him, and he spent a long time talking with Melissa that night.
The threat of something truly bad happening to one of the kids became a real possibility in my mind that night. Not only are teenage boys inherently threats to themselves (even in healthy environments), they also have threats to face from others, and in many cases here, this can include their own families attempting to find them. The truth is, Familia Feliz is sometimes - often - the only thing between these kids and those threats. And now, as a volunteer here, I'm part of that barrier. Even though the situation ended up being completely harmless, it felt like that barrier had cracked just a little bit.