Affirmations, Discernment, and Bittersweet Joy
A Glimpse into the Volunteer Community of NPH Mexico
February 15, 2017 - Mexico
Community. I had lived this word in a variety of contexts upon my arrival at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos™ in Miacatlán, Mexico. Between having lived abroad, growing up in a large family, and going to a small, tight-knit Catholic university, I had grown accustomed to the closeness, uniqueness, and otherness that distinct communities represent. Now, as my volunteer commitment slowly comes to a close, I sit here in my closet-sized room swatting a stray spider as I reflect on what it has meant to be a part of the volunteer community at NPH Mexico.
To be completely honest, it is absolutely nothing like I imagined—both in good ways and bad. I never expected to be able to understand my fellow volunteers without words. I have grown to understand and be able to intuit faces and sounds: the face of utter exhaustion at the end of a long day, the sigh in the next room signaling another bout of lice, a shriek that can only mean you have become roommates with a vinagrillo or a scorpion, an eye roll accompanied by gritted teeth signifying enduring the fifth consecutive berrinche (tantrum) from the worst behaved kid in the home, and the sad tears paired with a toothy grin upon recognizing the bittersweet reality of how awesome and difficult it is to be a part of this NPH family.
I knew I would love my kids, I knew I would have hard days with Spanish, but I didn’t know that the connection that I feel with this group of individuals would be so “other” than anything I had experienced. As a hopeless intellectual and student, I have spent hours and hours journaling, praying, and discerning how I can contribute to give my best to my kids, empleados (employees), the other encargados (caregivers), and my volunteer community. At times, these hours would end in tears, yearning to be home, and to my surprise, loneliness—to think that you can be surrounded by people and feel lonely! However, nearly as frequently, and especially lately, these hours end with a feeling of purpose, renewed sense of self, joy, and motivation to do more.
One of my most recent thought sessions was focused around thinking of ways to affirm my fellow volunteers. A request from our volunteer coordinator, each of us came up with three things that we admired about each of the other volunteers to share at our volunteer retreat. We then climbed the Aztec pyramids in Teotihuacan, and once we reached the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, we read through giggles, tears, and bittersweet memories, the words copied on iPhones, written on cute little notecards, and those spontaneously spoken on the spot. The day gave me so much perspective, joy, warmth, and much needed contentment. I not only recognized the things I had grown to love about my friends at NPH, but realized that the differences between friends here and at home that I once struggled with now made so much sense.
As I reflected throughout the day, I recognized this one very, very important thing: we were different, yes; I had closer friends and family at home that knew me better, yes; I still felt lonely at times, yes; but what defined this group was its otherness. I knew so many unique things about each of these selfless individuals: which NPH foods were absolutely unbearable for each of them, who actually could choke down Mezcal, which kids were the other volunteers’ “hijos”, how each of us handled the embarrassment of accidentally saying something nonsensical in Spanish, and so, so much more. I realized that even though these sunburnt, sweaty, smiling güeros surrounding me had only known me for six months, they knew sides of me that even my closest friends and family perhaps had never seen.
Through this crazy, sad, wonderful, difficult, exhausting, and incredible ride with NPH Mexico, we have developed a unique bond that will forever define our friendship. This shared experience, I now recognize, and our individual growth through it all, is what will always give our community an invaluable kind of depth, closeness, and authenticity that has impacted me in a permanent, life-changing way.
Librarian and Caregiver