Three weeks.

Twenty-one days.

I have tried to write three different blog posts this morning, and absolutely nothing is coming together. My mind is too scattered and simultaneously too laser-focused on the number 21 to write about anything else.

How am I supposed to reconcile these desires? I am so desperately ready to be home. At the same time, I have 32 new brothers and sisters here at the Manuelito Project.

When I say “brothers and sisters,” I do not take that lightly. After living with these kids through their dark moments, their moments when they regress to street-child behavior, and doing my best to love them consistently, they see that love and they open up to it. These are children who do not trust, and some of them are starting to trust me.

When I first came to Manuelito, I was very bitter about being here. I saw the kids as problem children, I wanted nothing to do with disciplining them or being an authority figure, and I woke up every day and checked my calendar to see how many weeks before I could leave.

Many things have changed since I first came to Manuelito. While living with the kids, eating with them, teaching Bible, English, and computer classes, playing soccer with the boys, and much more, I have gradually grown into the role of authority and disciplinary figure.

I knew something had changed drastically one day when I was trying to get a group of norteamericanos to the supper table. They were dilly-dallying, but the (very pregnant) cook could not begin her long walk home until the group finished eating and she washed all the dishes. I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “How are you doing?” She looked at me with puppy-dog eyes and said, “I just want to go home.” That did it. I walked into the middle of the living room, clapped my hands several times, and said very loudly, “Okay, group, time for supper! The food is on the table, ready to go, and Tanya wants to go home. Eat fast, guys!” I then stood there, shocked, while the group obediently filed to the table.

Likewise, I knew something had changed when I had to deal with two boys who had cheated on their homework. Well, they had not cheated, per se, but they had lied to me about it. I very calmly explained to them that the lying was what concerned me, and gave them a short lecture. I did not say anything too threatening or terrible, but at the end of my speech, they both had tears in their eyes. One of the boys quietly raised his hand and said, “Erica, I did lie about the homework. I am really sorry that I did that. I know I won’t get points for it, and that’s good. Will you forgive me?” I was able to handle the situation maturely, without being too tempted to strangle them and without being too tempted to get weepy and let them off the hook.

At the same time, I must reconcile the roles of authority figure and friend. After the school day ends, I have fewer official responsibilities. I spend some time alone or with the other volunteer, having introvert time and recovering. Then we go and play with the kids and try to keep them entertained. When the kids and I are hanging out, I have learned to keep a careful balance between my roles of rule-enforcer and buddy. I didn’t think it was possible, but here I am.

Yesterday after supper, I was hanging out and talking with a few of the boys. They were play-fighting with each other, and one of them lunged at me with an overdramatic kick and fell to the ground, giggling hysterically. I said, “No, no, that’s not how you do it.” Long story short, by the end of the night, they were lined up in an orderly row, using my outstretched hand as a target as they practiced four different kicks and a few different punches that I remembered from Tae Kwon Do. (Yes, Mom, I gave them a very stern lecture against using these techniques on each other. They know I will roast them if they do.)

You see the problem? I begin this blog post talking about how desperate I am to be home. I end up sharing anecdotes from day-to-day life here. This is going to be a difficult transition.

I am sure, though, that being home will be very good. I am so ready to see Dad and Mom and Teya. I am ready for a lot of things. But I’m not ready to leave my brothers and sisters here. I wish you could meet them.



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