Saturday, March 23, 2013

My day with Jimena

In celebration of my Jimena's 8th birthday, I'd like to share my memories of the day we spent together, November 6, 2012.

The morning of child visit day on our trip started very early for me, I think around 4:00 a.m. (which was actually 3 a.m. EST, since clocks in the States had changed the previous Sunday.) In those early hours, I listened to worship music on my phone and prayed about getting to meet Jimena.

When we went downstairs before breakfast, we saw Robin, another sponsor, who was planning to take a walk before we left for the day. I decided I wanted to go with her, and we took an enjoyable walk around a few blocks of Cochabamba, the city we were staying in, including a stroll through the morning bread market.

When we got back to the hotel, I found Dad, who had the big bag of gifts for Jimena and her family. As we found our groups and got ready, our trip leader Sean read Psalm 139 (a verse of which I had wanted to include on a card with Jimena's blanket, but hadn't.) After prayers, we got on the bus to head to the amusement park.

When we got to the park, I started getting really excited. We took one of the gifts — the soccer ball — as a "conversation piece" (even though, in the end, we didn't end up doing anything with it.) All of us sponsors came down a hill, and there were our kids. When we found Jimena, I gave her a big hug. I could feel her shaking with sobs, and it brought me to tears as well. I knelt down to be at her level, and got the first of many awesome hugs around the neck.

After the first meeting, our little group (which included Jimena; her mom, Amelia; her project worker, Marina; and our translator, Dawn) found a bench to sit down on. Here, Marina showed me some of Jimena's schoolwork (including her then-most recent letter to me) and gave me some photos to keep. Jimena had also made a craft project, a picture of a girl praying surrounded by Styrofoam shapes (I have no idea if Jimena knew at this point about my blindness or not, but it was fantastic.) Then, suddenly, Marina took the sun hat I was wearing off my head and replaced it with a "chulo", the Bolivian name for the hat with earflaps and a tie. I was so surprised and excited by this gift, and even more tickled by the "chompa," or big cardigan sweater that Amelia handed me next.

Then came an even bigger (or littler) surprise: Dawn said to Jimena, "Who else is here today." Very timidly, Jimena said, "My little brother." It turned out that Amelia had, inside a bundle of blankets on her back, brought along the newest addition to the family, six-week-old Luis, who was very well-behaved the whole day.

After this, we started having some fun. Jimena decided she wanted to go on the swings, and we went to the smaller swings that were like buckets with leg holes in them. I pushed her on the swing for a while, then decided I wanted to swing too (it's one of my favorite playground activities, even today.) So we found the more typical swings and Dawn pushed Jimena while I did some swinging of my own.

Partway through our swinging, Marina realized she wasn't feeling well and went to the pharmacy to get some medicine for her upset stomach. Once we were done with the swings, and a slide that neither Jimena nor I liked very much, Jimena and I thought we'd try the seesaw. Since there was such an obvious weight difference between us, she and I sat on one end and Dad helped by riding on the other. It wasn't the most comfortable ride for me, as I had to sit on the bar in front of Jimena, but we held on tight to each other and it was fun anyway.

After this little adventure, Dawn, Amelia, Jimena, and I sat together on the bench. I chatted a bit with Amelia about the family, once again getting all the names of the children (now 7 of them) and their father. Then we decided to go on the carousel, and while we were waiting our turn, Sean came by with some Play-doh for the two of us to play with. He jokingly said that Jimena could make a tactile map of her community for me, but we just made basic animalish shapes. Dad even joined in.

After going on the carousel, it was about time for lunch. This was about when we realized (or at least I did) that not all was okay with Jimena. She had been very shy all morning, but when Marina left, things started getting a bit overwhelming. During my chat with Amelia, I'd learned that they had come five hours by bus from El Alto (near La Paz) and stayed overnight in a hotel (*** Dad talks about the hotel, I don't remember Amalia mentioning it.***) This was Jimena's, and most likely Amalia's, farthest trip away from home wonder the poor girl was overwhelmed! We had chicken and potato wedges for lunch, and I learned that Jimena prefers vegetable soup (good girl!) Once Marina came back, Jimena did eat some of her lunch, and she seemed a little better.

After lunch, there were rumors of the weather turning bad (so far the day had been partly cloudy and breezy.) We were told to all meet by the buses and we'd go to an ice cream parlor.

One of my favorite memories of Jimena was walking with her. She was a fantastic sighted guide, holding my hand and stopping at every curb or change in terrain to let me know something was coming up.

Finally, everyone from the group met up, and after a long wait, a group photo was taken. The sponsors and kids/families got onto separate buses in order to go to the ice cream place, and Dad and I retrieved our bag of gifts.

We had a lot of fun at the ice cream place. When we got in and were sitting waiting for our treats, I asked Jimena what her favorite flavor is. She answered that it was strawberry. To my knowledge, this was the one time that she spoke directly to me all was precious.

After eating our ice cream, we went into the playground area of the ice cream shop. Here, Jimena found a slide that she liked much better than the one at the park. She went down it around 15 times at least, with me standing alongside the whole time.

Then it was time for gifts and pictures. We got quite a few pictures of me holding little Luis, and even one of Dad holding him, but someone else on the trip took that one and we haven't seen it since. I handed out all the gifts (Jimena took to her sock monkey right away), and then as the grand finale, pointed out all the patterns I had knit into the blanket (tulips, rabbit, cat, lamb, hearts, cross, angel, butterfly, teddy bear, moon and stars, and Jimena's name in the top left corner).

Then it was time for prayers and goodbyes. When we were outside saying our final goodbyes, Jimena, Dawn, and I listened to the Spanish version of Hosanna by Hillsong. Then Jimena just held my hand until it was really time to go. Then we had another long hug, until next time.

I would love to be able to visit Jimena again sometime, probably in a few years, when she's older and maybe less shy. I'd love to meet the rest of her family too. I’m pretty sure that if and when that happens, she'll be taller than me (she seemed to be growing like a weed just in that one day we were together.)

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