Hiking 007Cake and cream. These kids’ dream.

Sometimes cooking classes are really weird. There are Mondays when I am exceedingly enthused to demonstrate a delectable and innovative recipe, and the group reaction will be decidedly lackluster. Then there are other weeks, when I have barely scrabbled together enough functional ingredients to produce a mediocre dish, and the kids will clamor for moremoremore and talk endlessly about how this workshop was their favorite. I am unsure I will ever catch on to the Paraguayan palate.

I tried to adapt my dependable, go-to recipe for Peanut Butter Blondies to feature the perennial South American favorite, dulce de leche, instead. I was not pleased with the first round of results, and even after further tweaking for Lo’s Kitchen, the recipe still needed work. But the kiddos raved about it and immediately made noisy plans to get together to bake the dessert for Mother’s Day.

Shrug.

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Birthday Bitters.

May 15, 2013

Hiking 008He was so embarrassed about me asking him to smile for the picture.

I pulled up in front of the rickety green gate and stepped out of the car, leaping over an enormous puddle of sewage. The humid air was dank and putrid—pollution, poop, trash, and the nearby meat-packing plant combining forces to concoct a pungent aroma. I approached the gate with my usual hesitation as the E family guard dog is a rabid snarling beast (no exaggeration), and clapped for anyone in the family to come out.

The mom emerged in a ragged nightgown with no under garments and looking worse for the wear. Still, she greeted me with a welcoming smile. I have invested years and countless visits for this smile, and on a gloomy morning, it sure was bright. I wished her a Happy Mother’s Day, I asked her how she is holding up, and inquired about each of the eight children.

She sighed wearily and gave my questions brave answers. Then in a quieter voice, she continued, “Today is J’s birthday. He remarked to me, ‘Mom, I almost died [from a severe asthma attack] a few months ago, and look, I’ve made it to fifteen.’ I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, and all he told me was, ‘I don’t want anything. We don’t have enough for me to want anything.'”

J used to drive me CRAZY when La Ruta was still happening. He is the quintessential teenage rascal, aka: pain in the derriere. For some time when I was first getting to know him, it was extremely difficult to demonstrate love and patience with his antics. But as time has passed, he has become one of my greatest lessons on not judging a book by its cover. Or even by its Table of Contents.

The E family father is a piece of crap deadbeat. He suddenly abandoned this family of nine, and left to sleep around town and eventually start another family with another woman, who already had other children. Occasionally, he pops up to seize what little money has been accrued by the mom and oldest son, and to eat greedily from the bare bones stash of food. It makes my blood boil.

The children often ask their mother why he will take care of some other woman’s handicapped child (such a stigma here) but wants nothing to do with them. I have seen the abandonment issues manifest in each child in a wide range of ways, some violent, some desperate, all heartbreaking.

I handed over the cupcakes I made for J. A paltry offering, but one I hoped would remind him that he has so much worth.

Mrs. E revealed that both abuela and tía had called to wish J a happy birthday that morning. J then proceeded to sob and in his anguish, tore down the decorations his sisters had put up the night before, popping balloons and tossing crumpled signs outside to disintegrate in the rain. “WHY HASN’T DAD CALLED?!” he kept repeating angrily. Then he had an asthma attack.

She continued to tell me that when J was asked how he wanted to spend his day, maybe at grandma’s house for a meal, maybe across the street to hang with some friends. He simply stated he wanted to spend every moment inside the cramped quarters of their two-room house. Mrs. E looked at me hollowly and said, “I think he is expecting his father to show up. We all know he won’t, but J still hopes he might.”

My heart breaks.

Mother’s Day Mime.

May 12, 2013

Y organized and coached OANSA kids to perform a mime for Mother’s Day.

Mad respect for Auntie Ruby, who used to round us hooligans up to perform entire children’s musicals. Here is a handful of OANSA and Mi Esperanza chums singing an off-key but earnest rendition of “Christ is the King” (some of whom learned the song twenty minutes before hand; also why the lyrics are jumbled).

Lining up to head into the sanctuary.

Waiting not so patiently for R to finish preaching.