Week Twelve

Cusco, Peru

Tomorrow is my last day at Casa Mantay. It’s hard to believe. The girls are my amigas, and I am sad to say goodbye to them and  their kids. I’ve totally bonded with them. My Spanish has become bueno enough that we can tell jokes and laugh together – which is a big improvement from when I arrived and would just awkwardly smile and say “Hola” a lot.

One day I brought in nail polish, per Luisa’s request, and I think that’s when they decided I was cool enough to hang with them. Another day we watched the Peru v. Bolivia futbol match together and they were so passionate about cheering Peru on. I am about a decade older than most of these mothers, but I really feel like we became close over the last month and I am going to miss them very much.

I really admire these girls so much. I think back to when I was 16, cruising around in my car smoking cigs, and I wasn’t even close to the maturity level of these mamacitas. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned more about the backstory of each of the girls and how they ended up at Mantay. Although there are a few who became a mom due to their own willful choices, the majority of them did not.

I sit there and look at these girls and cannot imagine what monster would do that to them, especially the very young ones. The signs of abuse became more clear as I spent more time with them. One girl cannot smile. The pregnant 12 year old doesn’t talk or really make eye contact. It is really heartbreaking. I think being in this environment every day has made me a bit more emotional than usual.

But on a much more positive note, these beautiful children are living proof that something very good can come from something not so good. The girls have each other and unending support from Mantay. I am so happy I was able to be a part of this organization, even if only for a short time.

I gave the girls a little survey to fill out about themselves, mainly as a little self-esteem booster and so I could have something to remember them by. Their answers were really sweet. Ofcourse, Candy’s mom’s was the sweetest.

These girls are so responsible and have had to deal with so much that it’s easy to forget they they are just a bunch of teenagers. All of them have the same favorite song right now, Gangnam Style. I don’t know if that is a hit in the States right now, but it plays here non-stop.

On the last day as a volunteer, the girls get in a circle and individually thank you, which is such a sweet gesture. I am sad to say goodbye to everyone, but especially to my favorita little cutie, Candy Kaori.

I’ve am so grateful for this experience. I can now successfully change a diaper without gagging and can tell whether a child is hungry, dirty, cranky, tired or just being a little brat. I’ve found my own inner Pachamama and these girls will all have a special place in my heart.

They have given me a new sense of perspective on my own life, not to be too dramatic. Any problemas I think I may have pale in comparison to what these girls have dealt with, are dealing with, and will have to deal with. I plan on keeping in touch with Mantay for the foreseeable future and doing what I can to help from the States.

I came back to Mantay the day after my last day because I was packing up my bag and realized I don’t need all the sweaters and sweatshirts and leggings I brought. I can get by for the rest of my trip with one of each, and I can get more of all of the above when I return home. I wanted to give my extras to the girls. I also think I wanted an excuse to go back one last time.

I took my last comby ride back out to the Casa and wrote notes to each of the moms on the way, giving them my email address to stay in touch. When I arrived it was after lunch. Most of the girls were in class so I left the clothes near their rooms and went to check on the nursery.

The babies and toddlers were taking naps while the volunteers watched on. Except for Candy. She was in the playroom, sitting in a swing. She gave me the biggest smile when I walked in the room. I was able to spend almost half an hour alone with her, swinging and laughing and smiling and playing. It was such a gift.

Walking away from her felt like Rose trying to save Jack at the end of Titanic. I never wanted to let go. With more than a few tears in my eyes but a big goofy smile on my face, I gave Candy one last squeeze. I also went against protocol and added her mom as a friend on Facebook when I got back to my room, because I need updates on that child.

Since I am currently living the life of my dreams, I am heading off on the Inca Trail this week and will be arriving at Machu Picchu soon. I can’t believe this adventure has finally arrived. But I wish my little pachamamas could come with me.