Wow, time is flying by and only this week of volunteering remains. The past two weeks have been pretty busy for the children with the holidays coming up. Lots of them are taking pictures of themselves for the yearly Compassion child update that their sponsors receive at the end of each year. I noticed that many of them do not smile in their photos, which is different from most photos taken of children in the States, because I almost never see a child who doesn’t smile in their photos. Here, I think it’s normal to not smile, especially the boys. I’ve noticed that for many Ecuadorian guys (maybe it’s the macho look?). But I’ve begun to take many more photos lately and they all tend to smile especially because I remind them to. However, I think it’s because they’re comfortable with me and don’t have a problem expressing their happiness. You know, just being goofy and themselves in front of me all the time. Having their peers by their side probably helps them out, too.
This week, Stiben hit hermana Judí, one of the tutors because he was mad. Jimena, the mother of Stiben, punished him by spanking him and putting him in time out. He was there for a really long time, at least twenty minutes. He learned his lesson, I think. Jimena’s style of punishment resembled that of my childhood, spanking and time out. Stiben apologized and went on his way afterwards.
This weekend, Jimena invited me over to her house for almuerzo. It was such a kind offer and I was more than happy to accept. It would be my first time in another Compassion child’s home AND a Compassion worker’s home! So Saturday, I met up with her at the ecovia, and we took the bus to the inca sector, nearby Compassion. Her house was alongside the Av. El Inca and there were three locked doors we passed through to enter her house. My initial thoughts were, “Okay, this house will be different from the other houses I have seen of those living in poverty”. First thing I noticed was her house. It was very tiny, about the size of a small classroom. Probably half, actually. Three sections of her house divided into a kitchen, dining room, and bedroom. Jimena lived in an apartment style home, where there was a vecino who lives besides her in another sectored off area. Imagine a “house” (one floor) but divided into two separate apartments. Her house also had a real concrete roof, unlike many other homes I have seen (usually just corrugated roofs on top of concrete square walls). Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that she lives in poverty.
The inside was simple. In the dining room, a dining table for five with a large wooden shelf/cabinet for several books and a large boombox which is completely covered in a white sheet (robbers). In the adjacent room, a small kitchen with only the basics: refrigerator, oven, and sink. I saw an Oster blender box but it was probably somewhere on the crowded countertop. Finally, the bedroom: one twin size bed and the other, a double. Jimena lives with her three boys: Ismael, Isaac, y Stiben. The bedroom sleeps all four of them. Small closet for the three boys, and room for Jime’s jackets. The clothes dresser drawer has a decent size TV that also has a dvd player hidden inside the dresser. The bedroom is extremely crowded with large potato bags filled with sheets and other miscellaneous things. After seeing all these things, I once again take a moment to remind myself how lucky I am.
I talked to Jimena about culture and our society in the US, the consumerism, christianity, and life in general. Earlier on the bus ride to her house, I asked Jimena if she gets out a lot. She told me no, because she has the three sons to take care of. I thought her response meant she wanted to stay home because of her kids, but later on I found out why she doesn’t have a choice to leave her house.
Jimena opened up to me about her past first mentioning that “I have had a hard life”. She opened up a little and I finally understood why she can’t leave as she pleases. After Stiben was born, her husband left her for another woman. This is pretty typical in Ecuador, especially because of the machismo here. I say this because even my host mom told me why it happens so much. In the culture, men > women in all aspects. Machismo men do not see women as equal, and because of that, they believe they can do whatever they want. Again, this is a generalization, but a very real one. Jimena’s parents did not support her during this time, especially because she left the catholic faith to become a non-catholic christian and because they said it was her fault for her husband leaving. With three boys, she moved out and struggled to survive without any dependence on anyone else. Can you imagine being a single mother and taking care of your three young children by yourself? I cannot fathom myself in that situation. I have so much respect for Jimena becoming independent after her husband left her. In the dining room, a picture frame with her and her ex husband is covered by a smaller picture of her three boys taped on top, hiding the couples’ faces. She put the picture of her boys on top of the previous photo because she said it used to make her cry when she saw her husband’s face. So heartbreaking. She told me that she’s okay without her husband now, but the one thing that really hurts her is that her husband won’t even keep a relationship with his three sons. He simply left her and his kids. Ismael, Isaac, and Stiben don’t behave sometimes and choose to disobey Jimena, like normal children with their tantrums. However, they never fail to apologize after Jimena punishes them, and are always physically affectionate with her mother. Always clinging, hugging, and nearby. Jime told me that they light up and get so happy when their uncle comes and visits, and she wishes that they had a real father figure in their lives.
A few years back, Jimena had the opportunity to move to Spain with her best friend, but chose to stay here in Ecuador because she puts her family as a priority. Although she wanted to, she said she could not “simply leave my kids behind”. I have so much respect for this woman for being so strong throughout all the situations that have hurt her.
After hearing more of her testimony, I asked if I could pray with her. After my prayer out loud in english, I saw that she was crying, but happy nonetheless. She thanked me for the time spent together and we walked together with the family to catch my ride back home. It was a really great experience to see her home and have lunch with them.