Hello friends! I send out emails with my newsletter every two months, but for those of you who are not on the email list and want to read what I’ve been up to since getting to Uruguay, here’s a full list of my newsletters up to this point. As always, feel free to email me if you want to know more or just to say hi and check in! Abrazos! 🙂
It’s been too long since I posted anything. I’m sorry! I never know what to write or how to share my experience with you all. In one attempt, here are some of the things I experience every day.
- Green leaves rustling in the wind on the tree-lined streets
- Clothes hanging up outside to dry
- New and familiar faces of all ages
- People walking with a thermos under their arm and a mate in their hand
- Kids playing, people sitting on benches, busses passing
- Horses pulling carts to pick up trash
- Water from Rio de la Plata ebbing up on the shore
- People living their lives, being tranquilo
- Nuts roasting with sugar in a carrito outside my building (garrapiñada)
- Onions being sliced in the kitchen in the basement of my hogar
- People riding nearby on the bus
- Sweaty kids and teens (not as much now that the weather’s cooling off)
- Flowers blooming in the trees or being sold on the street corner
- Asado on the grill
- Bus brakes at the busy stop outside my building
- My name being called with different sounds (think: haydee)
- High pitched voices playing at La Obra or El Sembrador
- Friends’ voices talking with me and each other
- People playing guitar and singing at the hogar
- Mate being sipped
- Candombe, carnaval and cumbia (music styles – check them out!)
- Cheeks on my cheek – smooth, rough, bearded, warm, cold
- Bus handrails – cold, hard, sleek, sometimes sticky (eww)
- Tiny hands to hold
- Hugs from little ones
- Dirt and sand to play in
- Jump ropes, colored pencils, soccer balls
- A hot metal bombilla on my lips
- Dulce de leche (sweet and creamy)
- Mate (earthy and warm)
- Pasta, eggs, ham (you know these)
- Torta frita (fried and delicious)
- Alfajores (sweet, chocolatey, creamy inside)
- Asado meat (fantastic barbecue)
- Spongey sweet bread for the merienda (afternoon snack)
This is by no means and exhaustive list, but I hope it gives you a little more insight into what it feels like to be a person where I am. Enjoy the pics! Sending lots of love!
It’s an odd sensation to have your mind and heart in multiple places, but your body only in one. Some days it’s exciting to be split open this way, trying to find your community in a new place and remembering the people close to you who aren’t there with you. Some days, it just hurts.
A little over two weeks ago, a friend of mine passed away suddenly in Arizona. When I received the news that day, and still now, I can’t believe it. Paul was one of those people who made everything feel easier. He was goofy, caring, warm, welcoming, and just an all-around wonderful person. He always made me smile, and even taught me my favorite weird face to make (angry eyes + smiling mouth. Try it.). I know the exact last time I hugged him and talked to him and laughed with him. Finding out about his passing from thousands of miles away is so surreal. It hurts so much that I couldn’t be there now to support my friends.
This tragedy has been a painful reminder that the world keeps spinning, no matter where you are. My friend’s passing has also reminded me to BE. Even though my mind will wander to all the people, places, and animals I love spread around the world, my body is here. I need to BE here. As hard as that is to realize sometimes, it is so important. As a woman in my congregation at Nuestro Salvador reminded me on Sunday, this is an incredible opportunity that I am so blessed to have been given. While remembering that won’t make me stop missing my loved ones in other places, it does push me to make the most of the gifts of time and community that I’ve been given here in Uruguay. It reminds me to breathe, look around me, and take in what I’m seeing. To be present in the exact place that I am.
As we start February, I hope you are also finding comfort in your present. Look up, breathe deep, enjoy what you have. Hug the people you love close, even if it’s just in your heart. Abrazos fuertes desde Montevideo ❤
One thing about the Uruguayan culture that I absolutely love is the way people greet each other. Every time you say hello or goodbye to someone, you give each other a kiss on the cheek. I’ll admit that at first it felt a little uncomfortable getting so close to complete strangers. Now, it feels normal! The besitos (kisses) are one of the things that make me feel like I’m part of the comunidad (community) here.
Another thing about my experience here is that I spend a lot of time with kiddos. One of the many beautiful things about these little ones is that they are so accepting, even though I still speak a pretty rough version of Spanish. Every day they greet me with slobbery besitos and big hugs, reminding me that I don’t have to be perfect to fit in!
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, we take the kids from Club de Niños (one of the programs at La Obra Ecuménica) to the pool. To get there, we take a public bus from La Obra to a park, and then walk a little bit to get to the swimming pool. These trips are always a hoot with the chiquilines (kiddos). We sing Justin Bieber hits, talk about pop culture, their schools, their friends, our families, etc. On one of these walks from the bus stop to the pool, I was talking with the two little girls holding my hands. At this point, I hadn’t been in Montevideo for very long, and the chiquilinas started asking about my life back in Arizona.
“So you came here alone? Without your family?” They asked. I responded that yes, I’m here without my family, and they looked up at me and replied:
“Well, you’re not alone anymore. You have us!”
It took all I had in me not to tear up. I am so blessed by my communities here, and thank God for giving me moments like this when I need them the most.
OK, enough with the sappiness. Here are some pictures! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Cómo andás? Todo bien? (How are you? All good?)
I hear this phrase every day, accompanied by a besito (little kiss on the cheek) from just about everyone I talk to. That’s one of the many things about the culture here that I love – people are so close. I’ve officially been in my placement site for a month, so I figured it’s about time that I actually share something on my blog. Whoops! It’s been a while.
Since it’s my first post since I came to Montevideo, I’ll give you a little run down of my daily life. I live in student housing in the back of the Lutheran church Nuestro Salvador here in Montevideo. There are (I think?) 12 of us living here – five international volunteers, and seven(?) students from other cities in Uruguay. We often share dinners in the kitchen, and music and laughter are never hard to find. Along with the Lutheran church’s chapel and office being in our building, we also have a dentist’s office, a therapist’s office, a meeting place for AA and NA, and a multipurpose room used for Tai Chi classes, yoga, and other martial arts. It is quite a busy place!
Four of the international volunteers that live here, including me, work with La Obra Ecuménica in Barrio Borro. This organization is basically a community center that provides a variety of classes and programs for the neighborhood. This month, we have been participating in as many of the programs as possible, so that we can decide where we want to spend our time the rest of the year. Although there are many projects at La Obra, the four programs I’ve worked with the most are:
- Club de Niños: This is an after-school program for kids in grades 1 through 6 who live in the community surrounding La Obra. We have cooking classes, gardening, chess, school support, music, dance, theater, art, recreation time, and pool days. We also share a merienda (afternoon snack) at the end of each day. More on these things in upcoming posts! 🙂
- Casa Joven: This program is provided every morning, Monday through Friday, for youth in the neighborhood. We participate in recreation time, tutoring, drumming with tambores, cooking classes, fine art, recycling materials, and more. We also share lunch every day, thanks to La Obra’s amazing cook, Anna.
- Proyecto Mujeres: This is a group of women who meet at least twice a week to make beautiful things with cuero (leather), talk about their lives, and empower each other, among other things. Every Monday they graciously let me fumble through conversation, drink mate with them, and teach me how to make some of the leather projects that they sell at various ferias throughout the city.
- Taller de Líderes: On Tuesdays, we have been accompanying a group of older youth in the community who want to learn to teach recreational activities and classes. We come up with and play all sorts of games, and talk about how to be effective leaders.
I’m learning something new every day with the amazing people involved in these programs. They have been patient and welcoming, and I’m already starting to feel like part of the team.
Another big part of my life here is my congregation, Nuestro Salvador. We meet every Sunday morning to worship, sing, and share communion. We are a very small congregation, and I have been warmly received into the community.
This past Saturday, I was able to accompany Pastor Octavio to a baptism in one of the surrounding neighborhoods. It was a beautiful thing to witness and be part of, and was a great reminder of the treasure of life that surrounds us.
I’ve also been so kindly welcomed into Montevideo’s roller derby scene. This past weekend was my first time playing with the Painted Birds (Pájaros Pintados), and it has been such a blessing to do something familiar in this still somewhat unfamiliar place. A big thank you to these people for helping me feel at home here. 🙂
I hope that this finds you well! This is such a tiny glimpse of what I’ve been up to these past few weeks, and I have so many stories that I want to share with you all. More posts to come soon! Much love, abrazos, y besitos to all of you wonderful souls out there. xoxo ❤
Saludos desde Argentina!
Wowza. Life is a crazy thing! We’ve been here in Argentina for almost a week doing orientation, but I’ll back it up a bit first. Last week, 74 YAGM volunteers and a bunch of awesome staff and alumni spent our time at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), to try and prepare ourselves as much as we could for the upcoming year. We sank our teeth into a lot of deep and thoughtful topics… as well as a lot of potatoes. The time we spent discussing privilege, race, money, religion, culture, our place in the world, and so much more, was overwhelming but fascinating. I was amazed by the insight my fellow YAGMs had to offer and by the amount and depth of conversation we were able to share. What a blessing to have this group living in parallel with each other on this unknown adventure ahead of us!
My country group and I in front of the *~bean~*
Some of us ladies at St. Luke’s for Sunday Service
My incredible small group! ❤
One of the things we’ve been talking a lot about is accompaniment. Basically, what I’ve taken away from these conversations is that our goal is to be a servant in a way that we can walk with our new host communities, learn from each other, grow, and have a sustaining mutual relationship with each other. I love this model of relationship, because it’s a constant reminder that everyone I encounter has valuable experiences to share. It also reminds me of the poem I based my blog title on. Here’s a section of the poem, originally written in Spanish by Antonio Machado: “Caminante, no hay camino // se hace camino al andar.” In English, this basically translates to “Wanderer, there is no path // the path is made by walking.” I love the idea that the road ahead can only be made by walking, specifically by walking with my new community.
After building up such strong bonds with many of my amig@s de YAGM en los EEUU, we took the loooong trip to Buenos Aires from Chicago. I don’t think it hit me that we arrived until we were in line for customs, and suddenly, I felt like my brain shut off. “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SPEAK SPANISH!” I said to my country mates with a frazzled look on my face. Fortunately, I actually do remember some things, and we made it through customs safe and sound (sano y salvo, I learned from our Castellano 101 teachers Ignacio & Alfredo). We got to the Catholic retreat center we’re staying at and we were all SO TIRED (see below) but have since gotten over our sleepiness (for the most part) and have really been enjoying our orientation here in Argentina!
We’ve been doing a lot of really informative things so far at orientation. Some things have been hard, like learning more about the desaparecidos and taking a trip to ESMA, one of the detention centers that was used during the dictatorship. We also went to the Plaza de Mayo to see the madres of the desaparecidos. I don’t feel eloquent enough to write about what we learned, but I do know that I am shocked and overwhelmed by the extent of the tragedies.
There’s been a lot more going on here with our group as well! In addition to getting to know each other, we are starting to try to get to know the language and cultures of Argentina and Uruguay. One of the ways we’re doing this is taking Apoyo de Castellano classes with Ignacio and Alfredo. We’ve learned how to ask strangers for directions, buy food, take public transportation, and introduce ourselves, among other things, so that we can function in our new homes. It’s also been a good exercise in making a fool of myself, which I have a feeling will be a theme this year (that’s nothing new! 🙂 ). Pictured below is my favorite food – empanadas – and me with mate, a drink that’s a big part of the culture here.
This post is already getting too long, but I will try to share more in the days to come! I am so blessed to have such an amazing support system here in Argentina, back at home, and in all of the other YAGM volunteers spread around the world. I can’t believe how much love I’m surrounded with all the time! Abrazos and besitos to you all! ❤
p.s. On Saturday we’ll be going to our site placements! Please keep my group of 7 in your thoughts and prayers as we travel! 🙂
A few days ago, I sat on a couch trying to console a crying 11-year-old girl. She was sad about summer camp being over, and scared about starting the 6th grade. I was trying to make her feel better, but then I started to cry too. It finally hit me how I was really feeling about my upcoming year – sad about leaving, and scared about what lies ahead. When she realized I was crying too, she gave me a hug, and we talked about how we were feeling. The conclusion we reached was that even though transitions can be scary, we are tough girls, we have our friends and families, and we are going to be ok.
In just two weeks, I’m starting a huge adventure as I move to Montevideo, Uruguay for a year as a missionary/volunteer with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM). I’ll be living in student housing attached to my new church, the IELU Congregación Nuestro Salvador, with about 10 Uruguayan university students. Beyond what I’ll do with the church, I’ll be working with La Obra Ecuménica Barrio Borro (aka “la Obra” or OEBB). This organization is an ecumenical project based in a marginalized community on the outskirts of Montevideo, operatating with support from 9 churches. There are a few project areas, mostly working with kids, teens, and women. When I get there, I’ll find out where I fit the best and I’ll work primarily with that population. I’m SUPER excited for this opportunity, but I am beginning to realize how intense this next year is going to be. I’ve never left the state of Arizona for longer than maybe a month, and have certainly never lived in a place where I didn’t know anyone at all. All summer, I’ve been thinking about this upcoming year and trying to prepare mentally, but have mostly been keeping distracted so I don’t completely freak out.
To distract myself, I spent the past month and a half working at a skills- and therapy-based camp for kids and teens in Tucson. Honestly, I feel like I learned as much or more than the kids did. We helped out with animals at the ranch, did art projects, went swimming, learned about sustainability, went hiking, played games, made instruments, and so much more. All the while, we were focusing on the progress that the kiddos were making toward their goals. This experience taught me a lot about patience, understanding, kindness, and empathy. It was amazing to be able to see the transformations in the kids’ behavior and attitude over the course of the summer, and I am so grateful that I got that opportunity! When I found out my YAGM placement site, I asked some of my favorite kids for advice. They are as follows:
- “Make sure you know how to ask where the bathroom is” -9 year old
- “Don’t go!!” -13 year old
- “Practice rolling your ‘R’s” -10 year old
- “Say hola to everyone you meet!” -11 year old
- “Find out where the good food is” -8 year old
I loved that I got to work with and learn from all these amazing niños y niñas this summer, and I hope the experience will help me to be more confident once I really get out of my element!
In final preparation for leaving, I could really use any support you can give, whether that be encouragement, prayer, or financial assistance. While the ELCA’s Global Mission program contributes $7,000 for each YAGM, we are each responsible for fundraising $4,000 toward our mission support package. I’ll put the info for making donations in the “about” section. If you would like to support me in prayer, I’d really appreciate prayers for strength and peace in making this transition!
If you’ve read this far, you’re definitely awesome, and I probably love you. Thank you for being part of my life and my journey! I wish I could give you a big ol’ Heidi Hug! ❤