There is a wonderful magic about children. They have the ability to capture the heart and the soul with nothing more than a smile and a twinkle in the eye, and tonight Gladys captured my heart.

We visited a girls’ home run by one of our partners. Here the children are well clothed, have wonderful facilities, and are surrounded by people who love them. Each child comes out of a difficult situation ranging from abandonment to living on the street to abuse to lacking parents. By being family with one another, they are rising out of these difficult, seemingly hopeless situations, to live full lives. They learn the enduring power of love and hope.

Tonight as these girls sang and danced for us, little Gladys, only two and a half years old, was held in the loving arms of her new sisters and mothers. Later, as she sat next to an older girl, she stretched her small hand out to greet me. Suddenly shy, she backed away to play pick-a-boo around the edge of the table, a game that stands outside of language or culture. Then I gathered this delightful child in my arms. Over the next minutes we shared smiles and gestures and she proceeded to capture my heart.

Before leaving I sat down to sign the guest book, Gladys still in my arms. An active child engaged in the world around her, she wanted to participate in the writing. So after I signed their guest book, young Gladys signed my field notebook. Now I have two pages of scribbles that are Gladys’s two year old signature sandwiched between pages of notes from endless days of meetings. These two pages, a reminder of a child who captured my heart in a moment, might be the most precious thing that notebook holds.

sometimes i am just a kid

19 June 2008

For example, last weekend I was at a festival in a little town in the Midwest. The one thing that I simply HAD to do while I was there was get a blue ‘Hawaiian Shaved Ice’ (aka snow cone). You have to understand that it is critical to ask for blue, not ‘blue raspberry’ because that somehow ‘blue raspberry’ makes it seem more grown-up and takes a little bit of magic out of the event. I love the whole experience. I love the anticipation of all the blue goodness, the sweetness of the flavored ice, the brain freeze, the slurred speech complements of a very cold tongue, and, best of all, a wonderfully blue mouth, tongue, and lips. I hope the glory of a blue snow cone is never lost on me.

Today it was the anticipation of an upgrade, free movies, and Biscoff cookies. Compliments of the air miles logged on transantlantic and cross-country flights, I sometimes get free upgrades to first class when traveling in the US of A. But, I pretty much never know until I am about to board a plane if I get that magical upgrade that provides larger, more comfortable seats and endless supplies of drink and snacks. So I hope and enjoy the anticipation. Today there was no such upgrade.

When I got on the 767, I pulled out the inflight magazine as it provides all critical information concerning what movie(s) I will get to enjoy on the flight. Maybe a movie I was hoping to see or maybe one I did not want to spend the money to rent but might just be decent (at least decent enough for a plane ride) or maybe an old favorite. Instead the magazine informed me that, unless I was on a transatlantic flight (somehow flying from Atlanta to LA does not qualify) or flying first class (see above described disappointment), I had to pay to watch a movie. Sure, the systems were ‘on demand’ so I could fast forward, rewind, etc., but it now costs $6 for this benefit. Disappointment.

Then there is the beverage service. Given the general trauma that the airlines are facing complements soaring gas prices, I should be thankful that there is any beverage service at all. Of course all of the alcohol costs, and now the food too. I pulled out the food brochure to see what there was to offer should I fancy spending some money on food that used to be free. All sorts of random things, but no Biscoff cookies, the signature Delta cookie. Trauma. I LOVE them. Then, I see the fine print at the bottom….Peanuts, crackers, and Biscoff cookies are FREE snacks. Needless to say I just finished my cookies. I wonder if Biscoff cookies would hold the same appeal on solid land. I honestly don’t know. But, should you happen to visit me, fly Delta on the way, and decide to save your cookies because you were stuffed from your airport meal, you might just be rewarded with a goofy, happy grin that would likely cover my entire face.

red dirt road — 12 july

Most of the ‘non-major’ roads here are dirt roads, many of them red. When you turn off the North-South highway to head to village, you are on just such a road. Approximately six kilometers later you stumble upon my village after passing three other villages, the last one 2-3 kilometers away. The house I live in is on the back edge of the village, so when I get up in the mornings I can slip out of the house, greet a minimal number of people, and head for a nice walk down the red dirt road. This allows me time to stretch my legs, see the land and the fields, think, and be refreshed. It took a long time for people to understand what I was doing, but it is an expected and known thing now, and it seems to make people smile.

With the recent trips and training further away, I have not been out on my road nearly as much in the past two weeks—it is precious time I have missed. There are always people headed to farm that I greet along the way, and sometimes there are kids that fall in line along beside and behind me. Today I saw three little friends that have taken to a new, fun practice when we happen upon each other in the mornings.

When they see me they start running to be the first one there and open there arms wide. They then get a hug as they are twirled in the air. Whether they are the first one, the last one, or the middle one to arrive, they all get this treat—a treat on our red dirt road that I believe we will all miss during the coming year.

[editor’s (a friend) note: i do not believe this posting contains any allusions (other than the title) to the catchy country song “red dirt road.” this belief, however, has not stopped the song from playing repeatedly through my brain as i read the blog. i wonder if other readers will endure the same mental radio…]