Today was our sixth and final day of the Learning Journey. Based on cheeks stained by smiles and tear ducts run dry, I can say with absolute confidence that this group of travelers now has an intimate understanding of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into this line of work.
When the trip started, one of our local staff members said to the group: “This is the work of my heart, I do it with all my passion.” We’ve lived that passion little by little over the past few days. It was present in the pride with which the youth and their families have opened their homes. You can see it in the smiles and laughter they evoke from rooms full of children. It is the arm of our Program Director draped over the shoulder of one of our teens, the enthusiastic note-taking of eager learners, the graduates who return to shower praise on their successors, and the spark in the eyes of young siblings who are ready to fill the ranks. The passion is contagious, that much is clear. And while no blood has been spilled, per say, there are heaps of heart pumping through this work and that’s close enough to count.
If the passion is palpable, then only the sweat is more obvious. This trip has seen hot days, long walks, steep hills, and dry dirt endured in the chase of rich cultural experiences. We’ve meandered around high mountain towns, squatted on cement stoops, climbed cathedral steps, and explored Mayan ruins. We’ve also stood in sooty kitchens over hot stoves to try our hand at tossing tortillas, and then we’ve dissolved into heaps of laughter at the pathetic performance of these extranjeros (foreigners). We moved from the hot stove to the steamy temescal, put on puppet shows, and read stories beneath the blazing hot sun. Our pit stains are telltale signs of just how ill-equipped we are for this hard life and we walk away humbled by the stamina, work ethic, and fortitude of our staff and scholars.
While heart and hard work have been clear from the start, we’ve been stockpiling emotion for a good hard cry. Over the past week we’ve made fast friends with these kids. Our vulnerability combined with their generosity made for a potent combination that is hard to leave. The leaking began 24 hours ago as we said goodbye to our scholars. Hugs were held onto, shoulders cried on, and t-shirts untucked to wipe away tears. The only thing more draining than saying goodbye, however, is reliving, digesting, and confronting those emotions. Add wine to the mix and it’s safe to say that our small clan consumed an entire package of tissues just trying to wrap our heads around all that had happened this week. Connections bridged, relationships built, senses stirred and now our tear ducts have nearly run dry. Emotion, as it turns out, is the pulse of our program, but if one is to care and to connect then one must be ready to cry.
Blood, sweat, and tears. Check. Check. Check.
It’s been a privilege, as always, to be reminded again of what exactly this work takes. We’ll return home changed in ways only time will tell.
Safe travels. Happy reading. Until next year.