It starts with a six hour flight. The whole time on the plane nervously filling in Sudoku squares wondering what it is going to be like. If anyone is going to understand your two years of high school Spanish. What will the weather will be like? Hot no doubt. After six hours on a plane ,with barely enough leg room for a small child, we arrive. A quick walk through customs, a stamp on the old passport and I, along with twenty other friends from America are met by a large, smiling, middle aged pastor named Gary who welcomes us like old friends and introduces us to Jr. one of his workers at the orphanage where we will spend the next week. Samuel house, a place that orphans of Venezuela call home.
I step outside and realize that hot is an understatement, considering I come from a state that gets 10% humidity on a bad day. Yet everything in the air suggests some kind of realness that you just cannot get from a department store or a parking garage. The next thing I know I’m on a small bus on an hour trip to the orphanage. This is no ordinary bus ride. Imagine every crazy tourist bus you have ever seen in any movie and you can get some sense of this one.
Clearly over the speed limit, if there is one, I try to keep my seat as I careen forward, holding my breath through every tunnel laughing with friends until I see a sight that stops me cold. A hillside of light. Hundreds upon hundreds of make-shift homes light up the hillsides with a magnificent splendor and yet the whole time I can’t help thinking that this is where these people live. Not in a small four bedroom house with the cul-de-sac and matching cars but here, on this hillside, among hundreds.
When I arrive we are shown to a cabin with twelve bunk beds and an air conditioner that freezes over in the night and supplies us with no comfort, but it doesn’t matter. No, what really matters are the children that greet us every day as we walk the five minutes to the orphanage to paint houses or just to play. If I was worried about the language barrier, they were frivolous fears because fun is an international language. We worked hard on that trip, painting and repairing, but the best part was getting to spend hours with these children who had nothing by American standards, and yet had everything and more. I can’t say I have ever seen such happiness or joy in another human being.
The food was amazing. Freshly cooked by a woman named Jeanette who I knew I would like right away, and not just because of her great name. Although the highlight of the whole trip was on a rainy day. It rained so hard we had to stop working for about half an hour and so we hiked up to the construction site at the top of the hill where we were working. On the grounds was a great mango tree. The ripest ones were at the top so I kicked off my shoes and climbed all the way up, nearly breaking my neck, and grabbed the biggest, ripest mango I could find. As soon as I cleaned it off, I took a bite and I swear I have never tasted anything like it in my life.
Samuel house is an amazing place full of happiness and a family spirit that can’t be beat. I guarantee I’ll be back soon.
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