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Justin's Kids with their wishes and needs
This slide show above is from my travels to
Costa Rica, in
the winter of 2006, in the capacity of a photographer for
our travels I encountered the wondrous Indigenous people of the area. The
children who found me, especially touched my heart, which had long been aching
in grief from the perceived loss of my son, Justin, who had been killed by a hit
and run driver in the summer of 2004.
We continued to travel around the loop of the coffee plantations, which would eventually return us to the small town of Boquete, where we were working and staying as virtual tour providers. I was more than aware our stay was to end the following morning, as we were scheduled to be in Costa Rica, just 40 miles away by the next afternoon.
As we began our decent, I started to sob uncontrollably. I knew immediately I did not want to leave the children I had only just discovered. I felt they were calling me back to them. I knew I was meant to do something before my departure. Yet I knew not what I could do in such a short period of time, as our work in Boquete was not yet complete and time was short in light of all my perceived responsibilities....not to mention what I had observed in my short trek through their villages, that these children's needs felt overwhelming to me.
I wondered, what I, one person could do to help effect some positive change in their world. I also contemplated if I would be interfering in their soul chosen experiences by attempting to make a difference. I did not want to turn them into little Americans, I had seen enough of that already. I did not want to make them beggars by creating a dependency, nor did I want to impose a trade of belief system in exchange for my donation be it time, money or more.
I wanted to be sure, before I did anything, that I was not especially, projecting my own pain onto them; and as I successfully confused the whole issue with trying to figure it all out, I just returned to the call of my heart, stating it was more important to feel....and thusly, I felt I wanted to do something, even if it were small and only temporary to help bring a smile to their sweet faces.
I could hear my own son's voice deep within my heart, compelling me to remember, despite my own personal pain from not having him to give to any longer, I could, none the less, still give. I knew in that moment what I had to do.
I requested my partner drive me to the larger border city of David (Daveed), where I could purchase some shoes and toys for these kids. I also had to consider the time, as it was already late afternoon and by the time I arrived in David, purchased the toys and returned to the mountain, the sun would have set and I was not ready to impose on their privacy in the darkness of the night. I was not in fear of any danger real or perceived, I simply felt they may be harder to locate, once they all retired somewhere in the shacks and huts within the high mountain jungles. Again, I found myself trying to think it all out and thusly I surrendered to simply move forward one step at a time, to first purchase the toys and shoes and then when to return would be clear after accomplishing step one.
The shop owner in David, questioning my large purchase and then wishing to participate upon realizing my intent, offered me a greater discount and did not charge me tax, so that he could participate as well. His generosity allowed me to purchase even more items for the children.
The following morning around 6 a.m. was the only time available, which would allow me to give away the gifts and still make our way to Dominical our first of many stops in Costa Rica in time. My partner Tom returned with me, and did something I was not expecting. He documented the whole experience by shooting the candid photos. I was totally unaware of him as I searched for and found not only children, but their parents as well, walking along the road on their way to work the plantations.
In my observation, I soon came to realize the older children did indeed already possess a pair of shoes, as they reached the age of seven, they were given a pair of rubber boots, because at seven they were to take the responsibility of also working on the plantations. At seven their childhood innocence was compromised in the long hours of picking coffee beans to make a few cents a day, in order to assist in helping their families with food, and shelter. From what I observed they had little of even this, never mind extra money to buy even the simplest of the things we take for granted!
The younger children were inadequately dressed for the cold dampness of the area and tiny faces upon a closer look revealed skin sores from the lack of hot water and simple soap to keep themselves clean.
I soon found myself surrounded by more kids than I had a supply for. The one little boy, of whom you can observe me giving my backpack to, especially touched my heart. I noticed him standing up the road with his father, watching me give toys to the other children. I waved him down, encouraging him with a smile to join us. I had observed in these people a respect for others space.....eventually he approached very shyly. But by this time, I had only a doll left in my bag.
I explained in my not so great Spanish, that there were no more toy cars, yet he was welcome to the doll. He stared at me in almost disbelief and then he finally spoke, with a slight hint of disgust in his voice. He told me in a mix of Spanish and his tribal tongue and in no uncertain terms, despite how poor he was, that he was indeed a boy and not a girl.
I could only smile. He made me open the large plastic bag and turn it inside out all the way to be sure I was telling him the truth and not withholding the toy car he so desperately desired. Once he was assured I was not keeping anything from him, he simply stood with his head hanging in great disappointment. Despite my intent and actions of wanting to help, I felt terrible because I simply did not have enough for all of them. I looked deep within his sorrowful eyes and promised him I would return from Costa Rica, just to give him a toy car.
This did not satisfy him, when I explained my return would not be for many weeks, possibly a month because I was leaving to work in another country. He could not comprehend another country, much less the long delay, as children, simply live in the moment. I knew I had no other option, but to find this little guy something that would make him smile.
I walked back to the car, now loaded with suitcases and multiple expensive photography equipment, simply knowing there had to be something there for him. I found my brand new backpack and stared at it for half a second, I thought of how recently it had been purchased and I had not even used it myself, other than to store a few personal items. I thought of having to replace it, as it would be used eventually for long hikes through the jungles, packed with multiple cameras and other necessary equipment to do my job properly.
Then I remembered, despite my own efforts to make money, and seemingly always struggling to make the ends meet... I was far more abundant than these people. I surrendered my attachment to a mere $20., knowing my faith and trust would supply me with all of my needs. I knew the bag was no big deal to me, but may be to him. Then I just dumped it of my personal items and returned to the boy waiting curiously across the road, with the backpack in my hand. I showed him how it could be carried on his back and or rolled along the road....and then I held it out to him, asking if he wanted it.
His smile was dazzling, as he said yes, yes!
I felt complete and ready to move on to my next adventure, as I observed him for a short while rolling it up and down the street. He then crawled under the large water pipe following the roadside for plantation irrigation and began harvesting some kind of root from the jungle, of which he crammed into the pack.
Yet, as I slowly walked away to the car, he called out to me to remember I had promised to return to bring him his car. I simply smiled as I buckled up preparing for the next step of my journey...small tears rolled down my cheek, as I realized my smile was as brilliant and as large as his and the other children excitedly freeing their prizes from the store wrapping...I realized I was the one who received the gift that morning.....the gift of joy of giving, which had long been absent from my life since the death of my son, Justin.
I felt Justin had guided me there to help me return to Joy! The joy of smiling, the joy of laughing and playing...the joy of giving and receiving.
I rode away in peaceful content... realizing I was not the mentor, but the student....Those tiny mountain masters had taught me that giving was only half of the full cycle, receiving was the other.
I also thought of all those back in the States, sipping their "Starbucks", wondering if they knew where and how their cup of coffee, latte or any other combo available thereof, really comes from....and if they were willing to give even one dollar, to purchase some joy for one of these wee ones!
I did return a month later, via David, with three large bags of toys. Before ascending the mountain, my partner stopped in Boquete for a cup of coffee. There was a small outdoor market in progress, and as I strolled thru it, this magnificent man approached me with an incredible bouquet of flowers. I could see he had picked them fresh along the way to town. He simply handed them to me as if they were intended for me all along.
I never saw my little man again, but I encountered numerous other kids I had not in my first visit. Some of their parents joined in and we had a wonderful "giggling" time. I promised I would return again at some time with Justin's actual child, my granddaughter Kailya....and together we will all share joy in the expression of smiles and laughter by sharing some small toys with some very grateful kids!
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