**DISCLAIMER** THIS POST IS INCREDIBLY LONG AND PRETTY SAPPY — I CANNOT POST PICTURES FROM THE ORPHANAGES THAT HAVE THE FACES OF THE BOYS FOR SAFETY REASONS!!
Puerto Rico, Spanish for “Rich Port,” is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited… and maybe my favorite (sorry, NYC!!) With color and culture at every turn, there is no way to be disappointed with your experience.
As many of you may already know, my school went on a mission trip to Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico — meaning “Good Waters” — over Mardi Gras break. Since eighth grade, I had known this was something I had always wanted to do. At Dominican, students were not allowed to attend mission trip until their junior year. Naturally, I signed up as soon as I found out all high school students could attend and take part in this life-changing experience.
Day one was probably the most relaxed work day, except for when our bus driver got lost seven times. Yes, it was seven. I’m not exaggerating. Anyway, we finally arrived at the foster home and women’s home an hour behind schedule. First, we went to the foster home, where we played with the children of the women recovering next door. The children were no older than four years old, so there wasn’t much we could do with them. We spent most of out time coloring and creating a few Play-Doh masterpieces.
After our adventures of being lost on the side of the mountain and paper shredding of day one, we travelled to a boy’s home about 30 minutes from where we were staying. At first the day went by pretty slowly, with myself and a few other girls repainting the walls of some of the boys rooms. After a day full of painting, not just the walls but myself, we headed to the main entrance to welcome the boys as they returned from school. At first it was nothing special, handing bottles of Ensure to the younger boys. At least, until a little boy name Johndyiel, smile as wide as the ocean, came strolling up to us. My friends and I immediately latched on to his infectious smile and personality. We played frisbee, took selfies with the Snapchat filters, and let out so many laughs. It was sad to leave, but we knew he had to get to his tutor.
Honestly, day three was probably my second favorite day. Upon arrival to breakfast, my friends and I learned that we had an opportunity to go back to the boy’s home and visit our beloved Johndyiel. Naturally, we rushed to the front of the sign-up sheet line and quickly filled in all our names. Before we could visit the boys we were assigned to a nursing home no longer than a 5 minute walk from our residence for the week. We painted the nails of the elderly women vibrant reds and read prayer cards with the men. One of the women, I’m assuming she was a dementia patients, came to me twice to get her nails done. She then went on to tell me six times about how she taught English at the local high school. She also asked me multiple times why I didn’t have a boyfriend. I felt a little attacked but its fine, I’m fine.
We then headed back to Casa Christo, our home for the week, for lunch. Y’all, the lunch we had this day was probably the best meal we had the entire trip. Actually, delicious is an understatement. I can’t even describe how good this tasted. It was a Puerto Rican version of rice and beans, similar to jambalaya, with plantain chips (the best), corn, and green beans. Oh, and we had this for dinner, too. It was epic.
Following my stuffing of my face with plantains, we boarded the bus to the boy’s home. Like the day before, my day was full of painting bedrooms… and myself! We painted as quickly as we could, even if it meant a few splotchy patches here and there, knowing the sooner we completed our task the sooner we’d get to see our favorite little man.
We rushed from our rooms the moment we heard those familiar voices. My friends and I began our second and final day with the boys by walking around with Johndyiel. Unfortunately, little Johndyiel was sent to a twenty minute time-out by one of his caretakers because he was playing on our phones. Yeah… we obviously weren’t a fan of that lady! Since we didn’t really know what to do then, Ann Louise and I went off to sit with a little boy sitting alone. We began talking as much as we could, though he didn’t speak much English. Within a few minutes, a game of basketball broke out between the three of us. It was a little messy, Ann Louise and I aren’t really the best at basketball; nonetheless, we did all we could to keep up with this little Michael Jordan. Realizing there was no way for me to win, I left to join Johndyiel, who had returned from his time-out, and the rest of my friends as they sat in their circle.
Upon reaching the circle, I realized someone had brought out body crayons and the boys were all signing the girls’ arms, while the girls drew a few masterpieces upon the girls. I attempted to draw the peace sign Johndyiel had picked out on his back, but it was a bit of a fail. He returned the favor by signing his name on my right arm, while drawing what I assume was a potato on my other arm. It was soon after that we learned it was time to leave. The words “time’s up” were probably the worst thing someone could have told me at the time, or so I thought, until Grace Roy informed us that we’d never see our favorite little boys again. *queue the waterworks* Saying we were upset doesn’t even fully explain the situation. We cried the whole ride back to Casa Christo. Most of the guys thought we were being over dramatic, but they really didn’t understand just how much these boys meant to us.
We quickly ran back to our rooms to mope in our sorrows and take showers. After our dinner of beans and rice part two, we were told that there would be a special surprise for us during sharing time. We didn’t really know what to expect so we quickly showered and headed over. As we sat in the gathering room awaiting our surprise, a group of musicians began setting up. Our surprise was a chorus from a local high school that had come to sing a few songs for us. This group was amazing! They sang a handful of classic Puerto Rican songs, as well as gathering with a few of us to sing Hallelujah. And let me tell you, one of the guys who came and sang for us was gorgeous, but that’s for another time.
Last full day: the best day! We rose from our beds around 6 am to grab a quick breakfast and board the bus for Puerto del Rey Marina. We reached the Marina around 8:30 am and boarded our catamaran. Everything about the sail to the reef was beautiful. As we made our way to the beach, boys arguing over who was the real Mr. Brightside, I couldn’t help but take in the beauty of everything around me. Everything was so peaceful. Everyone was beyond content. When we reached the reef and everyone began jumping off the boat to go snorkeling, I was a little hesitant. Myself and one of the seniors, Missy, both procrastinated as long as we could before being edged off the boat. We soon realized it wasn’t as bad as wed anticipated, but we quickly became afraid when a few people began making shark jokes. (We don’t mess around with that stuff!!!) We were eventually coaxed into jumping back into open water, but were still a little skeptical. When we jump back we swam over the nearest group we could find and went with them to explore the reef.
You know the saying “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt?” Ok well, that’s pretty much what happened with we reached the reef. Before we were allowed to leave the boat we had the phrase DO NOT TOUCH THE REEF drilled into our heads. Of course, someone decided it would be funny to touch the ref. (I’m kidding that’s not really how it happened) While exploring the reef our group stopped to take a quick rest. While resting, a giant wave came and held me and Grace Werner under — on top of a reef, by the way — for a solid six seconds. We quickly made our way back to the boat as quickly as we could, sharks, blood, you know the drill. Everything ended up being fine, but Grace got a pretty nasty cut up the back of her thigh. It was epic.
Ahh, the final day. I was happy to be going home and seeing my family, but I honestly could’ve stayed there forever. We woke up at the crack of dawn (literally the roosters started going at it at 3 am) and headed to the bus. We made our way down to Old San Juan. While in San Juan we took a bus tour and walked down to the fort. Honestly, I wasn’t paying any attention during this. I was more focused on the shopping I was planning to do. Dardar said we didn’t have to tour the fort if we didn’t so my group and I made our way to the streets. Our first stop was Starbucks because it was hot and we wanted coffee. The barista wrote “Paper” on my cup but its fine. We then walked down to Sunglass Hut where we ran into another group of Ascension people. I ended up leaving Sunglass Hut with them and going to the Coach store, who was having a 70% off sale we could not pass up. I was the only one who made a purchase but I ended up getting a $130 wallet for $22, and I think it’s the best purchase I’ve ever made. (It was already 20% off on top the 70%) After getting lost trying to find the popsicle shop, we got our popsicles (which were homemade, btw) and made our way back to the bus to head to the airport. The plane ride was really long… and boring… and long. It was actually very sad because we’d had such a great time and were not looking forward to going back to reality.
Okay the bus ride from Houston to Lafayette and Buccee’s deserve their own paragraph. So we got there and Grace Werner and I immediately went to order some food. We decided to each order a large fry, we thought it would be more like a McDonald’s large. No, no, no… this a brown paper bag filled to the rim with fresh fries. I couldn’t even eat a quarter of it; it was almost a stupid amount of food. (I got chicken salad too so I was semi-healthy!!) At check out I put all my change and my wallet in the Buccee’s bag. (remember that) Alright now fast forward about half an hour. By this time I’ve eaten my dinner and have already thrown away my trash. Fast forward about twenty minutes, I realized that I never took my wallet out the Buccee’s bag. I got up, told Dardar, Dardar told me to start digging. It was fun… no it wasn’t fun I lied. I had to go back and let Dardar know I can’t reach it, and that I needed help. He wasn’t too excited. But hey, atlas I got my wallet back!
1 Peter 1:12 states that “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told to you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” When we first arrived in Aguas Buenas and began our week, I was not really sure what to expect. I know there would be lots of work, but I had no idea what I was actually getting myself into. We had come to serve the residents of Aguas Buenas, but in a way they served us. They taught us the value of living life to the fullest and being thankful for everything you are given.