We are scheduled for an hour and 15 minute play time with the kids at HML orphanage. We leave at 6:00 p.m. after a rush and flurry of feeding children and trying to feed ourselves, and once in the heart of the city, we hit a traffic jam. We creep along the streets past bodegas, beauty shops, and shops that sell intimate apparel and display it in provocative ways.
We finally arrive at 6:52, which means we only have until 7:15 to spend quality time with a ton of children. We have been warned, even threatened that we must meet the nun at the front gate at exactly 7:15 or she will be furious! But how can we stay for only 20 minutes?
The two locked and guarded gates lead into a courtyard and then into another. The inner is a full size soccer court and small arena with all the orphanage buildings surrounding. Who could have imagined a compound so large could exist behind a tiny gate in the middle of a busy city, but it does, and we are swarmed by children who have been waiting for us to arrive.
6:57 They get right down to business. When we pull out jump ropes, the jumpers start jumping; the soccer game begins, the older girls ask to do hair on our teenage girls. It’s an explosion of bienvenidos and action.
I hold one end of the jump rope and spin it for the little guy in pajamas and tennis shoes who has embraced our company. “Uno, dos, tres,”- he misses. We start over and over. He never tires and finally reaches his goal of ochos.
I check in with Mrs. C, and she knows we need to go, but she is torn. A fifteen year old has timidly approached her. They recognized each other, having known each other ten years ago when she was the playmate of Mrs. C’s adopted children. Mrs. C is heartbroken. The little girl was never adopted. And now she wonders, and now she is haunted. Is this why she returned? How was this little girl after all these years left behind?
The lights on the court go out. We see an old, square faced nun hobble towards us. She is stern looking and clearly it’s the children’s bedtime, and we will not be allowed to infringe on the task and schedule of children’s bedtimes.
But sometimes, it is worth igniting the wrath of an old dear nun.
Mrs. C apologizes and explains the traffic jam and how we barely arrived with enough time to play. She is convinced the nun softened when she heard the story, but we are still ushered away.
Bless those nuns who are willing to do the work others have shirked, who keep order when others fall short.