As I sit in front of my computer and search my brain for adequate words for this particular entry, I am completely at a loss. My heart is beating fast and my mind is suddenly being swept back to Managua. Back to the dirt road where we left Gabriel watching us wave through the bus windows as we turned the corner one last time at the end of the street where he lives. I want to go back. I want to hold him. I want this pain in my heart to stop. More importantly, I want the pain in his poverty stricken world to stop.
Gabriel is your typical 9 year old boy. He plays rough, he laughs when you say something silly or mispronounce a word, and he wants to be where the action is. Living just two doors down from the clinic/church, commutes were short and quick for Gabriel. After speaking with a few of the church members who knew of him, it was clear that this little boy does not have the best home life and childhood. His feet had never stepped inside of the church walls before our arrival and as I sit here, I wonder if they've stepped inside since? I pray that what led him to that gated window that first day where I met him, will somehow keep him coming back.
Everyday I looked forward to my first glimpse of Gabriel's handsome face. He would greet us outside with a smile, a hug, and mischievous look in his eye. He would play, get dirty, randomly show up munching on watermelon, but was ever present even if it meant standing outside in the dark by himself just to watch us as we drove away from the church Thursday evening after the prayer service. Gabriel and my communication was limited due to my lack of Spanish, but thanks to hand gestures, translators, and giggles, he managed to burn himself into my heart. My favorite part of the day was being able to squeeze Gabriel as we left the clinic and replying to his reoccurring question "Hasta manana, Brittany?" with a smile and a reassuring "Hasta manana, Gabriel". What had become my favorite way to end the day would turn out to be the hardest part of my trip as I look back. Although I was able to say 5 "hasta mananas" with a smile to this child, I did not prepare myself for the 6th, nor did I prepare myself for the heartbreak those two words would bring about.
As we left the church for the last time, tears replaced sweat that had soaked our faces all week and pain replaced joy that had carried us out to the bus every other time before this particular departure. As I choked back sobs and wiped away tears, I grabbed our translator Hellen to help me make out what Gabriel was asking me. She relayed the message that he wanted to know what happened inside and why everyone was crying. I asked her to please tell him that we had to leave and go back to the United States and we were all very sad and wanted to stay there with them. As Hellen translated my words, I felt as though my heart was being ripped from my chest. I could see the sorrow in his eyes and I felt as though we were abandoning this child who had found peace, solace, and joy for the week we came into his world. How could we leave? How could any of us get on that bus and force this child to go back to the life he's been dealt? What is his adult life going to look like after we leave? Will the drugs that run the streets of Loma Linda eventually run this precious boy's life as well? I hated walking away and it didn't feel fair and even as I sit here, part of me is angry for leaving him there, but what can I do?
As I watched the words sink in through his eyes and as I saw the tears form that he tried so bravely to refuse to let fall, he looked up at me and quietly asked "No hasta manana, Brittany?" My reply still torments me and for days after I left Managua; after I was back in the states, and after every smell and dirt fragment had reluctantly been washed away from this trip of a life-time; my response still causes me to spontaneoulsy burst into tears. On that final day with this child, with all of the children of that neighborhood, I shakily replied "No hasta manana, Gabriel."
Against what my heart was telling me, I got on the bus and I started my departure from Loma Linda. Clinging to air through my sobs, I made a silent promise to myself and to Gabriel. My goodbye, although inevitable right then, would not be a goodbye forever. I will be back and I will not forget. Hasta Luego, Gabriel. I will see you soon.