Day 4. The pump house team has finished the excavation of trench around the concrete pad where the well is dug. Arms are sore from breaking up rock with a pickaxe. Our team mixes and pours concrete now, leveling the wet mud so block can be laid. Enrique found us two locals this morning, and we’ve paid them to help with the work. They’ve taken over the role of boss now, pointing and directing in Spanish. They know what they’re doing and work deftly, unfazed by the lack of equipment and tools we take for granted.
Our team shovels gravel. A man dressed for work, in a button down and slacks, stops. He takes a shovel and with a few quick, sure strokes, finishes the job with a grin. The men here appear slight, but they are strong. They’re used to working by hand in this latitude, under this sun. The local who is acting as foreman can’t believe we’re from Florida. He wonders why our skin is not brown.
On the dirt lot where the kids are playing and coloring in papers, I’m sitting on a beam. Kids climb on me. They like to be held. They get very happy when told their coloring is beautiful. They smile. Many of them have rotted teeth. One little girl reaches up her arms to Bailey. She wants to be held. Bailey picks her up with a look of surprise. I can tell by her awkward smile that she’s a little self-conscious. Bailey’s not overly demonstrative, but I can tell she’s touched by this little girl’s abandon. Bailey’s heart is connecting with the kids, and I store this image in my heart. I remember Bailey’s prayers going back at least two years, prayers for this place and an opportunity to come here. In this moment, I am comforted; Mike and I are not her only loving parents. God is parenting her in ways I cannot rival. I can hardly express this feeling in words.
I won’t ponder long. I’ve lost Carlito again. He’s been coming with us and flitting back and forth between the work site and the play yard. But he’s wandered off. I find him playing video games in one of the markets and convince him to join us.
Rixy is helping us direct games for the kids, wielding a whistle with a wild sense of power. She is not much older than most of the kids. She smiles wide and bosses her younger companions with delight. Michael, in a baseball hat, watches. When Rixy, high on her whistle, forgets to translate, Michael helps. In between he tells me about his school. It’s an alternative school, and Henry told me that Michael earned a scholarship to go there. That’s why he knows English. He walks miles to and from school every day.
I study Michael: his eagerness to help, his attentiveness to us. Everything about him foreshadows possibility. He is a born leader in a community whose natural progression is poverty. Children who might go to school don’t because they’re needed to watch younger siblings. Without education, they don’t learn English. Without English on an island that makes its revenue from tourism, they don’t find jobs. Without jobs, they’re stuck. Young teens have babies that in turn trap them in the poverty cycle. Motherhood becomes the warden who crushes their tender aspirations.
Time will tell what Michael will lead others to do. I remember his mother squeezing my hand last night, her tired, world-worn eyes. Without a husband, she too is trapped. I am hopeful Michael encounters the grace and love of Jesus. I am hopeful he grows to be an agent of change, to help make the Colonia a place of redemption and life. Later we tell the story of Joseph: a multicolored coat that incited his brothers’ jealousy, how his brothers sold him to slave traders, how many years later God redeemed their evil with good. Rixy translates, “What men meant for harm, God used for good.” We hand out the flavored water and cookies.
We leave the Colonia for Casa Isabella, making sure Carlito isn’t left behind. We dig through our gear back at the apartments and find a snorkel and mask for him. We wade out into the clear, turquoise water of the Caribbean. I put on my mask and slip the snorkel through a plastic loop, then dive headlong into the cool waters.
It is like a baptism, swimming in these waters. They seep into the wrinkles of my skin and wash away the dirt and sweat, the sunscreen and bug repellant. The oils from my skin have painted a thin, wavy rainbow on the surface of the water, like Joseph’s coat floating above me. I reflect on what the world has meant for harm and the people of the Colonia. I kick my feet and push at the water with my hands to flip my body. I swim downward. I look for life among the rocks and good from the hand of God.