I woke up Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn, as usual. The pale light was shining through the curtain cracks and the birds were chirping away in beautiful song. It was 6 am, and time to start the day. The breakfast was cooking (I could smell the hot cooked meal along with the freshly roasted java throughout the long corridor, entering my bunk room) and it was time to get up and ready for Day 2 at the nursing home. I knew they were waiting.
We loaded the van with the usual supplies and headed off to Hogar Jesus de los Manos, ready to practice our improved Spanish and see our new friends. We passed the twisty, serpentine roads once again, alive with chatter and laughter, and arrived at the gates ten minutes later.
As expected, there they were, all 32 residents lined up outside on their sunny terraces (save the gardener who was watering the plants, the man with dementia who was pacing up and down ranting loudly, unintelligibly to himself, and two others on “their final days” in bed). They were all smiles as they patiently awaiting our warm greetings and their eyes beamed with joy as soon as we grasped their hand to say buenos dias. It was if we had been friends all along, it was unbelievable and I realized just how hungry they were for our attention, care, and compassion.
The residents were not neglected at all and instead received an enormous amount of love and care from the small staff at Hogar Jesus de los Manos. Unfortunately being a non-profit meant there was not a lot of money to hire enough staff so the small staff in place worked long, hard hours for little pay. Yet each worker showed enormous compassion for the residents and knew their individuals quirks and needs. For example, Juan Pablo always sits out by the red bench next to Dona Maria each morning after breakfast, and Fernando sits next to Lilly each meal on the first table facing the entrance of the dining room. The staff had a huge capacity for remembering these tiny like idiosyncrasies which I found truly amazing.
Our plan of attack for day 2 was twofold: First we would work on planting new trees along the sidewalk and second we would entertain the residents with cards, coloring and the long-anticipated manicure and pedicures for the ladies. Eduardo dreamed of having a lovely, tree-lined sidewalk full of flowing eucalyptus trees that would beautify the courtyard and bring joy to the residents. Last year, a group of CCS volunteers planted small eucalyptus saplings and they had already grown six feet tall.
Insert: Here is a photo of the trees planted last year.
We were to plant four more saplings to hopes that they too would grow and help line the sidewalk. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. The ground was hard as a rock and we were thankful to have a young, strong male volunteer with us to help dig the holes. Cassiano was a wonderful man, mature well beyond his years, and a perfect gentleman. We dug the holes as deep as we could and Cassi did the rest.
Insert: Here is a picture of the saplings.
Insert: Here is a picture of us volunteers, dirty and happy after a hard days work.
While we were digging, we noticed the same old man dressed in long pants and sunhat out watering and tending the garden every day. He couldn’t speak but he would acknowledge our presence with a smile and he loved caring for that garden.
Insert: Here he is, tending the garden.
Eduardo was proud of the gardens. He knew the importance of nature and also responsibility. Having a garden that residents could tend, love, and care for was an important way that they could feel responsibility. Eduardo hoped that someday future volunteers could help plant a vegetable garden where the home could grow their own fresh produce. We started the digging but ran out of time since the work was extremely hard given our meager tools. The ground was much too hard and we needed better equipment. The vegetable garden would have to wait.
Insert: Here is a picture of how the garbage collection is done at the home. A local women brings her bull with a cart and all the leftover food is carried away and then composted. She lives a few blocks away and keeps her bull, goats, and chickens right her yard, a common practice in Costa Rica.
Our next piece of business for the day was “entertainment”. Some of the volunteers had stayed back from the manual labor and had interacted with the residents. We arrived to see them coloring out of children’s coloring books (one of their favorite activities), and making beaded necklaces. Some of the men were coloring too and others were outside playing ball. They all very lively and jovial. However, the real excitement came when we walked in as the ladies knew it was time for a visit to the spa!
We set up a table with different shades of nail polish-scarlet reds, bright pinks, sassy oranges, earthy browns-and then lined the waiting ladies up. They could hardly contain their joy and excitement at getting their nails done. Like most Latin cultures, female beauty is highly important and even these elderly women wanted to look beautiful. Given their arthritic hands and low dexterity painting nails was not an option for them. Thus getting their nails done by volunteers was a treat and a highlight of their day.
Not speaking much Spanish did not matter. It was the loving touch and delicate work on their old hands and toes that truly mattered. I loaded up my hands with lotion and gave their sore arms and hands a massage and they closed their eyes in relaxation. It was beautiful and nothing I say here can express how touching the experience it was. One woman, who everyone calls “La Princessa”, had been a real beauty in her days and was even beautiful now in her nineties. She always wore pink and always wore makeup and lipstick. She couldn’t speak anymore yet her pleasure at receiving a manicure was undeniable. I learned that morning that even small acts of kindness and love can make a difference and mean the world to someone else. It was a good lesson.