Being called “Mami”

Volunteering outside the U.S. can allow students to experience a different culture, and make new friends. | PC: Lindsay Fandrich

Volunteering outside the U.S. can allow students to experience a different culture, and make new friends. | PC: Lindsay Fandrich

It’s funny what we expect “normal” to be. It reality though, what is normal? Everyone has a different normal that's perfectly … well, normal.

Being a volunteer in Bolivia this year has shown me a new normal.

Some of the normalities I absolutely hate, like how the girls (almost) always have to wear skirts or how there are almost never any price tags and I'm therefore victim of “gringo” pricing.

There are plenty of other normal things I don’t like, but am learning to live with include … tarantulas, rats, mammoth-sized insects and lice.

Volunteer life isn't always fun.

However, there are things that are normal I wish could be my normal when I come back home. For example, I never have to worry about missing an important call, text or email because for one, I’m only a few miles away, and two, there’s no reception or Internet at Familia Feliz, the orphanage I’m volunteering at.

It’s normal to go on a walk and bring back mangos, oranges and bananas. It’s normal to visit a church and have them cook up a meal just for you (after you do a whole church service). It’s normal to never stress over homework and to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. All of these normals are awesome and new; I want to take them back with me. But, I know most will have to stay here.

My favorite normal of all time though is being called “Mami."

I’m mom to eleven girls in this orphanage, and they really are like my daughters. We have morning and evening worship together, chores, discipline, special dinners, birthday celebrations and “family” traditions like sleeping in the living room on Friday nights.

Not every moment is filled with joy; sometimes the girls are mad at me or vice versa, sometimes the sass level is just too real and sometimes they randomly start crying  when remembering their hard pasts.

But every night at bedtime I give each one a hug and a kiss and ask how their day was. We talk for a bit and finish with an “I love you my beautiful daughter” and a “Me too, Mami.” No matter how long the day was or how low on energy or patience I am, my heart is always filled after those tender moments with my precious girls.

Not only my girls living in the house call me Mami, but others too. Jahel, 13 years old, pulls my head down to his height and whispers in my ear, “I love you, you are my Mami.” Kevin, Manfred and Eliseo call me “Mother-in-law” after I taught them that word in English class because they like girls in my house. Seven-year-old Maribel runs up to me with her missing two front teeth and yells “Mami Lindsay!” and then gives me a giant hug.

When the going gets tough and all I want is to go home because I’m tired of cold showers, sputtering words in Spanish, falling into random two-feet deep holes in the ground, or just simply missing everything that was “normal” back home, I take a step back and remember my favorite normal of all time–being called Mami.

Lindsay is an international volunteer serving in Bolivia.