The other day we were at the park, and Dave was playing with JJ's little Roma friend Ivan (seen to the left). And while we were heading back to our apartment, a little boy who also lives in our apartment complex said to me in Croatian: "They're gypsies. They're dirty. Their hands are so dirty."
And so every day, Ivan's little dirty hands and little dirty feet show up at our door, sporadically all day long. And it's complicated -- I wish it weren't, but it is. The other day we gave Ivan gifts for his birthday - a nerf gun and Spider man flip flops. The next morning he came to our house and told us they were gone - that they had been stolen. Last year he told me it was his birthday, and so we gave him a gift, but then he came back 1 week later and told me it was his birthday again. When I told him that birthdays only come around once a year, he hesitated and then told me it was his brother's birthday. Ivan is from a culture that seeks alternative ways of making a living, mainly because they have to! His parents are not citizens here; they can't own a home or rent an apartment or work "normal" jobs. His family's home is in an abandoned building on an abandoned property with no running water or electricity. For a living, they sort through trash to find things of value.
Many of Ivan's family members also come by - for Dave to fix their bicycles, which he loves doing, or to play with Jacob. We have told whoever comes to our house that we won't give money or things. But we offer ourselves, our time - often the boys go with Dave and JJ to the nearby lake for a swim or to the playground down the street.
Do I want to be better at integration?? YES! Am I there yet? NO!
But, I am learning some things along the way:
We can't make it "better". There is much discussion about this. I've heard things like: "They don't want to be "clean" or have "toilets", so why "should" we want to make it better??" But I cant help it - I want it to be better. It's hard for me reconcile that anybody should be living virtually in a dump, and even harder when I know such a different reality exists just down the street, in my nice apartment, where we eat more than 1 meal a day, and use water and electricity pretty much whenever we want. And so we're being challenged about our own waste, and also learning that we can't change Ivan's lifestyle or culture, but we can be his friend.
Relationships are more important than things - It often feels rude to say no to giving money or things. But in the beginning we saw how hard it was for Ivan if we did give him something - he wanted more and more, nicer and nicer. And we can't fault Ivan for wanting things, as it is his family's way of earning an income - selling things! But Dave and I have been prayerful about this, and we wanted us all to focus on each other, not things. So, Dave was thrilled the other day when he was invited for coffee by Ivan's dad at his house.
We are learning to set boundaries - The other morning Ivan rang our doorbell at 7:24 a.m. He looked especially sad, and told Dave his belly hurt. So, Dave invited him in, and Dave made him eggs and cereal. The next morning Ivan came back, with another belly ache. Today a new girl, whom we have seen in the center asking for money, came by our flat asking for food. She told us she knows Ivan. Word about us is getting around! In some ways this is awesome, but in other ways it reminds us to set boundaries. And then there's much to be discussed here - my friend Deb told me that boundaries are an American thing. Maybe so -- something to ponder...
We are learning to respond to needs that are right in front of our faces! Maybe you get this, but it has taken me awhile to realize we sometimes spend so much time and energy putting all types of fancy programs in place when we could respond to needs that are right in front of our faces! This is why next summer, we are planning a low-key, low-budget, somewhat scheduled time of hanging out (games, bible stories, and probably snacks) with kids like Ivan in our back yard/neighborhood!