Patricia's first job*

The Salesian Missions

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By Julie Rattey


Patty, 28, felt numb as she picked up the telephone and dialed. She had just spent 16 hours on a bus traveling to the foreign embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, to get a visa in order to work as an au pair overseas. It had taken her months to fill out the au pair program’s paperwork, complete various tests, and acquire recommendations. She had even exchanged letters with the family whose two children she would look after. All those months of work, then 16 hours on that bus. And after five minutes, it was all over.

“Hello?”

As Patty had hoped, her friend Kathleen, a Salesian Missionary from the United States and volunteer at the Sacred Heart Home for girls in Montero, Bolivia, where Patty was raised, picked up her cell phone.

“Patty? Is that you?” Kathleen asked excitedly. “How did it go?”

Patty let out a sob followed by a torrent of Spanish. In the six years of their friendship, Kathleen had never heard Patty cry, but Patty wasn’t worried about that right now. The au pair program had been part of her dream to pursue a career in tourism, and to learn more about other countries. Working overseas for a year after her college graduation would strengthen her language skills and give her a taste of a different culture. This trip would be the greatest adventure she had ever had. But he embassy officer hadn’t even looked at her documentation. She would not be allowed a visa, she was told, because she was essentially an orphan. Since Patty had no connections with her parents in Bolivia (she had never known her father, and her mother, who had brought her to the girls’ home as a child, had eventually stopped visiting), the embassy had no reason to expect she would return to her home country.

“Oh, Patty, I’m so sorry.” Kathleen’s voice betrayed her shock and sadness. How cruel that the one thing holding back this bright, courageous young woman should be something over which she had no control. Something Patty had said a while ago echoed mournfully in Kathleen’s ears as she hung up the phone a few minutes later: “You just don’t know what it’s like to be abandoned by your parents. It’s something that never leaves you."

***

Patty stared dolefully out the window on the long bus trip back to Montero. It pained her to think of having to give the disappointing news to everyone at Don Bosco, the Salesian home for boys in Santa Cruz where she was working to help support her university studies, and to everyone at Sacred Heart. It would have given her so much joy to have brought back good news for the girls — girls like her who hoped for a chance to prove that, no matter what their past, they had a future.

Why, God, couldn’t you just have given me parents who wanted to take care of me? It was a question Patty had asked many times over the years. No one — not the Sisters from the Sacred Heart home, with all their love and care, nor her best friend Betty, whom Patty loved like a sister, nor the Salesian volunteers who helped her pursue her studies — could make up for a mom and a dad. It seemed that in some sense, even with all the hard work and recommendations in the world, she was incomplete.

That’s not true. Patty felt her familiar tenacity find a holding place and grip ard. The au pair program may not have worked out, but it wasn’t the only opportunity in the world. She had school to finish, and a whole career ahead of her. The bus picked up speed, as if given a push by Patty’s thoughts. Encouraged, Patty reflected on the people who had made a difference in her life, many of whom had been Salesians. In their mission
to be holy, to generously and humbly give of themselves to others, they had always been positive, happy, joyful. They believed that with God, everything is possible. Now that she was working with the boys at Don Bosco, she had been trying to impart to them the same idea. She wouldn’t give up on that belief now.

God has another plan for me. In her mind Patty repeated the sentence over and over again, willing herself to believe it, wanting it to be true.

***

B
rring!

Patty, not yet used to the silence of her fi rst apartment, jumped at the sound of the phone. She snatched it up eagerly.

“Hello,” said the voice on other end. It was a crisp, professional - sounding voice. Patty felt her heart beat faster. “This is the Totaitu Eco Resort in San Javier. I’m calling for Patricia Choque Choque, please.”

“This is Patricia.”

Patty clutched the phone tighter. Remembering her tearful phone call to Kathleen from the embassy, she hoped she wouldn’t have to make another one. Shortly after graduating from college, Patty had applied for a managerial position at the Eco Resort near Santa Cruz. At the hotel, she could meet people from all over the world and help them discover her country. It was a way to live out the interest in other lands she’d always had. Please, God, she prayed. Please let them say yes!

“We’re pleased to tell you,” the voice said, “that you’ve been offered the position.”

Patty bit her lip to stop herself from letting out a shriek. As the caller continued, Patty’s smile grew bigger and bigger. When she hung up the phone, a sense of relief and peace flooded through her. You did have a plan for me after all!

Sleep seemed a long way off that night. Patty lay awake, thinking of how, as a child, she had traced her fingers wistfully over the pictures of foreign countries in her schoolbooks, longing to be connected to them somehow. She remembered, too, lying in bed in the room she shared with about 30 of the other girls at the home, trying to imagine herself inside those pictures as she drifted off to sleep. She would see herself crossing rivers that wound like gleaming blue snakes through bright green mountains, or leading tourists through castles with halls so high that your neck got sore from looking up at them, or wearing a business suit in a sleek office, speaking rapidly in foreign languages to people as far away as China on the telephone . As she would begin to doze, her eyelids might flutter, bringing into view the darkened bedroom, and the girls — some as young as 3, some as old as 18 — lying asleep. In the blackness, she could just make out the rise and fall of breath, the dark swathes of hair upon pillows. For one exhilarating moment between wakefulness and sleep, the whole room seemed to lift , as if it were the deck of a giant spaceship gliding upward toward the stars. CD

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.