The night before her last bread run, she packed a small backpack with essentials and hid it in David’s truck with her bread crates. She told one of her little sisters that she should take care of the rabbits while she was in town. Her sister was happy and was oblivious that she meant the rabbits were now hers. She hardly slept most of the night. Her adrenaline was in high gear in anticipation of the day ahead of her. She ate a hearty breakfast, not knowing what her meals would be like the rest of the day. She wondered if she should make a point to say good bye to her parents more than usual. Rachel decided normal was the way to go. So she simply said, “Bye Mama. Bye Dad.” And that was it. On the drive to Morristown, Rachel suddenly wished she hadn’t eaten so much. Her stomach was starting to do flips as they got closer to town. “Rachel, I’m gonna go with the hunting shop guy to see a ranch while you are busy. Don’t tell Dad, ok?” he said out of the blue. Rachel’s mouth dropped. That would give her more than enough time to sell all of the bread and get back to Franklin’s office to make her great escape. “Oh, ok,” she said.
When they arrived on Main Street, David parked his truck and then ran over to his beloved hunting shop. Rachel stood beside the truck for a few minutes and then whispered, “Good bye, David. I’m glad you are happy today.” She took her time selling the bread. She didn’t tell any of her customers that this would be her last week. It would be too risky. She took her basket back to David’s truck with the bread money tucked safely inside. She stuffed her purse into her backpack and headed up to Franklin’s office. She was so nervous that she was shaking. She felt the eyes of her whole family on her back as she approached the door. “I just have to think about the good things that I am going to do with my life,” she thought. As soon as she was inside, Franklin hopped up and flipped his closed sign to the front and locked the door. He took out a vinyl folder with all of her documents, passport, and tickets inside. “Alright, let’s head out the back door. We’ve got to get to the airport and I’ll give you all your instructions on the way,” he said. They hurried out to the alley and then to the lot where Franklin’s car was parked. Before he even started the car, he began to speak about what was ahead of her. “Ok, listen carefully, Rachel. Everything is going to be fine. I’ve bought you this cell phone. It’s a pay as you go model; so you can add more minutes when you need them. My number is the only one programmed into the phone. Just push the down arrow and then push send. Call me when you get to Miami. Ok?” She nodded and was already starting to feel overwhelmed. He continued, “The lady at the ticket counter will give you all of your boarding passes all the way to Bolivia. You might need to check your backpack in if you have shampoo and stuff like that in there. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about flying at the airport; so I don’t really need to go into all of that. When you get to Miami, find terminal D and gate 23. That is where your Help the World team will be waiting for you. I’m sure you will find them ok.” He went through a few more instructions as they parked at the airport. The thought of money suddenly hit her, “Franklin, what about money? Did you have to spend all of the money for these tickets? I don’t know what I will need down there.” “Don’t worry, you have plenty,” he lied to her. He had actually paid for it all out of his pocket. He handed her a fat envelope of cash. “Guard this, Rachel, there are lots of bad people out there,” he told her. He walked her to the ticket counter and helped her get all her boarding passes. She took her purse out of her backpack and they checked the backpack. She hugged Franklin and began to cry. He had been more of a loving father to her in the past few months than her real father had been her whole life. “I just can’t thank you enough for this,” she said. “There, there, it’s not a problem. You go catch your flight and call me as often as you like.” He tried not to tear up as well as he steered her toward the security check point.
Rachel felt like she was in a fog, but she managed to find the right gate and board her plane on time. She suddenly felt very tired and the roar of the engines put her to sleep. She wished she hadn’t missed so much of her first flight ever, but was thankful for a little rest. Everything was so new to her; she had to contain herself so she didn’t appear to be a giddy child. As the plane descended into Miami she was hit with being even more overwhelmed. She had never seen such a large city. The airport felt like a whole new country. There were so many ethnicities that Rachel didn’t even know existed. She heard languages from all over the world. It was all a cacophony of noise around her. She was completely terrified. She wished she could just crawl into a closet and recover, but there was no time. She became focused on finding her group. She was glad that there were signs everywhere to help her find the right terminal and gate. “What if I don’t know what people are in my group?” she worried as she approached the gate. She was soon relieved, however, when she saw a group of ten people with bright, lime green t-shirts with large Help the World logos on them. She saw a girl with a tablet who looked a little bit in charge and so she spoke to her. “Hi, I’m Rachel Muller. I’m in this group. I think.” The Asian woman looked up and Rachel nearly choked when she saw that she had a nose ring. “Hey Rach, great to meet you! We were wondering when you were going to get here. I’m Mi Ling and don’t call me Miley,” she said. Of course, Rachel was completely lost on the pop star name drop, but she was glad that Mi Ling was so friendly. She handed Rachel one of the lime green t-shirts. Rachel excused herself and went to the bathroom. She looked in the mirror and felt very self conscious. She stuck out like a sore thumb. The wrinkly white head covering, the ugly green dress and apron, yucky socks, and brown shoes made her feel like a frog with a leaf on her head. She tore off her head covering and stuffed it in her purse. She took her hair out of the bun and put it in a loose pony tail. Then she took off her blouse and put on the t-shirt. It looked atrocious with her ugly green skirt, but she didn’t have any choice. She slipped into a pair of sandals she had put in her purse and stood back to scrutinize her new look. It didn’t matter what she thought really, because her other clothes were already on the airplane. She stepped out of the bathroom and took out the cell phone. She dialed Franklin and waited. He answered and was very happy she called. He wanted to know all about her flight and whether she had met her group or not. She gave him as many details as she could. Her flight started boarding, so she had to hang up. “I’ll call you when I can,” she said. “Rachel, you need to know that your brothers were up here looking all over Main Street today. They did not look happy, but they didn’t even come here to talk to me. I guess your brother never paid attention where you went. Don’t worry, it will all be ok. Good bye, Rachel,” he said and then hung up. She felt sick to her stomach as she went to join her group to board the plane. “Everything ok?” Mi Ling asked her. She nodded and weakly smiled.
The flight from Miami to Santa Cruz, Bolivia was overnight. Rachel tried her best to sleep, but it was all too exciting. Consequently, she was exhausted when they arrived and went through customs. Her group stared at her as she picked up her backpack and moved toward the exit. “Is that all you brought?” Mi Ling asked her. “Um, yeah, I was kind of in a hurry when I had to pack,” she said timidly. “Well, we will have a couple of days before we head out to the jungle. You could probably buy a few things,” Mi Ling told her. They went out into the waiting area and saw a guy with a big poster that had the HtW logo on it. He introduced himself as Scott Fillman and he would be their leader for the next few weeks. They all loaded into a Japanese tour bus and headed toward Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia. Scott checked them all into a hotel downtown. He was all business and obviously did not believe in fraternizing with group members. That was ok with Rachel; she needed to acclimate slowly to all the changes in her life. She had major culture shock from the world outside her farm; much less the world outside of her country. She found a girl in the group who spoke some Spanish and asked her to go shopping. Even shopping was overwhelming. She had never bought clothes before. Everything she owned was homemade. She was too shy to ask her translator for help. Just when she was going to give up, Mi Ling found her. “Could you please help me? I’m a little naïve when it comes to buying clothes; as you can see,” she pleaded. Mi Ling helped her pick out some pants, shorts, and a few shirts. She bought a bigger bag to hold her clothes. Back in her hotel room, she stuffed all of her plain clothes from Platzville to the bottom of her bag. Next, she found a salon on her own and had her hair cut to her mid-back. It had been down to her knees most of her life. That was not practical for her new life. She felt a little more prepared when she returned to the hotel. She was exhausted and took a long nap. That night, Scott took them out for a Churrasco, a famous feast of grilled meats, cheese rice, tomato and onion salad, and fried plantain. Over dinner he explained their assignment and what they would be accomplishing in the next four weeks. She felt herself slipping into Muller judgment while watching the girls in her group slobbering over Scott. She physically shook her head and told herself, “No, I will not judge anyone. My convictions are not for everyone. Besides, I don’t even know what mine are anymore.” She knew her world view was in the process of exploding and she couldn’t trust herself to be harsh on anyone.
The next day, they traveled in their tour bus to Santa Rosa del Sara. It was a small town northeast of Santa Cruz. It was located right on the edge of the jungle and was a good place to set up a base. They would drive out to the smaller villages during the day and come back to their base in the late afternoon. Rachel was captivated by the scenery and the people. She immediately found Spanish to be a beautiful language and wanted to learn as quickly as possible. Her first evening in Santa Rosa a teenage boy approached her in the plaza. He was excited to have someone with whom to practice his English. She decided to take advantage of his enthusiasm and made him her Spanish teacher. She would meet him in the plaza every evening and they would trade Spanish and English. “Not bad for my first day out here,” she thought. In the morning, they rose early and traveled out to a village called “16 de Julio,” or Sixteenth of July. She thought that was a very odd name for a village. They were building a school there and the work was exhilarating for Rachel. She loved working hard again. She felt that somehow the fact that she had run away from home, even though she was twenty one, seemed less severe when she was useful. Scott noticed her work ethic and was secretly impressed. She continued to work hard every day and study every evening while the rest of her group went to blow off steam at the bar.
One morning she was eating her breakfast of sweet bread and coffee when she overheard the conversation of two of her group mates. “I had to sell my car to come on this trip! Who knew it was so expensive to help the world?” the guy said. “Yeah, my parents embarrassed me by getting their friends to chip in so I could come. Life lessons and all that,” the girl said. Rachel choked on her bread and burned her throat with the hot coffee trying to wash it down. She put her dishes in the kitchen and went to find Scott. She had never spoken directly to him before, but this moment was too important to let her shyness get in the way. She found him looking over some paperwork. “Scott, hi, um, I’m Rachel and you probably already know that. I need you to find out something for me. It’s very important. My friend set up all the arrangements for me to come here and I’m just positive that I didn’t give him enough money. Will you please find out how my trip was paid for?” Her face was red by the time she finished, but Scott nodded politely and said he would look into it for her. After a few days, he called her aside before supper. “Rachel, I talked to the main office and they said that a man named Franklin Cramer is your full time supporter. He gave the office instructions to let you travel as long as you wanted to and he would support you indefinitely.” He finished speaking and stood quietly waiting for a response from her. She put her hand on her forehead and rubbed it a few times before replying, “Thank you so much. We can send letters from here, right?” “Well, we save up letters and take them to the city once a week,” he said. She thanked him again and headed off for her Spanish lesson without eating. She realized that was a mistake when her stomach started growling. Soon enough there were plenty of street food vendors passing through the plaza and she was full by the time she walked back to her room.
Early the next morning, she found some paper and began to write Franklin.
“Dear Franklin, How are you? I miss you. I guess I should tell you my purpose for writing right away. I found out about your support. I knew there was no way I could afford this on my bread money. Anyway, I just want to say thank you. A million times, thank you. You have paid for my freedom and my new life. I am well. We are building a school in a tiny village. The jungle is beautiful and I love the sounds that come from it. I saw a monkey yesterday. It was copying everything I did. It made me laugh. The group I am with is great, I’m making some friends. Oh, and I’m learning Spanish. I can ask a lot of questions now, but can’t really understand the answers yet. Haha.
Well, thanks again. I’ll write you again soon. Love, Rachel”
She pondered what the office had told Scott….indefinitely. Their current assignment would be over in two weeks. She didn’t have a clue what to do next. She didn’t know if group members hopped from one job to the next. Most of her group had already told her they were going home after this assignment was complete. She was wrapped up in these thoughts while working on the school one day. Scott came up beside her and nearly startled her. “Hey, I didn’t mean to surprise you, I just want to ask you a question. As you know in less than two weeks we will be done here. My next assignment is in Lima, Peru and I’m wondering if you would go with me? You are a hard worker and I could really use your help there. Plus your Spanish is now officially better than mine.” He grinned boyishly at his remark about the Spanish. She looked up at the sky expecting to see a rainbow; since this answer to her dilemma had just fallen into her lap. “Yes, of course, I’d love to go,” she replied. “Ok, great, I’ll get the arrangements going for that. Thanks,” he said.