Bolivia – December 2017
I officially just completed a year here and have come into contact with 182 new children in the street in addition to the 120 children that visit the center frequently.
Some highlights from the year:
-I have officially been taught how to sell whipped cream (hint: you yell “CREMA CREMA CREMA UN BOLIVIANOOOOOO!” as loudly as you can, whilst making both venders and clients double over with laughter). All agreed that it is a good thing I never went into sales besides my brief stint at Old Navy.
-The police have spoken to me about how my games on the streets distract people who are walking by and then robbers can more easily steal from them.
-I have learned that shoe polish does not always come out of sweaters and jeans.
-I have seen how people here care for one another and how seemingly innocuous things can make bonds that last. I have witnessed this in internet cafes as young people and adults gather around a screen watching Power Rangers. I’ve seen kids walking side-by-side with carts and giant trash bins on top filled with jugo de coco (coconut juice). I’ve witnessed how they lend each other rags to polish shoes, make change when someone pays with a big bill, watched how they care for each others’ mangoes while others go to the restroom or order lunch from the lady selling chicken on the corner.
We have had a lot of events at the center this year, but the most memorable for me was going to the movie theater. The local government sponsored a night at the movies for different orphanages and centers around the city. We walked the 5 or 6 blocks from the center to the movie theater amidst the hustle and bustle of rush hour traffic. I marveled at how the kids dodged between cars, judging when was the right time to cross because the traffic lights certainly did not indicate that. As we got in line and prepared to enter the theater, one of my kids, we will call him Wilder, and I were chatting. Suddenly, he grabbed my arm and said, “Hold me!”
This was Wilder’s first time going to the movies. He is eleven years old, just quit school this year because he left his notebooks at an internet cafe and decided it wasn’t worth re-doing all of that work to just go to school for a few months. He had been working full-time polishing shoes since then. Every day he was there beside some of the large grown men (who are often drunk on chicha), polishing shoes and making a living while his mom sold juice from a cart. He was always there by the time I arrived about 9 AM and stayed until 10 PM. Now, the Cancha is not what we call a safe place generally. I have seen more physical violence against women and robberies this year than I have in the rest of the 27 years of my life combined. And there are significantly more risks at night. But this kid polishes shoes on this street corner far beyond the time I would ever consider being there. This is a child who got tired of polishing shoes and instead decided that he would go and sell spinners, being ever industrious. Needless to say, he is one of my favorites.
When Wilder found out we were going to the movie theater, his face was alight with wonder. He had never been to the movies because it costs so much here (about $6 typically). As we walked to the center to meet with the rest of the group, he pulled at his clothes nervously and asked, “But won’t everyone be in new clothes? All I have is this.” I told him not to worry, that it would be dark in there anyway and nobody will see what he is wearing and perhaps moreover, that it didn’t matter. I realized that this child, while able to travel on his own to other cities and while able to work in the Cancha until late at night, while independent and grown-up in so many ways, was still very much a child. Like all of us, he was afraid of that which he did not know. He was fearful of new experiences while simultaneously being thrilled by the newness, like we all are. And he was looking for comfort, someone to reassure him and just maybe, to hold his hand as we walked into the dark unknown.
This movie-going experience was unlike anything else I have been a part of, with people sitting on all of the stairs and standing in the back. Children I did not know used my legs as a backrest. We bought large bags of popcorn on the street and bagged it right there in the theater. People cheered wildly when it started and chitchatted during large segments of the film. This was not about the movie, but the experience of going to the movies. It was about doing something new and doing it together.
So, as we venture into the newness of 2018, let us not be afraid to grab someone’s hand and say, “Hold me!” remembering that we are all looking for comfort, and together, we can experience something new.
Thank you for all your support!