There are people who can spend a small amount of time with a person and be able to pick out that person’s strengths and abilities and then can urge that person onto a path where those abilities will shine. And then there’s me, who so badly wants every person to succeed that I would pour hope and help into the most hopeless situations mainly because there’s always that slim chance it’ll work out and I don’t want to squelch a potential opportunity. I’ve always gone for the longshots. My mom once took me to a horse race and we made $1 bets on 4 or 5 races. The book listed the horses that were racing and the number of times they’ve won. Every time I placed my bet on the horses with the coolest names or the worst records. I mean, they’ve got to win eventually, right? We didn’t win any money that day.
I have a story about a long shot from my recent Honduras trip. My second week I decided to spend a significant amount of time looking for Wilmer. (Read about Wilmer here.) So armed with his picture, Ann, Lauren and I started talking to people on the street Monday night. We met David on Tuesday morning. Rosie, a woman we met begging at a stoplight, had kicked his friend awake, which woke him up as well. He said that he knew Wilmer and that he was staying in ‘el bordo’, a nearby slum. Rosie nearly shoved the reluctant David into my truck with strict orders to “help these nice ladies find the boy”. We spent about 3 hours with him that morning, visiting all the spots in the area that Wilmer was known to hang out. And in the process I learned a lot about David. He turned 15 on Tuesday. He has 4 siblings, none of which will help him due to his addiction to glue, which he’s been huffing nearly constantly for 5 years. His mom was killed by some men in a gang. Although he didn’t say much about his dad, I got the impression that not good things had happened there. He has lived in two other centers and was able to attain a 5th grade education (miracle) but ran away from both. He has never been in Proniño but continuously asked me if I could take him there. As we were waiting for his birthday lunch of shrimp fried rice, I went off by myself to secretly call Reginaldo (Director of Proniño). Due to the number of kids currently in the center and how much the center is struggling financially combined with David’s age and the depth of his drug use he said I couldn’t bring him in. So, we took him back to the gas station with plans of looking again the next morning.
When we found him on Wednesday, I immediately noticed that his cheek was a bit swollen. I asked how he was. (Bad.) Why? He pointed to his cheek and said he had gotten beat up the night before. Turns out he has a ‘boss’ and David’s job is to earn 100 Lempiras a day (roughly $5) to support his boss’s crack addiction. If he doesn’t have it, he gets beat up. 15 years old. Living on the street. No one he can trust. Struggling with his own addiction. Getting beat up regularly. Sigh. We spent a few hours looking for Wilmer, then went to Baleada Express for lunch. We happened to bump into a guy that I had met in July and we joined him for lunch. By this point, I’m growing attached to David. And I was quickly infuriated by our lunchmates. (A Honduran man and an American man.) After looking David up and down the Honduran disdainfully told Ann and I to be sure and wash our hands. And as we were saying goodbye the American did this awkward fingertip high-five, fist punch thing making it absolutely clear that he couldn’t bring himself to touch David more than was absolutely necessary. Yes, he’s dirty. Yes, he reeks of Resistol. But he’s a child. And he’s a human being. We had been talking about working together in Honduras. I’m pretty sure I’ve accidentally misplaced his contact information.
After a few more hours, it became clear that Wilmer had heard we were looking for him and was hiding from us. (Insert broken heart.) There wasn’t much more we could do so David told me to take him back to the gas station. My eyes filled with tears. He asked if I was sad about Wilmer. I was. But it was also because I couldn’t stand the thought of dropping David off and driving away. He’d been with us for six or seven hours so there was no way he was going to make his 100 Lempiras. I was literally delivering him to his abuser and walking away. So, I called Reginaldo and I begged. I stressed how helpful David had been the last two days. How he really wants a chance. How I can’t bear to leave him. Reginaldo paused, sighed, then told me he could come. We needed to take him to the police in Progreso, who would take him to the judge, who would formally bring him to Proniño. Flooded with relief, I immediately told David. He was so excited. He kept asking the same questions over and over. “I’m allowed to go?” “The Director said it’s ok??”
Then, I stupidly mentioned no drugs in Proniño. (I mean, what was I thinking???) He got quiet and a few minutes later said he can’t go. He said that he can’t give up the drugs. It was killing me because he wasn’t saying he didn’t WANT to give them up, but that he CAN’T. He has zero confidence in himself. I tried encouragement. I tried painting a rosy picture of Proniño. I tried reminding him of the imminent beating he was going to get tonight. I tried forcing him to realize that at 15 years old, few places are going to give him a chance and this very will could be his last. Then I tried distracting him with his favorite food and we were off for more shrimp fried rice. As I waited inside the restaurant for the food and cried (a gringa attracts attention in general. A crying gringa is like a circus sideshow…) Ann was in the truck with him playing tic-tac-toe. By the time I returned the mood was much more jovial. We ate and laughed as the tic-tac-toe competition continued. Then he asked if he could bring the rest of the food to his friends. Dang it. So, the conversation started again. I was trying to focus in on the complete lack of confidence he had in his own strength. I asked him if people in his life tell him he can’t leave drugs. (Yes.) I asked him if there was a single person in his life that loves him and is looking out for him. (No.) And this is what is sticking with me so much. 15 years old and he’s completely alone. Entirely unloved by anyone. (And this voice is screaming in my head that he was created for a reason. And it wasn’t for THIS.) Eventually, he got our of the truck and we hugged goodbye. By this point I was crying so hard I was nearly hiccuping. He hugged Ann, and then walked away. After a few seconds, Ann called his name, ran after him and brilliantly gives him the paper they were playing on. Then we watched him walk back to his horrible life with the box of fried rice balanced on his head.
We cried nearly the entire way to Progreso. He had wanted this. He wanted to change his life. He hates his life. But his past experiences and the way people treat him (hopefully you’re thinking about the fingertip high five) have made it clear to him that he’s worthless, unlovable, weak, dirty, ugly, stupid…so we watched him walk away from what could be his last real chance.
Still sniffling a little, we arrived at our house. As soon as we walked in, my phone rang. It was David…
Part two tomorrow…
(Continue reading about David here.)