I got to spend a lot of time with Jairo this trip.
Jairo has a fractured foot and isn’t able to do much. Or at least, shouldn’t do much. Many of our conversations centered around him telling me that he’s pretty sure his foot is fine and he can probably just take the cast off. Followed by me painting dramatic pictures of a lifetime of pain and not being able to walk. But a few times our conversations got more serious.
One day, we talked about the neighborhood that he’s from and how it’s tightly in the grip of a powerful gang. He ran away in 2010 and was gone for a year. My fear that whole time was that he was going to join this gang. Protection, power, money – why not? He said that during that year, he got close. They start you out as the gang’s ‘pet’. You make no commitments. You are required to do nothing violent. You just get to hang out with the older cool kids. You feel respected. They treat you well. And they protect your family. So you get sucked in. And then you’re given responsibilities that get progressively more violent or dangerous. He was starting to become more than just a pet, so he came back to Proniño. But now his brother is starting to get sucked in. Members of the gang are walking him to school every day. Protecting him. Sending him on little errands like scoping out the neighborhood and reporting back to them if a stranger is around. And Jairo’s scared for him as well as his other little brothers who are growing up in the same environment.
I was deep in thought about what I was learning as we sat on the steps of Nueva Vida when he said “Jenny, what was your childhood like?”
It makes me sad to hear the stories of what the kids have been through, but rarely do I compare it to my own life. It was a strange experience to have a child force me to put our experiences side by side for moment. It felt so hollow as all I could say was, “Good, my childhood was really good.”
It was exciting that some of the kids were going to get to spend a few days with their family over Holy Week. But not surprisingly, this caused some heartache as well. I found Rodolfo sitting alone on this comfy armchair just staring at the wall. I asked what was wrong. His mom had been one of the very first parents to show up to the center to sign forms for permission to leave. But now his mom is angry with him (something about him talking to his aunt instead of her) and doesn’t want him to come. He was justifiably hurt and feeling rejected. He was also disappointed that he wasn’t going to be able to see his siblings. As he told more stories about other times that she has hurt him he began to cry. And then he said “I don’t think she loves me.”
Ugh, how do you respond to that? If I say “Yes, she does love you”, then I’m giving him a pretty messed up version of how people treat you when they love you. If I say “Maybe you’re right” this child isn’t developmentally capable of understanding that this is due to her own issues rather than whether or not he is lovable. I was wishing Spanish was my first language and that I had a few years of psychology classes under my belt. I wanted to talk to him about the way she was raised, what she has been through and how that might affect her ability to care for and show love to others. In the end, all I could say was “If that’s true, then she’s crazy.” Completely inadequate….