A fight broke out between two little girls. Slapping. Pulling of ponytails. I helped separate them and reflexively began to comfort the pretty one as the scraggly one glowered and stormed off. One of the two had become my little buddy in our first few days at Nueva Esperanza in July. Her hair was neatly combed. She had the fanciest dresses. Her eyes would shine as she sweetly asked time and time again to borrow my camera to take more self portraits. So, I immediately rushed to her side after the fight. I’d noticed the other girl before. Her hair was stiff and had the look of straw. Everywhere she went she stomped with a scowl. She looked uncomfortable in her dirty and unflattering pillowcase dress. I
went in search of her so we could talk about the fight. I wish I could say I started this search overflowing with mercy and compassion. Nope, I wanted justice for my angelic little buddy.
As I searched, I thought about the difference between these two. Just like with the boys, there is an unfortunate hierarchy among the girls. All of the kids share clothes. (As in each child has nothing that belongs to them.) And it’s not like the girls collectively decide to let the nicest girl wear the best clothes. They have fought for what they have, and not in the Protestant work ethic, pull yourself up by the bootstraps way. This is survival of the fittest. And the neatly combed hair? This means a tia (an employee) or an equally powerful friend showed favor and took the time to brush that hair. My search for the scrappy child gave me enough time to realize the dirty dress, crazy hair and constant scowl was evidence of crushing neglect that this seven year old should have been protected from, not a reflection of who she is. When I finally found her crying in a corner I was at a point where all I wanted to do was gather her up and comfort. We didn’t talk about the fight.
I sought her out at the beginning of the day for the rest of the week. I’d produce a brush from my purse and she’d scamper off in search of a ponytail holder, usually returning with the rubber end of a balloon that had long ago been popped. I’ve never seen a scalp like hers. Lice is endemic in Nueva and the tias had been trying different tactics to rid the girls of this unyielding pest. Some girls daily had their head slathered with lard in hopes of death by suffocation. Others had pure gasoline rubbed onto their scalp. Yep, that’s right, gasoline. I have no idea what they put in my ragamuffin’s hair, but her scalp was angry. Along with thousands of nits hanging out on her hair, it was peeling in sheets. This poor child.
During our hair brushing sessions she told me a little bit about her life. Her and her little brother were in Nueva because they had been found begging on the street. She said they had to do this because there was no food for her baby brother. She was upset and indignant that she was locked in this place and couldn’t do anything to help her family.
I was thinking about her one day in November and realized that next time, I needed to learn more about exactly where she’s from, who her mom is, if she knows anyone’s phone number. If she got sent home, I wanted to make sure I could keep in touch. The very next day, I got an email from Lauren.
“Oh, and your little girl isn’t at Nueva anymore. I heard that she got sent home.”
Selfishly, I wanted to see her again. Unselfishly, I was terrified for her. If there was no food for her little brother in the Spring, there would be no money for food in the Fall. And I wondered how many hours she was home before she was pushed back on the street to beg. At 7, begging is humiliating and dangerous but it is a walk in the park compared to what her future may hold. The harsh reality is that I can count on one hand the number of street girls I know, and this isn’t because at age 9 they decide to stay home and start going to school. I suspect that someone finds a more profitable way to use them, and it takes place behind closed doors in dark places I can’t even fathom. I was crushed that there was nothing more I could do.
In February, I was flipping through one of Jilli’s photo albums of a home that she had visited for the first time, when I realized that one of the little boys looked a lot like her brother. I quickly clicked through them a third time (I may have looked through Jilli’s album more than once…) looking for pictures of girls when I saw her. I have never ever seen her smile so brilliantly. Her joy is what made me pass by this picture, twice, as though she was a stranger. She is now in one of the absolute best children’s home in Honduras. I described this scrappy, angry and lonely child to Jilli, who hadn’t met her in July. In a bit of confusion, Jilli described her as friendly, bubbly and well-loved by all. Oh, how quickly things can change.
Proniño has opened a much smaller home for girls and I spent months begging and pleading with God that she would be moved there. It was an impossible prayer, really. She may have fit the criteria, but her brother is too little to go to Proniño. They would have had to split them up, which rarely happens. But I prayed anyway. And I was so angry when I though she had gone home. It was like I had proof that I love these kids more than God does. Months later, I have glimpsed a bit more of the whole story. She didn’t go to Proniña, but she also didn’t go home. She went to a place that is like hitting the lottery as far as children’s homes go. And, this home has always been only for boys. But they have recently opened it up to girls as well, as long as they have a brother also moving to the home. She was in the group of the first girls. This in itself is a little miracle! I cannot wait to see my (cleaned up) little ragamuffin.
But, darn it, now I’m going to have to start regularly visiting ANOTHER home! Sigh.