Being a gringa in Honduras means that I will be stared at. I’m almost to the point where it doesn’t even feel rude. I’m just more careful here than in the States to make sure that my face doesn’t have food stuck to it or that my zipper isn’t down. Those things would be noticed by 80% of the population here. Plop the person who sticks out like a sore thumb in a median, playing cards with a group of kids and it becomes entertainment for everyone at the stoplight. (So, not only am I investing in the kids, but I’m decreasing the instances of road rage. Do you have any idea how bad the traffic can be here?? These people need a little comic relief.)
On Thursday, I was dropped of in one of the areas with the most street kids. I quickly found a little group sitting in the shade and we began to chat and play cards. Jonathon (feel free to glance to the left) disappeared for a while. I assumed that he went off to get high. Instead, he came back with a few bags of water and a pack of cookies, which he bought for me. (It was even my favorite kind. How did he know??) Jilli joined us a little bit later, settled on her little corner of the flattened cardboard box that serves as both bed and chair, and joined our card game. A few minutes after that I see a kid scampering across the street headed in our direction. “Jenny! It’s been so long since I’ve seen you!” Followed by being mauled, I mean hugged by a kid named Frankie.
The afternoon continued and I was lost in thought about how a child who is clearly high can so consistently beat me at this game. (Could it be that I’m just that bad? No way. Let’s move on.) A truck pulls up to the curb nearest to us and instead of the normal staring, four men get out. One shows us some sort of identification he was wearing around his neck and tells us that it is prohibited to play cards in a public place where everyone can see. Two of the others begin taking away the cardboard we’re sitting on. (Literally tugging it out from under me a bit as I try to gather my deck of cards back together.) Even though they stated that they were merely there to clean up the area we were in and stop our game, it felt like a very tense situation. One of the men from the truck was very, very drunk and just seemed like he was looking for a fight. Darwin, the oldest person there (well, oldest Honduran. Pretty sure I was technically the oldest person.) was keeping the others calm with muttered commands to the other kids and at times standing in front of Frankie to stop him from going towards the men. All the while he calmly (but with a bit of desperation in his voice) talked. Frankie on the other hand was making his indignation known. Being a bit of a loose cannon, he was the most unnerving part of this interaction. Would his insults and erratic behavior cause the men to become physical?
Thankfully, they got back in their truck (with Frankie running at it with fists clenched as he yelled). They were convinced that the men would go find some cops and send them back to arrest the kids. So we decided that it was a good time to go get some food. And I began to process. What in the heck just happened? Why did they pick such a random fight with the kids? What was the point and what was accomplished? I thought about Darwin, who remained so cool headed and in control during the altercation. He’s been around a while. He knows which fights are worth fighting. I was impressed by his self control. I was impressed that he quietly kept (most of) the others in check. But at what cost? He accepted the treatment he was receiving. Yes, there’s something to be said about turning the other cheek and being the bigger person, but I suspect that there has to be an element of thinking that he is getting what he deserves. And that’s simply not true.
Then there’s Frankie. (Please avert your eyes up.) Running around and yelling like a banshee. They were treating us like animals and then Frankie was acting like one. Which probably justified their treatment as far as they were concerned. Which of course, pisses Frankie off and leads him to act like this. But the men’s behavior towards the kids and judgement of them prevents them from seeing their other side.
They will never receive a pack of cookies from Jonathon.
They will never receive a crushing hug from Frankie.
These kids can be loving and loyal and kind.
I’ve experienced this so many times.
These men are missing out by building walls with their judgments and assumptions that the kids have nothing to offer. Treating the kids in this way has reiterated to them that they are somehow less worthy of respect and dignity than the rest of the population. This self-fulfilling prophecy has the kids in a choke hold.
It may be a leap to get the general public to believe that street children are just like all other children, just a little dirtier. But let’s start from the basic premise that you should never, ever treat a person like an animal. Never. And we’ll just go from there.