June 5, 2007

One of the forgotten

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A little boy about 9 or 10 years old used to come around the construction site three or four years ago. He would pick up discarded nails, he said because he was going to fix his grandparents' house. Every time we saw him he was completely filthy. I don't mean like he got dirty playing during the day. I mean like he hadn't had any kind of bath or even washing up in weeks.

The workers usually tried to shoo him away, but we would give him a trash bag to pick up trash thrown around the yard by the workers and paid him well for it. One time he said that he was going to buy medicine for his grandmother with the money. How heartbreaking is that!

He told me that his father was murdered and his mother had died a year before. He lived with his grandparents who are very old and sick. I asked him why he didn't go to school and he said that his mother never got his birth certificate so he can't go to school. This was probably true. I know of another child whose birth certificate had the wrong year on it. The mother could not get it corrected and the child was not allowed to go to school until he was 10 years old (when his birth certificate said he was 5).

One time we bought this boy a Wendy's combo (hamburger, french fries, and a Coke). I'm sure he had never tasted anything like that before. He ate very slowly, savoring each bite, with a very serious look on his face. He also only ate half of everything and wrapped up the rest neatly so he could take it home to his grandparents. When I saw that, I saved half of mine, too, so he would have enough for both grandparents. I just wanted to cry.

I always feel more comfortable talking in Spanish to children so I would usually sit on the porch chatting with him. Once he looked at me and said (in Spanish, of course), "You talk funny. I can't understand you." Then I asked, "¿Tienes hambre? ¿Quieres una baleada?" (Are you hungry? Do you want a tortilla with beans and cheese?) and he said, "¡Si!" (Yes!) So I said, in Spanish, "See, you do understand me after all!"

Another time he asked if he could have two of the empty 5-gallon paint buckets we had laying around. I asked what for and he said for carrying water. I said that it wasn't safe to use paint buckets for water, but he insisted, so I helped him to clean out all the paint and he happily left with his buckets.

One time he came to visit and his normally short hair was sticking out wildly all over, growing over, around and into his ears. I asked him if he wanted a haircut. He did, but as soon as I got closer I knew I couldn't bear to touch his head unless he had a shampoo first. I gave him some soap and shampoo, showed him how to use the shower in the garage bathroom, and told him to use lots of shampoo. He took the opportunity to wash his clothes in the shower as well. After he came out wearing dripping wet pants, I gave him a haircut and he was quite pleased, admiring himself in the mirror. That's when he posed for the pictures, which I cannot find.

A year or so ago I saw him driving a horse and cart down the highway. I guess he had a job, at least for a day. I haven't seen him in a long time now and asked El Jefe about him. He said that the guard at the entrance told him that the boy was banned from our colonia because he had been caught stealing more than once.

Is it any surprise that a child like this, deprived of his parents, deprived of an education, deprived of even the most basic necessities of life like food and running water, turns to stealing?

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