Storms, Part I
Dennis stood at the edge of our circles, watching. He wore the same yellow green shirt and dark blue shorts he did yesterday or the day before, his face covered in patches of dirt and streaks of sweat stains.
Could you share your thoughts? Lori paused in her stories to asked the children, eying Dennis deliberately. No. He shook his head gentle and stepped just outside of our circle in silence that spoke volumes.
I waited and watched until circle time was over. How old are you? I chatted as if I didn't care about his answers at all. He fixed his eyes on me, giving short but straight answers. He was ten though he looked so much smaller.
"Did you like the stories?" I pursued with some interest. He shrugged, if only a little bit. Then he looked at me with those dark and sparkly eyes, and retold the story word by word.
"Can you read another one for me? I can't understand all the words in Spanish". I handed him a book with a pleading look. He stood up straight as he read, so slowly and clearly that even I caught every word. We chatted about school, about whether he wanted to attend regularly. He shook his head, and pointed to the direction of a nearby construction site. He was there to be with his father only.
The staff told me to leave him alone. His father worked at a nearby construction site, so he hang around but he didn't "belonged". The word stung and hit a nerve with me, as I couldn't tell what they meant by it or how it was defined. Perhaps they simply wanted to say Dennis wasn't part of the program. But I was glad to see him around, absorbing what he could. He gladly joined a game or two of soccer later. His dark skin stood out against a cloud of white uniforms, all of them quick as wind. Dennis was faster and quieter. He flashed across that white clouds of thunderous defense against him like a sudden bolt of lightening. Then they roared in unison, such music to our ears, thunders and joy. Some of looked up momentarily, half expecting chorus of real thunders to complete our happiness with relief from heat.
Don and Lori, our mission leaders told me later that Dennis wasn't yet sponsored to come to the school. The sponsorship paid for their meals at school, uniforms, books, the staff's salary and more. "Is Ruth sponsored?" I asked immediately.
"I don't think so. Let me check... Oh, she lives with her step father and mother and four siblings... Would you like to sponsor her?"
"OK. I will check on that and let you know as soon as I can."
* * *
Ashley and I sat at the edge of the door steps, chatting about nothing while we helped Cara making "the big fish". As soon as we were done, she got up to climb into my lap.
"Is this your last day here?" she turned to me and asked, dark eyes flashing.
"When are you coming back?"
"Well, hmm, good question. At the very least, next year."
"Next year, next year this same time. I think"
"That is a long time, isn't it?"
"Um, yes. I will miss you, but I will be in school and try to learn a lot. You will be in school too won't you?"
"Um, yes, I don't know."
This had never occurred to me. I had imagined that the children's life would be no different after we left, but Dennis and Ashley had made me realize there was more to the story. And Ruth still hadn't returned, for what seemed like forever. A group of kids interrupted my thoughts as they swept over us with parched lips and too much excitement accumulated at the soccer camp. I scrambled to feed them tamarind juice, refilling each cup three or four times before their calls to me subsided. Ashley had gone home with Cara by the time I sat down again.
I talked to Don and Lori the next chance I got, about their year long stay in Honduras before starting this mission team. They had a connection and understanding with the locals beyond what I could grasp. What happened to the children before we came? I finally asked Don. He turned to me, every white blond hair stood on its end and a face so serious it startled me. He waited until we were alone on the bus before he began.
"I got called into a police station by the staff here one time. That's when I found out some of the children had gotten arrested."
"They were begging in the streets. See, many of the homes on the Bordo have at least five or six children each. The father would start the day in a hammock, and send his kids out, asking them not to come home until they had 100-200 Lempiras."
I felt numb in my limbs, blood was rushing in my ears while my brain ground to a halt.
"But they weren't arrested for begging were they?" Lori added.
"No, they weren't. Don't ask me what were they arrested for..." Don replied darkly.
The sound of blood draining from my face was making me deaf and dizzy.
Don continued after a while. "That is why we sponsor the children. It gets them off the streets."
Ruth! Where could she be? I was afraid to ask then. Lori had been checking on her yet nothing concrete had turned up.
* * *
Our projects stood complete as we stood exhausted and ready for home. As we piled onto the bus one final time the children came after us, running on the sides waving and shouting our names. I saw a flash of red - it was Cara running with Ashley. Dennis stood in a corner of the street, hands on his waist, eyes sparkling but motionless otherwise. He smiled when he saw me, lighting up that dark corner of his street and my memories.
As we turned onto the main road something caught my eye, a child running by herself. Others noticed it too, some standing to get a better look. Somehow we made the driver stop to let us off. I stepped down first and immediately saw Ruth and heard thunders exploding on the bus. The young missionaries had roared at the sight of her, jumping off to pat her head and give her hugs. Suddenly everyone was in tears, fat drops falling heavily like rain unleashed from the prison of stuffy clouds. There was nothing to do to stop it, like the summer storms, these tears came and went as they pleased. So we let it, drinking in the scent and tastes of salty sweat stains, of tamarind juices, of sun baked sweat marks and of joy, friendship, laughter and memories.
* * *
Ruth was sponsored by another church, we found out eventually. Her program allowed her certain days of the week in school only. There are many more (2000) families like hers live on the Bordo of Rio Blanco with no choices but sending their children to the streets to beg. They dance between the edge of starvation and risks of being arrested. The sponsorship program allow these children to attend school and receive meals regularly for their families.
Storms, Part I