Like today. I woke several times during the night to gunshots and sticky heat, and had to be out of the house by 9:15. So I was a little groggy and sans coffee when I arrived at Timonis. The fun thing about Timonis, besides the strong pig smell, rabid chickens, mango trees wired up with little lights housed in old plastic soda cans, animal poop everywhere, and the staring neighbors, is that you can see a main drug point and the walled soccer field through the trees and the walls of the shack next door, but no one out there can really see you. So I always take my time surveying the scene, picking up tidbits of gossip, and so forth. Today the tidbits were pieces of concrete the size of Brazilian avocados. For the uninitiated, that would be like a pineapple. Concrete chunks and a two holes in the soccer wall the size of a tank. Yes, that's right. The brilliant minds driving the police tank decided it would be faster to go through the local soccer field than to go around. So they did.
The cops decided to make a presence again today, which might have accounted for the smaller numbers of kids that showed up this afternoon. I saw one policeman, in his fatigues and bulletproof vest, walking past this enormous gaping hole, a machine gun in one hand, a two-liter of coke in the other. It was so very ironic. A bit like the fact that the only intact graffiti on that side of the wall now just reads: VIDAS. Lives. It's hard to tell if it's a plea, a threat, or defiant affirmation.
After Timonis, the staff and I went to the streets. Since my WMF colleagues are kind of out on maternity leave, I've been desperate to find others who share this love for the street kids. We went to Rodoviaria, where I got in touch with a number of kids I haven't seen for weeks, months, or even years. There were several kids I knew from my Servant Team days. It was fun to catch up with them, hear their stories, color, play Bingo...It really makes me proud the way they care about us. I was sitting with Diego and a new boy came up to me, gave me a hug and went straight for my neck even as I'm getting out the words:
"Só beijos de respeito. Only respectful kisses..."
Super, obnoxiously sexual, he didn't get the message right away. So Diego landed him a nice one on the arm, "Cut it out! Respect her, dude!" Then he was denouncing this kid to someone else and saying, "He tried to kiss Jenna on the lips, didn't he Jenna? Dude, where's the respect? You gotta respect them...." Diego's all of what, fourteen years old? When you have eight year olds trying to look down your shirt, this is a nice change of pace.
One of the older boys grabbed my arm near the end of the night and started dragging me towards the other end of the little field they were hanging out at. My first thought was,
"Oh great. Another wanna-be-lover-boy...," and I was preparing to put him off, when he wheeled me around to a group of kids I didn't know well and said, "Sing that Titanic song, tia...They've gotta hear it!" So I serenaded them before I left...
There's something much more valuable about the look of pure glee on a street kids face after an impromptu concert than any kind of applause you receive anywhere else. I don't know why. It just is.
I promised them all free tickets if I ever became a professional singer. It's published now, so if I get snobby in the future and forget, you can all remind me.