Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Some of the time

On any given Monday or Thursday morning I might be found on a roundabout in Cochabamba's nicer neighbourhood. What I do there exactly is hard to say. The drivers of the cars lean curiously towards us. Others protectively wind up their windows. Pedestrians steal sideways glances. What are these bunch of gringos doing?

We sit in a circle or a small group on the floor, the grass, the wooden benches or under the small closed kiosk when it's raining or damp. Sometimes we bring a guitar, a mobile school, markers and paper to draw or write on and other times we just go to talk and listen.

Usually when we arrive they are working, cleaning the windscreens of cars, taxis and trufis. They take whatever is given to them from the quick hands that pass through the windows - change, candy and other times nothing. They are young bolivians from different departments of Cocha who have all ended up here. They spend their days here on this roundabout where they congregate, where the traffic circles them and the bystanders and drivers stare into or away from their lives for the twenty seconds the light is red.

Their days start more or less at ten in the morning, if it's not raining. Sometimes in the mornings they're not there, so we drive up to the narrow bridge under which they live. We find them there laughing, yelling, sleeping, getting ready to work or other times all that is left is their absence - the nights it is too cold or wet to sleep there, even for them.

Where are their families?  How did they end up here? Who are they? Who were they before? These are all questions that have been answered in some capacity in one way or another these last couple of weeks. Answers of which I was not fully prepared to bear witness to.

I tend towards the sensitive side and my skin is not as tough as I would like it to be. The soft side of me
wants it all to be better for them pero YA, wants to be part of making it all better for them pero YA, is in despair when the waves of reality hit me over and over with a resounding no, asi no mas. I want to be Oprah and hand out secret keys to life they find under their seats, screaming EVERYBODY GETS ONE! Needless to say it doesn't work like that, there are no keys, I have no secrets of life to give.

They leave the street, they come back. They get sober, they relapse. They are like us, all of us. They are in charge of the direction their lives will take. Most of the time they are trying the best they can. Other times they just want to give up. There are dark rooms full of hidden monsters and silent ghosts, reasons why they are and how they are and who they are the way they are.

They need to find their own way back to a good place, to a good life. We can be there, to offer our time and ears and support but we cannot 'save' them. Their lives have pockets of friendship and laughter, of warmth and security but they are always more vulnerable than the rest of us when night falls. It's rainy season in Cochabamba and often the bridges under which they live flood, taking what few belongings they have and more recently some of the new born puppies of the many dogs they have.

Some days I get home with a chest full of rocks and all the ganas in the world to curl up into bed and not talk to anyone. These are the days of bearing witness to their stories, their lives, their honesty and even their indifference to the hands they were dealt in life. And it continues to amaze me how they carry these rocks around with them, how their arms have grown used to the weight, how their skin has grown thick despite all the scars and fresh wounds that they wear like tattoos - intentional, meaningful and part of them forever.

On my days off sometimes I pass by them in trufi while they're cleaning the windscreens. They're making jokes, or drinking in the middle of the roundabout or drunk or high in the fountain with all their clothes on completely soaked and running after each other acting like kids on an excursion when the teachers aren't looking who don't care if they get into trouble at all.

And between almost all of the days I repeat to myself the truths they've taught me. You can't always help in the way you want. You can't always help at all. You can help sometimes, in some ways, some of the time. You can be there. Sometimes this is the best help. This doesn't mean you stop hoping or despairing or feeling. You need to hold your emotions but let them breathe at the same time. You do the best you can, you keep going, you'll be stronger without realising and your skin will grow thick without being impervious to feeling.   

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