Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Brazilian B&B

I don’t hate many things. I become frustrated. Things irritate me. For the most part, though, not many people can accuse me of being a hater

I hate camping. 

This should of course come as no great revelation to those who know me. And it’s not simply for the more obvious reasons, either: the colourful snakes near the tent, the hairy spiders that gather around the breakfast table or the restless nights in a damp and stony bed.

It was the first time that V (aged 8) had seen the ocean, and even the trip down produced some comic moments, but one might have thought it was his first time out in the wide world by some of the baffling expressions he blurted out:

- on seeing cows grazing on a hillside: Korrr! Lions!
- on some low-clouds around the mountains: Look at the snow!
- on the sea: Who put all the salt in here?

The saving graces of this week have been (1) the beach, in which I always seem to find solace - the near-deserted sands we chose were blissfully free of what I have come to call the Brazilian B&B (all bellies and boobs) and (2) quiet words spoken around a closely gathered circle.

One of the fundamental tenets of quantum mechanics is that measuring a physical system always disturbs it. When working with children and adolescents in situations of risk, I am only now learning the importance of patient and respectful enquiry and weighing responses garnered following months of confidence-building.

And I have always underestimated the importance of sharing. Oprah-style public confessionals have never appealed, and personally speaking, SPD is as about as candid as it gets, most of the time. There is a certain power though that pertains to a story told to others, in a shared testimony. One evening, the brothers C and C spoke openly of their gang and drug-addled past. A following evening, E recounted with hesitation and shame a story of a self-annihilating family unit, his leaving home and early life on the street. 

Then came W’s turn. He had been complaining of a sore throat that evening and I was waiting for the inevitable excuse not to speak as he coughed more and more awkwardly before he was due to share. There was a silence, and then he started. A story I’d never heard before. About his father’s death when he was a young boy, about how his mother struggled to cope with a large family, about his being sent to a home and being told by the carers - three months after the event - that his mother too had died of an illness she was too poor to get treated.

I knew some of the details, but not from him. W never speaks about his past. His story didn’t include the part about his time on the street. And, somewhat inconceivably, it gets worse: his brother was later shot dead by drug-dealers. He stared at the floor the whole time, and as his monotone monologue continued, he spoke of how the helpers at the rescue house were now his family and how his faith gave him hope.

W has been with us longer than all of the other boys put together.

He will always be an orphan, but that doesn’t mean that he is without a family.


Anonymous said...

Sad story about W.
Now family for him is when you guys are with him. Luke, you do the exceptional work! Please continue! Sergiy

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.
It is very touching and humanizing.
Great work.

Anonymous said...

Heart wrenching stuff to read; but also lovely to know that there are people to show the boys love. I have no doubt that they will always remember it.

Anonymous said...

So powerful, as these precious but traumatised babes open up and receive the love and acceptance ....then there is healing, pouco a pouco. Keep strong luke.

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