Saturday, July 28, 2012

Acampamento 2012 (part II)

I always find it fascinating to watch the boys interact with others outside the home. The children at the camp were from diverse backgrounds, but the boys remained so very independent of them (which shouldn’t really come as a surprise considering their previous lives on the street, where it is often a case of survival of the fittest). Not even the young brothers R and V remained together: in public as in private, any affection between them is rarely shown (even if - one can only hope - it is felt).

M continues with his little dialogues (or, rather, monologues) with a cheerful disregard of whether someone is listening or not. A quality I sometimes wish I shared.

V responds to a mild provocation with a not-so-mild left hook and finds himself on the receiving-end of a discipline by the coordinator of the camp. I like it when others do such a good job of disciplining. He even did the Brazilian equivalent of a praise sandwich, which went a little like this:
“So, V, what have you liked about the camp so far?”

 [ V responds, looking at the floor]

“Look up at me please, V. I understand there was a little confusion today and you responded to a provocation with a punch. Here at camp, we don’t tolerate violence of any nature, so how about we make a pact? I promise that you’re going to have the best week of your life, if you promise not to retaliate when provoked.” 

[ handshake ]
It’s a shame that V didn’t heed the warning. Two days later he had another meltdown and had to be secured again. Amid the customary writhing/punching/kicking, he bit me so hard that one of his milk teeth fell out.

Needless to say, that one won’t be going under the pillow.

An exhausting week, but very enjoyable due to the planning and brilliant execution. Driving home, looking into the rear-view mirror at the four boys slumped against each other, asleep, and then catching a glimpse of my own reddened eyes in the mirror, I was reminded of that scene in Vacation.

What are you selling?

Jesus loves me this I know, for my petrol receipt tells me so

Acampamento 2012 (part I)

When Homer Simpson asked his fundamentalist neighbours where they’d been, they replied “We went away to a Christian camp. We were learning how to be more judgemental.” 

It has been some time since we have been able to send the boys away to a camp known as Jovens da Verdade (“Youth of Truth”). A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of taking the little ones – V, R, M + J – for the first week of the camp, which is held an hour outside the city on a site with outstanding facilities.

The theme was Viva La Vida! (“Live the Life!”) and through exuberant worship, inventive drama and a ton of crazy activities, the boys experienced a week like none other in their lives.

The message of one morning meeting was about defeating giants. Using the story of David, the teacher explained how he slew not one, but five giants: His father (who excluded him), the prophet (who had to be told to rise up), his brother (who taunted), the king (who doubted) and Goliath (who boasted). The teacher asked us to think about the giants in our lives that come to frustrate our dreams and our hopes of growth - things that set themselves up against God’s plan (maybe a teacher who said that we were not clever enough to be a doctor or a dad who said that we were a problem from the start and that we were not wanted).

Later that day, I spoke with J about a giant in my life that I wanted to slay/defeat and I asked him to think about a giant in his life. “Can it be a person?” he asked. I said yes. He then seemed to change his mind and said “anger”. I encouraged him and said with God’s help, we’d work on it together. “And how about you?” I asked the ten year old boy who had joined us in line for dinner (not wanting to leave him out). He looked to the floor and then looked up at me and said “loneliness and solitude”. I had to look away, because it was one of those comments that was so unexpected, yet so frank that it made my eyes well up. 

The teacher did a good job. We have some giants to slay.

[ An edited version of this entry was featured in my latest newsletter. ]

Toys left in awkward positions #435

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Settling for scraps

There’s a chick among the recent hatchlings that stands out. Not for its particular beauty or tenacious survival in the somewhat hostile environment of the chicken run, but for the fact that it lives a solitary life away from its mum and siblings.

Although spoilt for food, while the others are fighting over the fresh corn or rice on the ground below, this rather sad-looking chick chooses to remain on the mankiest perch, where all the other chickens defecate. And there, as if cheerfully oblivious of the cornucopia (pardon the pun) below, he gladly pecks away at the mites that feast on the detritus. 

M ran away (again) at the end of last week, and it would appear that my short history here is already repeating itself (he did exactly the same thing at the same time last year, after the same period of time with us). M reminds me of W in many respects: both marked by physical and/or psychological trauma, both have mental ages far less than their actual ones, both have lived on the street for so many years that memories of home (if any) are only painful ones and both (now) are back on the street.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The lady behind the McDonald’s register didn’t have any change.

Reaching across the counter, she upturned the collection box for disabled children and spilled the contents in front of me like the innards of a sacrificial calf. After fingering several coins, she proffered them up to me.

“You can’t do that”, I said indignantly. She looked at me, a little bewildered at my comment. 

What would Ronald think?

Monday, July 16, 2012

What’s Hot

blazing down a catwalk near you soon

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Oh, Bob

Letting the older boys choose their own kites was a responsibility that I thought they might be able to handle without heavy-handed supervision. I was wrong. They returned, sheepishly clutching various designs of Bob Marley (smoking an oversized joint, accessorised with a decorative motive of marijuana leaves), together with an evil clown print (the tattoo equivalent of which is favoured by the less discerning gang members in these parts).

With self-righteous zeal, J commented to me afterwards “They had Bob Marley on their kites. Do you know who he is?”. He paused and looked up at me for a response before solemnly answering his own question. “He created marijuana.”

Saturday, July 7, 2012

still here, but a bit out of tune of late