I sit on a park bench in front of the Catholic Church. I take out a small Styrofoam box from its plastic encasing. The park is packed tonight. Some people unfamiliar, but mostly the regulars fill the benches and steps with cold beers in hand. “Se fue ella” yells someone and the town is plunged back into darkness. Luckily it is a waxing moon and the sky is clear. Bodega Tony across the street in front of the church blasts some reggaeton and announces a special 3 for 2 deal on Bohemia beer. Several people rush in Tony’s direction, others stumble and should be cut off, not because they are drunk, but because they are drinking away their family’s food. But I see what these people go through at work, and suppose this is their only relief from reality. I am here only two years and although I have it easy, I find daily life tough. I can only imagine their pains and sense of hopelessness. I cannot even pretend to understand, try hard as I may to imagine a permanent life here.
There goes Ricardo, the 74-year-old PRD man who lost his job as a hospital janitor with the change in governments and does not have a family or government that will support him.
There goes Guillermo, a big shot dairy farmer who wants me to help their association even though I have explained to him many times I do not have time and that they do not need the money. He complains that I only help my friends. That may be, but they are “poor” friends I explain to him. He still does not understand. He’ll ask me again later though.
An eight-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister ask when there will be soccer practice. I tell him maybe Sunday “Si Dios Quiere,” if God wants. I tell the two to go ask Manuel, your other coach.
The only homeless woman in this town approaches me. Actually, I smell her first and see her coming from behind later. She says give me something. I lie and say that I have nothing. She does not go away, and so I ignore her. Luckily, Club Barbaro members, Pancho and Fernando come up and ask me if I want to drink some of their special mix (rum and wine). I politely decline again, but talk baseball briefly and the homeless woman asks Pancho for something. He tells her to get lost. She does. Carlixto comes and asks if I have ten pesos so he can have dinner. I tell him no, but give him some of my chicken and tostones (fried plantains). He leaves maybe not happy, but with some food in his stomach at least instead of alcohol or chewing tobacco.
There pass two pregnant girls, one who is 14, the other 17, by men who could be their fathers. Julia, the 14 year old is lucky because her parents are able and willing to help economically. Veronica, on the other hand, has nowhere to turn to, and still has two years of “bachiller” (high school) left.
I sit and chuckle as I watch a three-year-old toddler walk by with his mother, with only a shirt on because of the heat.
Over at another park bench, a 9 or 10 year old kneels to polish a dairy farmer’s boots, next to a 30 some year old shoe polisher. I wonder, “Does the 30 year old man only charge the bank teller five pesos for shining the shoes? If so, what does he do, or what can he do with five pesos?” I am too ashamed to go ask or have him shine my shoes. “What if he only charges five pesos?” (Boys charge 5 pesos)
There goes Ayala, a man who lost his political job and will be paying upwards of 30,000 pesos for a yola (illegal boat trip) to the U.S., the Promised Land.
There goes Julia, whose husband died last week in a motorcycle accident while he was trying to show off, leaving five kids behind, three with Julia, one with Fulana (Jane Doe), y otro con otra tipa de alla (and another with another women out there). My memory reluctantly conjures up images of the left eye indented, not closing because it was embedded in the skull. Precious red blood flowing freely from somewhere in the back of the head.
There passes Yunior with his grandmother since his 26-year-old dad is in jail and his 24-year-old mom died during an illegal abortion, trying to get rid of a baby that some irresponsible army general created.
There passes suave Rivera, a 30 odd year old with another of his high school age girlfriends, leaving his three beautiful children at home with his faithful and religious wife.
There goes Noel, orphaned after his mom and dad died from what rumors said were “worms eating the brain,” when it was really AIDS.
There go Kenia and Pablo with their recently widowed mother, after their alcoholic father hung himself, leaving nothing behind economically, or in a last note.
There go Angel with his son Angel Jr., both bread makers of Pan de Leña (brickoven). I told them I would try to help them get a gas oven and improve their business.
A boy from the SIDA/VIH multiplicadores group comes by and asks me when I will be going to the gym. I shrug, “tomorrow, if it isn’t raining.”
I sit back with my dinner of tostones (fried plantains) and pica pollo (fried chicken). I sigh deeply wondering…too many things. This is my community, my home, and my family, for better or worse.