Martha and Candy
I found two little orphaned girls tonight. Their names are Candy age 10 and Martha age 8. I kid you not; they look 5 and 7. Freddie and I were joking with the little one who was panhandling money from us. I said, “Didn't your mother tell you not to beg!” Of course in this place the parents instruct their children in the techniques of begging. She said that she didn't have a mother. This is a standard answer, so I said,” then you should come home and live with me.” Martha then told me that the last thing her mother told her before she died was not to go home with strangers. Freddie and I laughed and gave her an A+ for creativity and quick wit but when I looked into her eyes I saw tears begin to form. I realized then that I had laughed at a little girl who had just told me that her mother died. Now, she and her sister were all alone.
She stuck to her story and come to find out, it was true. Her mother died of AIDS and she had no father. They have been living on the streets. Freddie said this was bad because people do bad things to the little girls on the streets and I said, “Yes, but these girls are to young.” He assured me it was true. My heart just caved in.
I knelt down beside her on the sidewalk. She threw her arms around my neck and hung on for a long while. We learned more information from other kids that knew her and the situation. We found her older sister near by and asked her all the same questions.
Freddie is unbelievable. Even though he knows everyone, or nearly so, in Iquitos; he didn't know these kids. He was so gentle and kind. He held their hands while talking to them and examined them for lice and parasites, both of which they have. We took them to eat. I have never seen anything so happy and sad at the same time. Martha the youngest trying to use silverware the way she saw others doing it and Candy fighting fatigue so she could finish her meal without falling asleep. They were filthy dirty and smelled sour. My moment of truth, I have no Idea what to do with them. Turning those kids back out onto the street tonight was the hardest thing I have faced in quite some time. I bribed them to come back in the morning. I am sure they will. I hope they will. I'll seek help tomorrow.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dear Friends, I wasn't trying to leave any body hanging last night but they closed the Internet shop and I had to leave. I slept very little last night. I couldn't help thinking about Candy and Martha. What I saw in the oldest girl's eyes just broke my heart. Her eyes were dead and lifeless; the exact opposite of Monica who is very poor, but full of life and energy. Candy at age of 10 has taken on the responsibility of her little sister and of her own existence. She is exhausted. A child this young shouldn't have to carry the burdens of survival. I realize there are hundreds more just like them but these are the two who clung to me last night.
We picked up Candy and Martha at the plaza and took them to Antonio's house. Andrea (Antonio’s daughter) and Camila were ready for action. Candy was eager to get into the shower and enjoyed very much washing her hair etc. We men were going to head out to our meeting but Martha got upset at my leaving and just clung and cried.
I told her I would stay while she got ready to go shopping then sat back while Camila worked her magic on this little girl. Within a few minutes she had her back in the bathroom area and they were having fun getting clean. Several times Martha called out my name just to make sure I was still out there.
When she came out of the bath, she was glowing. Andrea helped the girls with their hair as she has long thick beautiful hair that most North American girls would covet.
She also found clean clothes, so they didn't have to put the dirty ones back on while they shopped for new ones. Seeing this process was really fun. It reminded me of home on prom night. Martha was pretty excited and Candy was happy but more reserved. Off they went and off we went to our meeting. I gave Camila 100 soles. It’s about $35. I should have sent a little more they couldn't get shoes today. We will do that tomorrow.
Please understand, Antonio and Camila are educated middle class people. They are way above average in their interpersonal skills and are both very perceptive and intuitive. In a lot of ways, they are more like us than they are like the people around them. If they moved in next door in the US they would be fantastic neighbors. What is unique about this area and economics is that Antonio and his family live in a 12x15 room with a toilet in the corner. His three children sleep on a single bed and he and Camila sleep on a blanket on the cement floor. They have one small table in the corner and buy food one meal at a time.
When we got back after the meeting Martha and Candy were already home. WOW what a transformation. They did a great job. Shorts, T-shirts, new socks, underwear, hair stuff, all but shoes because she ran out of money. Martha almost knocked me down when I came in; she threw herself in my arms and stuck like a tick on a dog all evening.
Candy was asleep on the bed, the perfect picture of peace; clean and safe. Dr. Lopez came to the house with us because he wanted to meet the girls.
I know you analytical people are already seeing the ramifications of cleaning up dirty little kids that beg for a living. Now they look so good nobody will give them any money. Little Martha just clung to me all evening. She was so sweet and affectionate. Sure if you buy stuff for people they are nice to you. Right?
I prefer to think that even if she has not had it in a long time, even a little street kid likes to feel safe and cared for even if it's only for a few minutes or days.
What I noticed about Candy all evening is that if the volume of the room changed or the taxi slowed or stopped she would wake up with a start. She was on guard all the time. I think that's why she woke up when the crowd left the house. It was too quiet. On the way to town we turned the corner on the main street and drove along the city cemetery, Martha reached over and patted my leg to get my attention, then she pointed and said, "That’s where my mamma is."
There are hundreds of kids just like these two. And every one of them has a story. Wouldn't it be great to be able to save a few every year? Oh, you're not going to believe this or maybe you will. During lunch I was telling the hospital administrator this story and said to him I can't save them all but we might make a difference in one of these kid's life so that he or she will grow up to do great things. His eyes welled up with tears. He told us his story of being homeless and a street kid growing up. One day a man told him that he could see in his eyes that he was special and someday he would achieve great things. He said, "That was the spark he needed to believe that he could." Now he has advanced degrees from the University and is the hospital director.
Hey, I don't make this stuff up I just report it. In this country the stories are better then the imagination.
Candy has a lot of swollen glands around her neck and head. She is so tired I am worried about her being sick. Anyway, there is always the chance that these kids or anybody else for that matter is HIV+. The numbers here are a little higher than the US. We are going to do some blood work on Candy if she will let us.
Camilla brought the girls in for their exams today. She and Antonio had determined that they were going to keep the girls as part of their family. This and the fact that they have been with us now every day for over a week and they are as attached to the kids as I am.
Doctor Lopez was checking out the sores in Candy’s mouth, and the knots behind her ears and down the side of her neck. She had small ulcers on her scalp and he said to me that this doesn't look good. Then he lifted up a patch of hair, and we discovered a lice nest that had survived the shampoo. I took her to the lab, and we had blood drawn for a complete work up. Her mother having died from aids (confirmed by adult friends of the family) made the outlook pretty dismal. Now I have experienced a tiny fraction of what some people go though waiting for the lab results. During this time Antonio, Camila and I found an empty office and had a very sober conversation about what “if this and what if that”. I told them that I didn't want to do anything that would put their family at risk. Even though just bringing these kids into their lives had already done that. Camila would no more turn her back on these kids then any of you would. They already call her Mamma Camila. Sandi and I are going to buy property for them. Don't be too impressed it’s pretty cheap even with a small jungle house on it. For a little extra money, I told them we could build a couple of rooms onto it so that Andrea could have her own room. She is becoming a young lady and needs privacy. Russell and Marcello can share a room and the girls will share one. This will be a huge improvement from what they now have, and with no rent to pay they will not be so pinched. They are quite excited to say the least. Keep in mind I have never been in anyone's home here when it was just their family, there are ALWAYS other kids, especially at meal time.
Antonio will transfer to teach in the city and the family will settle.
Well, I may as well drop the bomb on everyone at the same time I guess. Antonio and I are going to look for land Sunday for an Orphanage site. I don't know when or where or how. I don't know how long it will take, but God willing the day will come when another small group of kids with no future can walk through the doors of a place full of hopes and dreams and possibilities; a place that will grow hospital directors and women who have a heart for children. It will be staffed with Godly ladies like Mamma Camila, and teachers like Antonio. Gentle mentors like Freddie will show boys with no fathers how to live honorable lives. I know it’s a lofty goal but so was Mt. Rushmore and those guys don’t even smile.
Antonio took us to a village he taught in about 15 years ago near a lake off the river. It was amazing to be on the Amazon (again). We saw pink dolphins, some birds, a alligator, a manatee and that's about it. We were making too much noise for anything else. We ate our pot luck lunch in the open air school house; we pushed the tables together and all sat around. What a time of fellowship. Martha is such a stinker. This kid is really street smart and if Ritalin is ever introduced to Peru, I'm sure it will be because of her. She has a short attention span and is a constant prankster. On one hand you have to watch her every minute (for your own safety). On the other hand she has been on her own for a long time, and is so independent she doesn't ever lack for the confidence to do WHATEVER pops into her head. She kept us in stitches all day. What a kid! Candy never left my side all day. She is quiet and content to observe. She will join in and have fun but is more reserved. She went to sleep on the boat bench beside me shortly after we left this morning.. The boat part of the day was long -- at least six hours, most of that time she was right there beside me. I am glad she is equally comfortable with the other adults, but she seems to feel closest to me right now. What touching moments we had today. During lunch in the school house children from the jungle village started popping up in the windows to watch us eat. None of them said a word..they just watched. As soon as Martha finished eating she began gathering food from the table and left-overs from peoples plates to give to the jungle kids. She was the first one to consider the needs of children who never quite have enough. She knows.... she has lived that life.
When we got back to the clinic, Martha was just too wild. Andrea (age 13) got up with no provocation from anyone else, took her by the hand, walked her around the corner and talked to her very firmly but quietly. It was great. Martha calmed right. All the kids listen when Andrea speaks to them. The other night I was over at their room and Camila was at a job interview. Andrea was cleaning the room and picking things up and tidying up in general. When Camila got back, I asked her if all the kids had chores to do, and she told me that Andrea and Candy do the laundry (with a bar of soap and a scrub brush), and the little kids clean the floor and wash the dishes. She said, “If they were going to live in my house, they were going to work.” YOU GO GIRL!!!!
I used to wonder how missionaries who served for many years in adverse conditions could do it. How they could leave the comforts of our country and live a life of hardship and sacrifice. I now know what kept Mother Teresa in the streets of Calcutta. I used to wonder how they could; now I wonder how I can't. My life to this point has been all about me and what I want, and I'm happy to say that it still is. The only difference is that what I want is to serve them. My biggest fear is to return to my status quo. So busy with staying alive that self service instead of self sacrifice becomes my focus once again. I am looking for the secret of service. I think I tasted a hint of it in the humid Amazon air. But the Amazon jungle is a long way from home. It shouldn't take another culture or rampant human suffering to wake my dull senses but in this case it has. My prayer is that I don't sleep again.
Something that I apparently didn't make clear was that Candy’s blood test came back HIV negative. Of course, this was a huge relief and allowed us to move forward with the integrating of the two girls into Antonio and Camila’s family. Tuesday morning we met with the people that owned the house that we purchased for the family. We closed the deal at a local attorney’s office in about 20 minutes and $25 in closing costs. Antonio and Camila were in a dream world. We went back to the apartment, picked up all the kids and took them to see their new home. I wish you all could have seen each child’s eyes light up when Camilla walked them through the house and pointed out each ones own bedroom. The two boys will share a room, the little girls will share one and Andrea will have her own, since she is becoming a young lady and “needs” her privacy. Each one of the bedrooms is larger than the entire house they live in now. Thank you to the group in North Dakota who has committed money to pour a cement floor. This will be a very nice improvement. We explored the big backyard, pointed out the kids’ new schools within easy walking distance, and headed to a local diner for ice-cream to celebrate this mile mark. What a special day!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Updated January, 2006
This story is far from over. I wrote what you just read over four years ago. We have since had legal custody of the children and faced some challenges that are very typical in this culture. Martha and Candy consider Sandi and I their parents and I have had the joy of filling that role more and more each year. They are now 12 and 14 and yes, I know, the teen years are now upon us. These girls keep me going when this project gets overwhelming. God has taught me a great deal about how he feels about me by the letting me experience the supernatural love that He gave me for them.
You won't read much more about Martha and Candy except to celebrate some of the mile markers of their lives. They are now our daughters and their lives and struggles we will keep private and close to home. They live in our home in Peru now and I am there more then I am in the States. What a privilege...What a blessing they are to me.