|Hector & Josue|
As a gringo or gringa living in Copán Ruinas you can’t avoid gathering around you a small but loyal crowd of kids, dogs and drunks. This crowd is not necessarily consistent throughout the years. Kids lose interest or grow up, dogs get run over and drunks get liver sclerosis. I’ve had plenty of sorts, but one kid stands out because he’s been hanging around since he was three years old, and today he turns thirteen. His name is Josue and he really is the best kid in town.
My friendship with Josuecito actually started because of his cousin Hector. Uncle, I should say, because although they’re about the same age, technically Hector is his uncle, him being the youngest of Josue’s father’s eleven brothers. (Seriously 12 sons, no daughters in that family!!!).
One day, during one of the Saturday art workshops I conducted for years, four year old Hector came up to me and asked if I could be his mom. I explained that that was a bit complicated, since he already had a mom, so we settled for me being his mom during the two hours of the weekly workshop, to both our satisfaction. Somehow that also meant that for the rest of his school career I provided him with school supplies, uniform and shoes.
I’m not sure when and where Josuecito actually came from, just that he started to come along with Hector, who was just a bit older, bigger, more assertive and streetwise. Josuecito mostly just followed Hector with a goofy smile on his face.
One day, Josue passed by my office on his way back from school, crying, while holding a piece of cloth against the back of his head. I called for him to come in and through the tears and sobs I found out he had fallen out of a tree, right on his head. The head injury was minor, just bloody, but one pupil seemed to be bigger than the other, and that was what worried me. A group of American nurses that happened to visit us at the time agreed and recommended to take the boy to a doctor. So I gave Josue some fresh gauze, took him by the hand and walked him home. I talked to his step mom and left some money to take him to the clinic. I didn’t realize I held Josue´s hand all the time until it was time to leave. We let go and he looked up to me with his gorgeous big eyes while flashing me the biggest smile ever, dimples deeply carved in his cheeks. It was then that I realized the kid was thrilled with all the fuzz. It probably was the most attention he ever got.
From that moment on Josue started to follow me around wherever I went. If I was working in my office, he would stand in a corner and just stare at me, that goofy smile on his face. I wasn’t sure what to do. Either the kid had suffered serious brain damage, or he was just a lovesick puppy.
It appeared to be the latter, because after a few weeks, it wore off and Josue started to talk and interact with the rest of my colleagues too. And for the years to come, he would come by my office almost daily for a quick hug. Quick enough not to be embarrassing, long enough to show we both care about each other. And of course I also provided him for years with school supplies, uniform and shoes.
Josue graduated from Grade 6 last year, but did not continue his studies. He says because he doesn’t want to (against fierce protest from my side), but I think it has to do with his dad, who is happy to have him as an assistant in his house painting job. And since I don’t conduct workshops anymore and Josue doesn’t need help with his homework, we needed a new excuse in order for us to stay in touch. So now Josue comes by once a week to sweep the street in front of my house (a chore I detest!) for which he receives 20 Lempiras (1dollar) a week, not bad for 15 minutes of work. So we’re both happy.
Sometimes Josue uses the money to buy food or snacks, but lately he kept it in a jar at my place so he could save up 100 Lempiras for a pair of badly needed shoes, even if 100 Lempiras doesn’t get you very far, shoe-wise. He was so happy two weeks ago when he finally reached his goal, but when I saw him last week, he was still walking around on his old and severely battered shoes. When I asked where the new ones were, he said he had to lend his dad the money. So far, he hasn’t been paid back yet.
Although turning thirteen today, Josue looks like he’s barely ten (that’s why I have him on vitamin pills now). But not only physically is he very young, I have rarely seen a kid so innocent and naïve in many ways. On the other hand, there’s no kid taking better care of his younger half brothers and sisters, or a boy who is so honest and kind. It hurts me to see how sick he often gets and the shitty home situation he has to live in, but Josue just smiles and carries on. And a smile from Josue will make your day!
So here’s to Josue, the best kid in town: happy birthday!
And now, let’s go shoe shopping!