Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Disappearance


"All will be well
Even after all the promises you've broken to yourself

All will be well
You can ask me how but only time will tell
You can ask me how but only time will tell."
 - "All Will Be Well", by The Gabe Dixon Band


If I were to give a high and a low from the past two weeks, my low would be having two people disappear on me within four days.

Necia, a photographer from the States, came on a short trip to teach photography to the boys and girls of Casa Gabriel and Adalia. One day she and I took the boys to a nearby park to shoot photos. One of the boys, Moises,who has a tendency to be in his own world, started wandering away from the group. I ran after him and he said he wanted to get some photos of the street. I said sure, but we're going to leave by 6:15, okay? He nodded and headed off.

6:15 came and Moises was nowhere to be seen. We searched and called. One of the boys, Carlos, even asked a policeman if he had seen him. Meanwhile, it was getting dark, and we were each carrying a camera, including Necia's very large and expensive one. Though it was hidden in her satchel, it was getting less and less safe to be out, let alone with expensive equipment. Three times I called the Casa Gabriel house-dad to see if Moises had already gone home, but no answer. Finally I made the decision to get the rest of us home without him, willing to go back out and search for Moises if needed.

When I told the house-dad what happened, he nodded, suspecting that Moises had taken off to see a friend who used to live at Casa Gabriel. This turned out to be correct, and Moises returned home safely, camera and all, later that evening. The next day when I returned to Casa G, the first thing Carlos said to me was, "Are you okay? Are you better now?" He knew how concerned I had been. I assured him that yes, I was much better.

That Sunday Necia, Rachel and I put together a photo exhibition to show off the student's work. We put hours of effort into mounting each photo, measuring the walls so as to place hooks at equal heights, printing name tags, baking cookies, and hanging the art in the Youth World office. Many people from Youth World came to support the student's work. The evening was a huge success. Then a girl from Casa Adalia disappeared.

"Hey, where is 'Ana'?" Rachel asked. We began to search throughout the office. We asked if people had seen her. Nothing. Ana was gone.

Rachel and I were in black dresses and heels for the event, yet we walked up and down the streets around the office, searching and calling. Over two hours later, we would finally receive a phone call saying Ana had made it home to Casa Adalia. Ana was dealing with a lot of things, including the death of her cousin, and had felt smothered in the crowd. Instead of seeking out someone who would have gone for a walk with her or sat down and talked about things, she had taken off. Because she had run off and returned once before, the house-mom and other staff members - who were supposed to be looking out for her - were not concerned. To me, that was one of the most difficult parts of the ordeal: feeling all of this concern for a person who disappeared alone at night, who has a history of self-harm, and having only Rachel and a couple of other people feel the same level of worry.

The next day I went to Casa Adalia. Two friends who were at the photo exhibition immediately asked the same question as Carlos: "Are you okay? Are you better now? We were worried about you."

There might be a sense of irony in being so concerned that other people are more concerned for you than for the situation. So it was reassuring to have the directors of both homes, Phil and Debbie, tell me and Rachel, "Thank you for not under-reacting." Because although Ana did make it home that night, she was mugged along the way. A man with a knife demanded her purse. As upsetting as the whole ordeal was from start to finish, I hope Ana learned that she can't simply run off without consequences to her safety and to the concern of others who care about her.


I keep thinking about my friends who came up to me the next day and asked, "Are you better now?" I've been wondering: was my concern over-done? Should I have been more laid-back, thinking that surely these youth would make it home okay and I shouldn't worry? Instead I keep thinking ... No. If it was my sibling, my friend, anyone I was with or had any kind of responsibility for, I would feel the same. So why did they think it was okay to simply disappear?

Phil summed it up perfectly: "They've never had someone who looked out for them before. They've grown up with alcoholic parents who didn't notice or care about their whereabouts. They have to learn that people actually care about them and are worried for their safety."


"Are you okay? Are you better now?" Yes, I am. I had two people disappear on me in four days, but they came back. They are okay. They learned that people will worry about them, and I was reminded of how much my concern can effect the people around me.We're all meant to connect and care. Sometimes, concern can act as a reminder. For that, I'm thankful.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not A Dirty Word (part 2)


They're so tragically beautiful, these women and men on the streets. The men in their make-up and jewelry, the women in their tiny skirts. I just want to tell them over and over and over, "You are beautiful, you are loved, you don't have to be this way. You are beautiful, you are loved, oh please, please, please, be free."


My friends Desi and Miguel are two people I admire greatly. Desi came to Ecuador from Holland as part of a missions outreach. She didn't intend to stay in Ecuador. In her heart she had always envisioned trying to help women in the infamous Red Light district in Holland. But then she met Miguel, a former Ecuadorian Street-boy who had lived at Casa Gabriel for many years. His affection for her was immediate and obvious, but she took her time. Finally, seeing that her heart was being drawn towards Miguel and Ecuador, she talked with Casa Gabriel founders Phil and Debbie, and asked them: "You help street boys, but what about the girls? Where are they?"

The boys ended up on the streets due to poverty, abuse, and neglect, so surely the girls often had similar fates, right? Yes, except that they ended up hidden away. Some are kidnapped, some are sold by their families, some are tricked into thinking there is a job for them in another city or country, sometimes by a man who claims to love them. They are trafficked, beaten and broken into forced prostitution. Modern-day slaves.

Desi and Miguel eventually got married and started two ministries: Casa Adalia, a home for women rescued from or at-risk of trafficking, and EsperanzArt, where women learn how to make jewelry, earning money and receiving mentoring and giving them confidence to support themselves. Meeting with women and men in prostitution in downtown Old Quito twice a month is another outreach that is just beginning.

Twice I've gone downtown alone. Desi and Miguel are in Holland visiting family and I wanted to keep up the relationships they had started. The first time, I bought a dozen large cookies and walked to the street where they usually stand and wait for clients. It had been at least a month since I had last visited - I wondered, would they recognize me on my own? How would they react?

As I waited for the traffic to let me cross the street, four women saw me and waved. When I crossed the street they greeted me with the traditional touching of the cheeks and kissing the air.
"Que tal? Como estas?" we asked each other. I handed out cookies and we simply and talked. It's strange: when I'm with them, I find myself smiling so widely and laughing so openly. The women and men on the street corners are so happy to have friends, it drives away the sadness. When I'm with them my heart is both breaking and bursting with the feeling of thankfulness that they are alive and present and carrying some kind of hope. I smile and laugh so much with them. Then I go home and go for a run, pounding the pavement, listening to music, and processing. My therapy.

I'm hopeful to see where this outreach will eventually lead. It will take time and resources. But it can happen. There's a boy from Casa Gabriel who spent time doing mission work in Brazil who wants to study political science. Because of the conversations he had with street boys there - who feel that their future options are either to somehow play soccer professionally or to sell drugs - he wants to help shape laws to try and break the chain of poverty and give more people real hope. Maybe, through a combination of changing the laws, offering classes, and other things, people in prostitution can have better lives. I don't know where it will all go, but maybe it will start with a warm smile and saying, "Hello friend, how are you?"