Love is the Answer. Hope is the Key.


Honduras: Spring 2005

I can never forget it. They looked up at me, stroked my long, blonde hair, clung to my waist and with eyes that had seen far too much sadness, and begged me to take them home. 

They called me “mama” and held my hand with all the energy they possessed. I believe they thought if they only held tight enough, long enough, they could drain liquid attention from my veins into their insolvent little souls. I could not walk the dusty cement floors across the cramped and smoldering room without four or five of them latched on like baby monkeys to their mother. 

I loved it. I was drained, hot, and hungry; we had been there since early morning and the sun was now going down. Still, the thought of leaving for even a second, depriving them of needed attention for one moment, was something I didn’t want to face. 

The circumstances were dire. Fifty abandoned orphans to one exhausted, elderly matron. Her wrinkles were deep and shiny. Her hands were weak and her back curved. She sat wide-eyed in her creaking rocking chair, and displayed an expression that spoke much more than she did. She looked like she had reached the “overworked” stage 15 years earlier. The children were dirty. They smelled of sweat, urine, oil, and dirt. Their hand-me-down clothes were ragged and all were barefoot. There were four or five little girls in the corner, picking lice from each other’s hair. At first, it was hard to breathe and relinquish fear of contracting the bug. It hurt to see humans in such a lowly state. Concern for my hair soon subsided. The smell, I became accustomed to. The pain never faded. Some had disabilities--developmental and physical. All needed more attention than their caretaker could give.
One of the babies, whose name escapes me, but whose story never can, clung to the side of the crib and reached out for me. He had tears that balanced, carefully, just inside his chocolate eyes. They were eyes full of deep concern--that he would, once again, be forgotten, left in his crib without the necessary touch needed for survival. I rushed to pick him up only to find that at the bottom of his leg was only a scarred nub. I asked the matron what had happened and slowly she told me, “Su mamá fue ciega y sorda…”

The mother of this infant was both blind and deaf. The baby had been left to sleep on the ground. My ears rung as I heard the rest of the story. Rats were eating this baby alive, but the mother could not hear his screams, nor see the horrible scene unfold. They had to take her child from her. I cried as I held him close.

I eventually moved on to another needy child, Ricardo--a charming 5-year-old who was more than pleased to have his shirt off. He was quite certain that “Barbie” (which was what he tenderly called me) had a crush on him. Proudly he held my hand, and I happily obliged. As we paced around the room talking, I noticed round scars on his arms, back and legs. I asked him what they were from and he got very defensive. His suave smile turned cold and his eyebrows furrowed; he told me how much he hated his father. That little mouth enunciated words that would make a sailor blush. A hostile upbringing was apparent, but I still wasn’t sure where the scars came from. I had forgotten all about the marks, but was reminded as I began seeing them on some of the other children. I inquired and was told that many parents enacted a cruel method of potty training that involved burning their children with lit cigarettes when they had an accident or were otherwise disobedient. More than 10 of the children were marred. Something fused deep in my sternum and worked its way through my heart, up my spinal cord and out my ears. I could literally feel the heat of rage exuding from within me. How anyone could inflict such things on children was beyond comprehension.

Some of the children were taken out of their homes because of such abuses. Others had families that were too poor to care for their many children so they were dropped off at the orphanage to be picked up at some fanciful date when the parents had a well-paying job and a decent place to house themselves. Brothers and sisters were separated by age and gender. They had to express tender affection through chain linked fences. One seven or eight-year-old boy came up the stairs to the infant/toddler unit with something concealed behind his back. With a big smile, he asked to see his little brother, José. José had talked endlessly of his older siblings, so I was beaming to tell him he had a visitor. When José came to the door to find his big brother there, he lit up! As his brother pulled out a sucker he had saved for him, I thought he might explode. This moment of tenderness brought hope back into the day.

My emotions were constantly on the brink of breakdown. Everything I saw, everything I heard, everything I felt was life-changing. I wanted to take them all home, give them baths, fix them a yummy meal and then give them a big bowl of ice-cream with sprinkles and cherries--as many as they wanted. I wanted to dress them in clothes that were purchased especially for them, and buy them sneakers that lit up. I wanted to hold them close and read them stories. I wanted to tell them how delightful they were and how much I love them. I wanted them to go to school and learn to be successful--I wanted them to have the life that I had had. The American Dream suddenly became more than just a corny idea. I understood that I had lived a dream, a dream that I did not fully appreciate until now.

Certainly some of those sweet children will beat the odds. They will come out of that place determined to have something better. They will stand up for change and flourish. But realistically, many of those children will age out of the system with emotional issues, tendencies toward drugs, crime, and promiscuity. They will then continue their life-long search for love and acceptance. And eventually, they may end up poor with too many children to care for properly and thus perpetuate the cycle they grew up in. And although that may be the case, that day they were mine and I theirs and I loved them. I believe they knew that. Sometimes, that is the best we can do.

It’s been just over five years since I was in Honduras. There is rarely a week that goes by that my thoughts aren’t turned to that experience. I often feel bad about myself for not doing more. I want to so badly to make a difference in their lives. I just don’t know how to do it. The interesting thing is that when I went down there, my main goal was to help these kids in some way-- change their lives for the better. And yet, I’m sure many of those children have little remembrance of this blonde American who stopped in the orphanage for a spring break. Sure they enjoyed my company while I was there, but I’m sure I’m nothing but a passing memory to them. But to me, they changed everything. They’re the voices in my head. The beat in my heart. I think to complain about not having the right shoes to match my outfit, and quickly I am reprimanded by the memory of 100 bare feet. If my over-caring mom is getting on my nerves or my gentle dad is asking too much, I am whisked back to Ricardo and his abusive home life. I went to Honduras to change someone else’s life, and in turn, like it always seems to, someone changed my life instead.
© i believe in unicorns. Maira Gall.