Jenna and I were walking home from the bus stop this evening on our way home from the streets. It was only about 8 o’clock, and there were lots of people still out – a game of futsal going on in the small court near the house. I started to tell Jenna about my bad day yesterday when it happened.
(Of course, my bad day must be taken in context. I was able to go to the beach and surf and read and enjoy the waves and the cold ocean. I was actually trying to complain to Jenna about how I totally tripped when getting on the bus, landing on my face and skinning my knee. That’s always embarrassing. And then I wanted to further the complaining by relating how I had tried to kick what I thought was a piece of wadded up paper on the ground. It wasn’t paper. It was an uneven piece of concrete sidewalk cemented to the ground. I was wearing my flipflops. And while I have a nice deep cut on my left big toe, I am glad that I didn’t break anything.)
This is what I was going to tell Jenna. But we saw the young guy with the gun standing in the middle of the road, yelling at the cars to slow down. He wasn’t alone – probably 15 of his friends were around him, covering both sides of the road, looking like they were prepared for a small invasion. It was the nightly changing of the guard when the traffickers from my community ride across the intersection to visit their friends across the way. They are a bit paranoid (with reason) so they only cross this at night and with lots of weapons in evidence – and they try and do it quickly – racing through the 100 feet of no man’s land around the intersection on motorcycles with a few guys on foot to give cover and yell at the cars to stop and give the others time to get away if a police car happens to be present.
Something was going wrong tonight though. We couldn’t see what it was (and we didn’t stop any of the guys with guns to ask), but the entire process was stalled about halfway through – guys blocking part of the road and hunkered down in door-wells and behind the homemade barricade of refrigerators, concrete slabs, rebar, big rocks, and a few couches for good measure. As Jenna and I stepped into the shadow of a building, a friendly man getting a beer at the corner snack shop yelled out to us, “It’s ok. Calm down…” Then, thinking it over and deciding that Jenna and I did not look like we belonged there, he kindly asked us “Are you lost?” (In other words, what are you stupid gringos doing up here now?) I grinned back, gave him a thumbs up, and told him we lived up the road, and were just going home. Order restored to his world, he went back to his beer, ignoring the men with guns.
Deciding it was better to walk home than sit around waiting for something to happen, we crossed the street at a time that wasn’t the best – weaving our way through cars that were slowly driving through (driving slowly because the kid with the M-16 was yelling at them “I said SLOW DOWN!” while pointing it at the drivers) and the other guys with guns – some of them high and jumpy and not the kind of people you want to see with stuff like this. As we crossed into cover, something happened across the way which panicked a few guys around us, who then began running towards us with their guns drawn.
Jenna and I were trying to navigate the small path between the large garbage pile on the corner and the large wall of the corner drug store when one of the young guys tried coming the opposite way at the same time. I wasn’t about to step into the big pile of garbage, so Jenna and I politely said “Excuse me” as we squeezed by him and on out of the line of fire. We only had to stop once up the street to take shelter in another little snack bar with a few other pedestrians when someone got a little trigger happy and started shooting. But it didn’t last long, and we made it home fine. Nothing like a little adventure to end the day – and a little perspective to remind you the difference between a good day and a bad day.
And a quick addendum – today marked the first day on the streets that our Brazilian friends and volunteers outnumbered the gringos. I may try and share some of those stories later. But for now, I’m just excited about the hearts of these new friends and coworkers – for Dande and Paulinha, for Alexi and Daniel and Marcello, for Gabi and Natalya – the compassion, joy, and love they have, and the desire to make a difference in the lives of those who are in need.
And one more thing… I’ll leave you with a quote I found recently. And I’ll let it speak for itself.
~ Philo of Alexandria