Imagine sitting at a restaurant, nice for Nicaraguan standards, stomach full from your oversized platter of food, and looking out of the barred window to see two skinny little street kids clutching at the bars and piercing you with their soft brown hungry eyes.
Occasionally they’ll come right in to restaurants- right up to your table- and ask for a peso. I never know what to say; such behavior shouldn’t be condoned inside a restaurant. There is one solution, though, but I have yet to go through with it. When you can’t finish your plate, ask for a box. As you walk out the door, hand the box of food to one of the kids sitting right outside on the doorstep. Simple as that. Yet I have seen countless half full plates abandoned as waste. I’ve been at fault, too. In the U.S., we know not to waste food but aren’t given a readily tangible reason not to. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard high schoolers laugh, saying “How am I supposed to send my leftovers to starving kids in China?” In Nicaragua, the motivation to not waste food is staring right into your eyes.
The other night, a group of us were walking to a salsa club and a couple of cute kids started following us and chatting. It was definitely after midnight- wondering why he wasn’t in bed, I asked the kid where his house was. In the sweetest, most innocent voice he said “duermo en la calle.”
It’s hard to hear those words so abruptly as you walk the dirty streets of Leon at night. Last night, Lynn, Raf and I ran into an acquaintance from Bigfoot on the way back from Quetzal Playa who happened to have a friend along from California- a fresh citizen of L.A. planning on pursuing a career in music. He told us he would put on a mini concert for us that night- I was so excited! We congregated in the lounge area of Bigfoot, and the audience grew and grew until we were a circle of maybe 30 travelers, passing around maracas, flutes, and harmonicas, as The Next Jack Johnson of Blues dished forth some excellent tunes.
We were kicked out at 10:45, so we took our show on the road. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Dane led us to the Parque Central of Leon with guitar in hand. We followed him in a long, meandering train, losing our way at intersections and then listening for the soft strum guitar strings to find our way. I found the same little street kids at the central basketball court- they were camped out under the shadows of the nets but leapt up at the sight of Gringos and immediately started hustling us for pesos. Freddie was the cutest- I told him we were going to play music and invited him along.
Once we arrived at the designated concert venue, Freddie took over the show. This kid is quite the performer- his friend, Yerrie, drummed on the guitar (Dane cringing noticeably) while Freddie busted out some break dancing moves, a bit of Palo de Mayo traditional dance, and some just plain crazy jittery dancing completely new to me but quite impressive. He can dance, he can rap, he can sing; he can charm the ladies. I could not resist his wink and beckon when he said “quiero bailar con usted.” But we needed music. He told Dane to play some salsa- no cigar, not one of us knew any salsa songs. Palo de Mayo? Reguetton? Bachata? Merrengue? Nothing. We settled on something inspecific but danceable and boogied out. Freddie decided he was going to pair up the whole group, but was sensitive enough to ask each of us whether we had a novio first. This kid is a rock star; a little Elvis Presley.
Eventually Freddie and the two other boys ran out of steam and moved on to lying in select girls’ laps for head massages. I probably rubbed Jose’s head for over an hour. They were in heaven- eyes closed and paws in the air like kittens. I kept thinking I could hear them purring. Dane was back in the spotlight, and he made a valiant effort to dip down to our musical level by playing songs we could actually sing to- Beatles, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Sublime, Weezer, Bob Dylan… It was an amazing time. Our voices filled the open square. Palms and night sky above, crumbling cement steps below, and Sandinista murals all around. When Dane played Under the Bridge, a couple of Nica men stopped to sing along, swaying and beers in hand, willing to squeak three octaves up for the final chorus. We capped it off with a rousing chorus of Hey Jude, and dispersed.
This morning, I woke at 7 to spend the day at Las Chavaladas. Raf was supposed to come with, but he was feeling sick so I walked over on my own. It turned out that today instead of walking to the market, picking up the street kids, and bringing them to the stadium for sports, Las Chavaladas had invited them to the organization’s house. There is no baseball field there, so baseball was not an option- I was not upset about this. We got to play a mix of soccer and basketball the entire time. My height relative to the Nica kids made basketball very enjoyable, and I almost felt like I got them back for always kicking my butt at baseball. The best part of the day was that all three kids from the night before- Freddie, Yerrie, and Jose- were there playing. We had separated into teams of three for a “king of the court” style soccer extravaganza, and Jose was ecstatic to be on the same team. I was really happy to see them, but even happier to see that they knew about Las Chavaladas, and that they had a place to go during the day as well as a potential spot to spend the night.
There is one volunteer who is volunteering at Las Chavaladas full time. Of course, he’s from Germany. I asked him why most of the homeless kids don’t move into the dorms at the organization- there are only three kids currently living there. He told me that they don’t move in because they aren’t willing to comply with the organization’s rules. Obviously, glue bottles are not permitted in the house, which made my day a lot less emotionally stressful- I didn’t have to think about glue at all. There are many other rules though, and they’re posted big and bold in the front room. Apparently, the street kids come to take a shower, do laundry, and get lunch, and then leave again. They only stay for about an hour a day. I find this unfortunate, but I’m not sure how Las Chavaladas could host more street kids without forsaking the orderly and polite environment the house provides, or simply becoming more of an orphanage.