So I've been going over in my head the past couple of weeks over what I wanted my next blog post to be. I have a number partially prepared: foods of el salvador, what we've been doing as volunteers over the past month, the progress our host family has made on our room, the results of an HIV/AIDs training we went to, etc...
However, every time I've sat down to write one of those posts out I haven't had the willpower to do it. This is because every time I start in on one of those other posts I think that none of those topics really reflects what I've been thinking about or experiencing the past couple weeks. What I've been thinking about has been the twelve year old girl who lived in our house when Hilary and I first moved in.
She was our first friend when we came in, would correct our spanish, and showed us around the community. In exchange, we taught her to play some of the board games we had, how to play card games like Egyptian Ratscrew and Hearts, and how to make some different friendship bracelets. She reminded me of my cousins in the US - argumentative, quick, and playful. After our first two months in site we left for a month to have some follow-up training and when we came back she had changed over-night into a young teenager - broody, too-cool to be seen outside the house with us, and attached to her computer. Still though, when no one was looking we’d still get an opportunity to play board games and go hiking together.
Two weeks ago Lidia left to go to the United States illegally. Years ago, when Lidia was a baby, her mother left her behind to make the journey herself. Crossing with a child is difficult and Lidia’s mother almost didn’t make it. She was left in the desert, dehydrated and barely made it to Miami - where she lives now. Once in Miami, however, Lidia’s mother couldn’t return to see her daughter.
Fast forward ten years. Lidia has been raised by her grandmother (like so many Salvadoran youth who lost their parents to the States.) She attends the local private school thanks to a donor set-up by another Peace Corps volunteer who had been in our site and she’s being taught how to take care of children, cook, clean, and farm by her grandmother. At the same time, she’s talking to her mother every night. Just because her mother left, doesn’t mean that she didn’t care or stop loving her daughter. Twice in the past her mother has raised the money necessary to hire a “coyote” - a person who will bring you illegally across the border - but the family intervened both of those times on account of how young Lidia was.
However, Lidia’s 12 now. Almost 13. She herself wanted to go and be with her mother, who she missed/never really has had the opportunity to know. Her aunt (who also lives with us and who helped to raise Lidia) knows the trajectory of young girls here.
“Better that she goes “over there” than that she stays and gets pregnant. I would have gone myself by now, but I’m not going without my daughter.” She sadly tells me on a hike when I ask her why she’s letting Lidia go this time.
Her uncle doesn’t say much.
“It’s not right.” He tells me and leaves it at that.
Niña Lida though, the grandmother, takes it the worst. She’s angry one night, sobbing the next.
“It’s not right. You can’t buy love. I raised her and this place is all she knows. She’s too young. And just look at that girl. She’s happy to go. She doesn’t understand anything.”
“Why don’t you tell her she can’t go?” I ask
“We did. We stopped the last two coyotes. Her mother has the money and Lidia’s her daughter. The coyote will just come and take her anyway. Anyway, Lidia is so angry and independent. I can’t control her. ”
She is right that Lidia doesn’t seem to understand. Perhaps the greatest injustice that I feel is that amidst the fear and grief nobody ever sits down with Lidia to tell her what crossing entails. Hilary and I made the mistake of assuming that she knew something about the trip when we first heard that she might be crossing. We packed a small survival kit for her and hinted at the difficulty of the walk. This walk. and This one.
It was a mistake because I think it damaged the trust between her and us, and it really wasn’t our place to tell her (even though I still feel that it was a crueler to keep her in the dark.) The chat terrified her. She had thought she would take a plane over to Miami, not navigating an underworld of natural and human threats to her life with a near-stranger. Terror or no, a few months after the chat she’s recovered and renewed her desire to go to the US.
“Are you taking your computer with you?” I ask her stupidly, knowing that she can’t travel with anything but the cloths on her back.
“Uh huh. I’m taking all my stuff.” She tells me.
I can’t tell if she knows and is lying to avoid talking about the trip or if she really thinks she’ll be bringing her stuff with her.
The day before the trip the grandmother invites an the evangelical service over to the house to pray for Lidia’s safety on the journey. The day comes and Hilary and I say our goodbyes early. We don’t want to be there when the coyote shows up. Lidia’s traveling with a cousin and two other girls, both of whom are under 10. They’ll drive in his car up to the border to Mexico and then make the long walk. On the other side there will be someone to pick her up and bring her to Miami. The whole trip should take two to three weeks.
The next day we come back. The house is quiet and we find Niña Lidia sitting in the kitchen staring off into the distance. She sees us and tries to act like nothing happened, and goes to work on making tortillas for the house, but at the first word she breaks down and we find ourselves comforting her. What’s our role here? We’re not family, but yet we live here and share in the unique pains and joys of the families. Pains that you’re not likely to encounter in the states. What do we do? What can we do?
So that’s where we’re left. Two to three weeks of intense stress and fear. The family gets a call a day later. They’ve entered Mexico. A few days later another call. They’re nearing the border. Then a week passes, still with no word. An evangelical radio service blares in the house now every day, all night long, and all day. The grandmother can’t sleep and every day we wait for the call - any news. Any news at all. Good luck Lidia. Que le vaya bien.
For the follow-up to this story please see this post.