My sixth day of separation from my heart has been somewhat taxing upon my soul. Seemingly endless steps in clouds of foggy recollections faze my clarity of thought. I'm sluggish to consider other streamlines of consciousness except to ponder how I can strategically assist my team in Peru. Throughout everyday, I'm getting phone calls, emails, text messages, and faxes about the current status of my family who live on the hill.
I think that Amix and I need to somehow configure our Nextel walkie talkies to function globally as my current status prohibits the use of Nextels. This is extremely frustrating for all involved, including myself as my life would be simplified
by enormous measures if the Nextels would function. I believe my dreams would be sweeter and lighter if I could only hear the infamous "bleeh bleep" from the mobile phone's walkie talkie feature.
The story that I share below is an excerpt from my writings. Its a challenging experience that happened recently.
I was talking to Muffin yesterday about the recent plight of my adventures with Hill Life. Firstly, talking with Muffin greatly encourages my spirit. He is one of the most engaging, humorous, and fun filled friends. His journey is beautiful and I have been incredibly blessed to watch his steps. He appreciates life, lives on the edge, and embraces the challenges that come with a resilience to know that it will make him a damn better person. Additionally sensational qualities about him involve the simple fact that he laughs at my stupid jokes. He is kind about the tragically mundane twist of two muffins baking in an oven. The two of us have seen some thick moments over the years since we first became friends in 2001. He is one of those people that will walk with you until the death. He has helped me walk through my mother’s death. This alone, is worthy of true friendship. For all of those people who walked me through my mother’s death, my nightly drinking binge that lasted 8 months, and saw me consider throwing in the towel, professionally, thank you. It was one of those flashes of green light on the horizon blue of the Caribbean’s setting sun moments.
Rumor has it that if you see the flash of green light on the horizon, then good weather is on the cards for the next day. I will never be able to repay those closest friends whose hand protruded through the stony depths of hell in my spirit. Muffin and I have also had a few cleverly surreal moments. Recently, after returning from city centre of Lima, we were trapped in our car while flaming tires and angry protestors headed toward our car. I’ll never forget the moment of no return when one decides to bolt through the wall of flames on the road, while gassed fog the images of the shouting crowds and their image is distantly disfigured by flammable fumes. Luckily, for both of us, Amix decided that the nearest escape would be to drive up over the unconstructed area stretching across massive highway intersections. I believe that the soft tissue in my brain still senses the jarringly dramatic crash as we crossed over the medians and drove into the slaughter of oncoming traffic to desperately manage a infamous “U” turn. Its never a gentle stroll into clear and present danger. Life among the south yields eternal graying of the remainder of my hairs. I believe that I will have gone completely hairless as of the recent adventures that I have just given Muffin the heated scene.
Trustingly so, I believed beyond the recesses of my brain’s furthest thought that I was safe in my working environment. Since the soaring moment of finality, deciding that I would serve the people of this community in Peru, I’ve never hesitated to see what shit I left behind. Serving Christ is a choice and I know that answering the call requires a bittersweet dip into the eternal source of strength. Through various harrowing experiences that have plagued my mind with nothing but encouragement to continue, I have attempted to use previous encounters with bad luck to give karma an opportunity to represent itself. I am not saying that I believe in karma, however, am using the word to include all. The only shit I left behind was the solution of my own decisions and the consequences which I have suffered are ones that I shall wear until the one who loved me first takes me home. My consequences are mine and I take full responsibility for them, even though my scars remain marked until that fleeting moment of departure, they are only annoying reminders of my own flesh. Thankfully, I’m dead, and Christ lives within me. This allows me the opportunity to stop feeling sorry for myself and stop allowing around in my own pool of urinated grief. It is only from the bottom of the can do we realize that we have inadvertently arrived at the bottom and we have no where else to go. In all respect to societal influences, we climb out of our bitter swamp of self pity and begin the journey back to the cross. Through many dull hits across the forehead of my brain, I have learned to pick up that filthy cross and attach it to my body. It is there to stay, thank God.
As I was relating to Muffin that my recent encounters with rumbling testosterone filled blood have reduced my passion by none. Recently upon the hill I embraced my first hazing into the gang of the hill. The hill that I will forever walk continues to be one with a heavy load of the cross swinging mightily down on my shoulders. I’ve started up a soccer team on the hill. Forty four teenagers have dedicated their time, resources, and energy into the formation of this community effort to build unity.
It was scary as hell, (not knowing what hell is like), of committing to this experience. However, I believe in these teenagers. I believe in their dedication and I am passionately invested to see the course of history chart its record in the books. Naturally, embracing the invitation to serve as their President and boss, I’m humbled by the extreme blessing of loving and walking with them. These kids are a mix of hopes, and ambitions; mixed in with some drugs and crime.
The majority of the teenagers are screaming for the opportunity to be valued and loved. The challenge has been full of beautiful moments along with a few dents of concern. One week prior to my departure to Australia where I would be working for two months, I tripped upon one of those concerns.
Two members of our group, Ronald and Luisin were accused of assault and robbery. One afternoon, while in the midst of playing basketball with Adomis, I was visited by the hill’s policeman. He is an honest man with a love for one of the women on the hill, Griz. Griz is one of the most complex individuals that I have journeyed with. I don’t trust Policeman to the full due to previous band encounters with government employees, I manage to appear solely dedicated to his friendship. Is it possible for a resident to state that a Policeman is growing on me? He is. He’s pleasant enough and he treats Griz well. He pays the bills and gives Griz’s two kids ride in the back of his police truck. Who am I to aruge? So, Policeman passed the voice to me one day while I was in the middle of missing a 3 point shot on the court. I knew he was behind me but I didn’t want him to think that I was waiting to talk with him. I politely ran over to his truck to speak with him. He always waits for me in the truck. Its as though he demonstrates his power from the truck, and God forbid that I ever ask him to stepo out of the truck. That’s his job. I greet him, “Hola, Jefe, como esta?” He smiles and shakes my hand. I shake it back. I wouldn’t dare to forget this. Preganant Griz was sitting over in the seat next to him, full of baby and empty of patience. “My God, Dan,” she exclaims, “You’ve got two boys in your soccer team that are stealing from people here on the hill.” As in every day on the hill, full of new surprises, today was no different.
“Oh?” I flatly responded, “what happened?” Peruvian code of ethics prevent me from acting too concerned below the surface because one’s word is only good after its proven.
“Policeman and I are heading down right now to talk to the grandmother of Ronald and Luisin’s mother. We’ll let you know what happens.” Griz shifted the baby inside her from one position to the next, attempting to forget that she had another bill coming.
“Eso es correcto, hermano,” Policeman confirmed. He was agreeing with her and they began to pull away, “I will call you this evening before your team meeting,” he added as his police truck peeled a few rocks out from under the sun. Baca, the king dog of the hill, with perked ears of hormones, followed the truck a few blocks down the peak. In these moments, I only have a rationed thought,
“Jesus, remember me,” I fumbled for the return to the game where Griz’s son, Adomis was smirking at my raspy hack, expulsing the polluted fumes of the police truck.
“Estoy adelante de ti,” he exclaimed, mocking me for my debilitating score of “21.”
Later in the evening, as the sun was settling into the horizon to sleep one off, the dogs begin to stir in the dust and arise to meet their evening invitations to various ports of call, I flung the newly purchased mobile phone onto the bed.
“Porque?” Amix asked me, always frustrated with my dramatic acts of declared injustice.
I cannot say that I ever invited challenges to enter my paradigm. They just let themselves into my journey. Why? I believe that God continues to show me that I am not in control, or remind me, rather, of my inconsistent and highly unnecessary attempts of maintaining control are seriously unwarranted. Amix was horrified when I gave the story. I was a prized possession to be had. Apparently word was out on the street that there were three gangs operating in the region, of one gang, was ours. I say ours, but I mean, we walked on their terrority. They were named, “something bitches,” and of the something, meaning, I cannot remember what they are. They were over 100 strong with additional resources scattered throughout Lima. Amix was disheartened to hear discouraging information. He got the look that always means he is quietly rewinding his mental tapes to re-record history. He doesn’t like confusion. Apparently, additional reprorts from the Policeman were that gangs were looking for an opportunity to rob me of my camera and money. Amix stared at me wearing the blank, a look of wonder and frustration.
“I guess Ronald and Luisin were wanting to rob me.” I
muttered, “however, I know Ronald, and I don’t think he would.” I told myself.
Luisin was definitely running the gangs and I knew it. He was a fare collector
which included the frequent tagging of “combis”
or buses, carrying passengers for their fees. Luisin acted as a human toll
collector at a crucial point of traffic along the road to and from the hill.
Ronald, however, was a student at school.
“I guess we’ll have to chat with the team tonight, “ I squinted into the shadow’s remainder of light.
We did. Amix and I bought the team’s evening supply of sport drink and climbed the hill in the car. We arrived at the team meeting which was going to be held at Joel and Christian’s home. They owned one of the larger “casas” and invited the team to hold meetings there. The team’s 22 players were squished into the room while Coach and Assistant were milling around at the edge of the doorway. There were ten teenagers stationed like props out of a “b” rated independent film. They were smoking various items that delicately teetered between their thumb and forefinger. What the hell was I doing there? Was I an idiot for risking my sanity to build a soccer team?
“Pata,” Amix leaned over and patted my shoulder, “you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to walk in there and subject yourself to the risk.” He look worried.
“First, you know as well as I do, that God goes with and before us. Second, I know you brought the “Paquita” to defend yourself,” I smiled.
“and you?” he responded, obviously concerned. I hoped that he wasn’t cracking under the pressure. I knew that we, together, had been in some more challenging situations prior to the current one. I didn’t even want to remind him of our encounter two months prior that occurred on the border of Colombia and Ecuador.
“me? Ah, Amix, this is nothing.” I reassured him as I fumbled for the new uniforms, “we’ll just say a few words.”
“There are never just a few words,” he muttered. He spoke truly. Conversations in the south never stop after a few, rather many.
One of the crucial aspects to staying alive in Peru is to maintain humility with confidence. Strange concoction of mixed qualities such as these guarantee acceptance from communities outside of your nationality. Learnt humility is a stepping stone of foundational transparency giving one enhanced compassion. Having made lots of mistakes in my journey makes my ability to walk into the unknown much more tranquil because I am no better than anyone else. I stood out from the car and went to the first of the teenagers, “Tiger” who quickly hid his rolled joint behind his tense frame. He trusts me and he gives me the side hug as I lumbered my camera and gear along. Hauling my camera around is much safer than leaving it in the car, even though this exposes me to the external risks. Tiger is one whom I could trust even when he is in the company of those who I do not know. Tiger, 19, has no job, and thrives through his existence of two activities,
1.) Playing good at soccer
2.) Playing good at stealing from people.
He smiles and he winks at me. Winking here in this community has no sexual commentaries, but rather exemplified the stable friendship that two people grasp. In these moments, I welcomingly take as many winks as I can, fully aware of the risks of entering past 5 other teenagers that I have never spoken to before. Hardly concerned, Amix follows in tow with my notes for the meeting. He managed to wedge the “Pauitqa” somewhere between his shirt and skin. As I enter into the room, all 22 of the team members rise up from their chairs in one unified chorus. Two empty chairs silently flash from across the room. I slowly make the rounds from right to left. I always greet each person with a firm handshake. A few reach their other arm around for an embrace, which Amix closely watches. Trusting these guys with my life, I accept the embrace and continue on. Ronald shakes my hand, but his eyes scan my expression in search of doubt. As Luisin makes his way over toward my space, my heart skipped a few spaces across the pond of my blood. Speaking of another person in poor light warrants unwanted attention. I was not concerned if he was brandishing a knife or gun, but hoping that the formalities would soon be over. I did not know Luisin well and hoped that our basic friendship would increase with trust. I didn’t see Luisin steal so why was I quick to assume. I smiled, authentically in the face of presumed crime and took my seat. The boys all followed. Coach sat down to my left and Amix to my right. I greeted each of them by name and wished them good evening. Coach ticked off his formalities as normal while every eye was watching. Rumor had it that I was going to shut down the team. The boys were scared that the beginning of this impressionable adventure was short lived and quickly falling to disaster. They knew that I had the authority to eliminate the entire project. Secretly steaming, each one of the innocent players wished the others dead. Not knowing where the ties of loyalty existed, I had to entertain the condition that I was naïve to think that anyone was innocent.
I knew I wasn’t. Grace abounds for all, clearly.
I cleared my throat. Several set of eyes pleaded for grace. My mother always told me that the eyes were windows to the soul. I could see the disheartened emotions in the eyes of Jordy, Hender, Garfield, Speedy, Jhesion, Turito, and Ander. Andy was biting his nails anxiously. I could hear the wind on the plastic tarp that covered Joel’s home. Silence was present. I silently prayed to Jesus for wisdom from on high.
“Boys, I’m not here to judge.” I shuffled my weight to the right side of my ass. “I love each of you and I passionately desire the best for each of you. I believe in each of you.” I paused. Amix coughed a one off which I sometimes wonder signifies to quit sugarcoating the shit and step into the heart of the issue.
“I want to share a couple of thoughts with you before I give instructions for the evening. It has come to my attention that two of you were involved in an assault and robbery two days ago. Now, I am not concerned for the fact that you robbed someone. I cannot understand exactly what you are going through and I am not one to judge you for robbing and stealing. If you feel that stealing is something you must do, then, I cannot judge you for your actions,” I stopped for a second and thanked Jesus silently for his encouragement and strength,
“I do believe, however, that for me, stealing is not something that I can endorse, personally. It does not line up with my ethical standards. I believe that we, as a team, need to represent the team and the name within our community. This soccer team needs to reflect healthy ethical standards so that we can set an example for younger children, parents, and community members. I want you, as a team, to decide what the displinary actions will be. I have been told that I have the authority to remove those two individuals from the team. However, I will leave that decision to you. I would lke that you all, together, unified, decide what is best. I will trust your judgment as a team,” I breathed.
“Entonces,” Coach stated, “we will meet tomorrow evening to discuss the conclusion.”
“Secondly,” I stated, “it has come to my attention that the same two individuals or others outside of this group are desiring to steal and rob me of my camera and my money. I am not angry with you and I am certainly not upset with any of you. Now, if you want to steal my camera,” as I continued, I dropped my left hand down around my plastic chair and reached inside my gear bag. I withdrew the camera. “You can steal the camera if you like. You can go ahead and steal it from my hands and sell it into the streets for a value of nearly $6,000 USD. Go for it. Give it a go. However, please realize that if you steal my camera, it will greatly affect my effectiveness of doing my job.” I considered my words that had just left my voice box. Amix adjusted his expression and smirked. I think he was wondering how an idiot could have employed him. His expression equaled curiosity.
“Furthermore, please make sure that you “pasar la voz” pass the voice around that anyone can steal from me if they choose. However, if they decide to do this, it will greatly affect my work. I won’t be able to continue creating documentary story pieces that share the experiences of your lives. The people that engage in this community from outside will not hear about what is happening among you.” I finished. There was silence in the room. Each person treated me as though I had their future in my hands and I was confused. I didn’t want them to think that I was angry or frustrated. Most importantly, I wanted to convey what I felt, no fear. I embraced the challenge.
“Lastly,” I gestured toward Coach. “Please respect this man. He is here to help you. Thank you for respecting him. Thank you for the opportunity that you have given me to work with each of you. I look forward to the next opportunity. I love each of you and know that God has placed you here for a specific purpose,” ending my statement, I turned the meeting over to Coach. I was done. My energy somehow evaporated from my body through the intensity that was presently hanging off the chipping paint on the wall. Luisin wouldn’t look at me and I couldn’t steal a glance to Ronald without obviously stating to the group that I knew he had been involved.
The meeting ended. Each of them stood up as I stood up. Jordy, our team’s technical assistant approached me first. He loved surprising me with his limited English,
“Thank you man,” he said. His voice reminded me of Speedy Gonzales with an injection of testosterone that influenced the audio of his speech.
Additionally, Jordy enjoyed the frequent opportunity to kick up attention from the group while pulling some moves from the late Michael Jackson’s moon walking talent. At the most inconsistent moments, Jordy would break into moves and grab his crotch in the midst of laughing friends.
“Thank you man,” he continued, “I’ve got no problem, man,” he concluded in English. I felt obligated to respond in English, “Jordy, thank you for your help.”
I managed to slip out of the house, forgetting to thank Joel’s family for hosting us. I always kick myself when forgetting social gestures of gratefulness when in the midst of work. Ugh. Amix was close to my back and I could hear him guarding my left side as I approached the mingling group of boys. Each one came to greet me in farewell. Amix slowly stood to my left the entire time, his eyes scanning for reflecting metal of blades. I thought it would be a rather inappropriate moment for anyone to choose a stabbing in public.
After the crowd slowly faded away and the dust hung around the streetlights of night, I dropped down inside the waiting car. Amix slammed the door behind me and crossed over to the driver’s side door. As we pulled away from Joel’s house, I saw Luisin, Ronald, Turito, and two others talking in a shadow near the awning of Joel’s house. I didn’t scan for eyeballs. I knew where they were.
Amix told me that I did a good job. I knew he wasn’t beling polite nor was he pushing for an extension in his contract. He meant it. I felt better after dishing out the discussion with the boys. Regardless of the outcome, I knew that the Holy Spirit guided me to speak the words that needed to be communicated. If I was to throw any chances on risks, I’d be damned if I died naïve.
* * * * * * * * * *
Dawn rose and fell. I think I played one too many rounds of checkers on my phone the night before. I needed more sleep but the noisy chickens and roosters were impatiently clamoring up and down the yard out back. Dinner would be nice if this rooster died. Amix and I inhaled our daily intake of breakfast which normally consumes of the same routine. I drink my coffee, black, and manage to eat down tasty imported oatmeal. Amix chooses two eggs with juice and toast. On somedays, he shoves the egg down into the bread like a sandwich. He does this with the most intriguing interest. We drove over to Evita and Hungry’s house. Simply the most engaging people of South American hospitality, I consumed more coffee. I managed to shoot down some administrative paperwork and consider how much coffee was required to push until lunch. Lunch came and went. Rather mundane flashes of normality rushed in with a twinge of a sense impending outcomes. As we began our ascent to the hill for the afternoon, I had a ping of curiosity towards the evening before. Our boys were interspersed throughout the scene, with several of the team having a dangerous dance of soccer in the “chanchita.” I assumed that all was well and calm after the settling of dust from the day before. Amix brought bad news. As I prepared to exit the car, Amix pointed out a obvious conclusion.
“Hey pata,” he said, “creo que hay chicos nuevos que estan.” After his ending breath, I had already calculated the concern. My math was never good. There were six guys strung out through the soccer game that were participating. They were new. I had never seen them before. I recognized Ronald and Luisin, however, they weren’t together. Some invisible line had separated them. I would definitely be checking that out later. Evita and Leti were coming around to the side of the car to walk together over to the meeting section that we have turned into a worship center and kitchen. Ongoing projects maintain their existence through the consistent calling out of needed attention. Ronald signaled for me by winking at me. The usual wink meant healthy future.
“Dan,” he cheered, “hermano, can you come and talk,” Ronald beckoned for me. Not sure if the odds were stacking in my favour or in the favour of the thieves that were going to take my entire loot. Clearly I had encountered a situation that was uncomfortably familiar. Evita, Leti, and Amix somehow dispersed at drastically inconvenient moments. Amix let me be as he climbed up to the highest step on the bleachers overseeing the entire court. Clearly he made it extremely challenging to reach me in case of an assault. I wondered at the moment why I hired him. A fleeting moment for sure. Seconds, rather. He was my closest advisor.
“Yeah, Ronald, whats up?” I strolled over to his presence. The other guys in the court were watching. I thought that when playing soccer, one’s intention was to keep their eye on the ball, or at least on the other players. My stomach felt a bit sick.
“Dan, I want to tell you some things, brother,” he paused and then continued. “I didn’t steal anything. I was so fucking scared that you wouldn’t believe me when I told you.” Ronald was about to cry. I knew that he wasn’t acting. I didn’t know what I should do in that moment and whether to step back and observe the irony of it all.
“Dan, I have never wanted to steal from you or take your camera. I want you to believe me because I need your trust in me. Last night when you told us that you knew there were two boys in the gang that had stolen, I knew that you thought it was me. I could see it in your eyes.” Ronald looked over to me. I didn’t know what to do. In that moment, I felt guilty even thinking it. I wanted to delete the previous thought from my mind.
“Hermano, I used to run in the gangs. I quit nearly two years ago when my mom died. I vowed to God in that moment that I would never run in the gangs, touch drugs, and steal.” Ronald’s eyes darted to see who was listening. It was just me.
“So, I used to steal. Yeah, it was wrong, but I don’t do it anymore. I promise you that I have turned away from that because I want to get an education. I want to finish high school.” He stared into my eyes. I knew that he wasn’t in school anymore,
“How many years are you short?” I asked.
“Two years man,” was the reply. Ronald was a good kid. He was trying to sort it out.
“Luisin, for him, I cannot answer,” Ronald explained as if I had already asked him, “but I want you to know something else…” his voice wandered off in a concerning manner. I felt my muscle twitch on the left side of my neck. Amix was close by, listening and watching.
“Dan, do you know Jesus?” he queried. He shuffled his worn out sneakers in the dirt. I assumed that he wasn’t talking about my personal Lord and Savior which was a horrid judgment call on my behalf. I told Ronald that I didn’t know Jesus.
“He’s the leader of the gang here. He is the their top man with about 100 people who follow him. He’s dangerous and has one brother already living out a long jail sentence in Lima. They are tough. They scare all of us. Ronald twitched his head around looking for others.
“Dan, he’s dead serious about making sure that you are safe from the other two rival gangs that they rumble with. There are three in total operating around here, but the opposing two gangs live in other parts of the city. You’re in the heart of Jesus’s gang.” Ronald smiled. I smiled too. I wanted to laugh. The absurdity of it all was quite intriguing. I felt like I was having a briefing session at the local embassy on foreign relations.
“Jesus came up to the hill today with some of his brothers because he wants to talk to you,” Ronald gestured toward the “chanca”.
“okay, that’s cool,” I nodded my head in agreement. It was a pity and very unlucky that Evita and Leti had wandered up the hill to the upper part to visit other families. They were completely out of sight from few. If anythere were to happen now, only Amix would be the witness to my shameful demise. Ronald dashed towards the group and returned with four others. Luisin was included.
“What happened brother?” a street slicked dressed young man came striding toward me. Amix stood up from his perch on the bleacher and peered over at us, investigating and calucating the next series of events.
“nada pasa nada, hermano,” I responded in my best and weak attempt to maintain a street based lingo. This guy, whom I presumed was the infamous Jesus, was one of the most clean and freshly presented guys that I’d ever seen on the hill. His teeth were whiter than a blank sheet of paper in a word document, and his eyes twittered with intensity.
“hermano,” he slapped my hand with a shake and embraced me with the left arm around the back of my neck. It was awkard. I was shaking hands with a murderer who could snap me in half with his bodyguard’s back. “Word has it that you’ve caught wind of the gang life here man.” Jesus introduced himself,
“Brother, when I heard that you thought that Luisin and Ronald had stolen from some people around here, I thought to myself. That gringo is crazy,” he looked at me and smiled. Big.
“I’m not an idiot to consider that what you’ve heard is incorrect, considering that the Policeman and Griz are banging each other everynight up on the hill, you’re bound to hear true statements out of Policeman’s mouth,” Jesus started in with waving his hands fluidly through the air,
“I’m thinking that you need to learn some things brother. One, I am the fucking leader of this entire gang. I’ve got 100 people who answer to me. I tell them to go and kill assholes who mess with us. I am driving this whole scene man, and you are in my terrority. You know something, brother, you are one of us. You are in our family. When I heard that you thought that two of our brothers from the hill wanted to rob you, I thought, shit, he’s out of his fucking mind.,” Jesus was probably just getting warmed up. I couldn’t suggest that he remove some of his descriptive terminology out of his conversation.
“Bueno, Jesus. I’m just here to serve man,” I tried to get a word in but he was cooking up.
“On top of that, I want you to know that no one will ever touch you, hurt you, or steal from you. From this hill, you are protected. We’ve got your back. We watch for you. Everyone in your team is safe with us. However, we’ve got a problem, brother,” Jesus licked his lips and took a breath. He had just spent a lot of energy in a soccer game and telling me like it was only fed his energy.
“You, brother,” he sticked his finger into my sternum, “You are never to go into a moto taxi ever again. Never,” he smiled, “do you remember that time that I saw you coming up in a moto taxi and I jumped on board with the driver to check you out?” he waited for my response.
“Ahhh…” I didn’t know where to continue. I think God sometimes gives us a flash of recollection to save ourselves from embarrassment, which at that moment, was greatly appreciated. A couple of months prior, I had been climbing the hill in the back of a moto taxi. A moto taxi is a simple set of three wheels, with an engine, three seats, and a drive on the handlebars. The rear two seats are covered from the weather with a plastic awning. Its cheap to hail a moto taxi, while additionally removing all danger based thoughts from your brain. The moto taxi will not crash, provided that there are no other moto taxis on the road and the driver is not engaged in drunken binges or altered states of chemically based subtances. As I was riding up the hill in the back of a moto taxi, alone, a young man jumped on board the still moving taxi. I was alone. I was not surprised by his climb into the taxi. However, I didn’t know who he was and I was concerned, being alone, that I would be targeted for the next murder or crime. This guy turned around and stared at my gear and into my eyes. There was an awakard silence only distracted by the engine’s spitting of fumes out the tailpipe.
“Dan?” the guy screamed. “Eres Dan from the hill?” this guy reached out to shake my hand,
“Yeah, soy yo.” I exclaimed with anxiety. I didn’t consider myself lucky to be robbed from someone who knew my name but I didn’t have a clue who he was.
“Yeah, hermano, my sister is Naomi. You know, the girl in the wheelchair. I’ve heard all about you man. I’ve been watching you. You do a good work for my family,” he smiled faintly and turned back around to the front view. We rode the rest of the way in silence.
Upon recalling that moment, Jesus’s flashy smile brought me back into the moment.
“hermano, that was me man. I was going to rob you man when I got onboard the taxi. My man here had told me that he was carrying a gringo. I thought it would be best to steal at that moment. But, when I got onboard and saw you, then I knew that I couldn’t. you are one of us.”
“well, thanks, Jesus. Thanks for believing in me man,” it was the stupidest comment I could have made. I was completely honoured that God would spare my stuff on that one occasion.
“The problem is though, that now the other two gangs are on like a passion to get you man. You’re life will never be the same now man. You’ve got to promise me that you’ll never get into a moto taxi ever again, not even with Amix. The other gangs will intercept you, cros your path, and cut the gas lines on the moto. You’ll be stranded, dead, and with no camera,” he honed in with his eyes to bear into my retina. He was serious. I knew it.
“Dan, don’t joke around with those other two gangs man. They kill. They kill people. You need to be careful man. Last night after the soccer meeting, I went down to speak to one of my liasions from the other gang and told him to spread the word that no one is to ever touch our boys, meaning you guys,” Jesus was dripping with aderliane. He was probably itching for the next line to smoke.
“I don’t give a shit about what they do in their own turf, but they had never ever come up here. This is my land man. This is my place. You, dan, are helping us, and we are going to help you,” Jesus yelled and gestured toward the blue skies. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just hug him. “Dan,” he continued, “please don’t ever go in the car alone you will never be able to walk around this city by yourself again. Don’t do it. Word on the street is that the other gangs are looking for an opportunity to cash you up.” Jesus twisted his fake imported Yankees ball cap on his head to the left.
“Cash me up?” I pretended to look naïve. Maybe I was.
“hermano,” he sniffed. Allergies must have been getting the best of him, “so, the other two gangs are looking for a chance to kidnap you man. They were clearing out a space up on the hill in some old abandoned building to hold you quiet while they demanded a ransom,” he looked dreadful, well, apart from the insanely white teeth. “There was talk about kidnapping you and holding you hostage up on the building until your contacts in other countries could get some money together to pay you out,” he wiped his nose. Maybe he needed the line now.
“Well,” I stated, “I appreciate your honesty. I meant it. If there was anyone that was going to protect me living out a few months in an abandoned shed, it would be the gang of Jesus.
“Your contacts in the States, I’m assuming, will pay big money to have you safe,” he flicked a piece of flint off his jumper. He continued, “Once they pay the transfer money to your Amix, then he’ll make sure that it gets dispersed to the kidnappers. It’s easy money for them man. You realize that these actions, if they do occur, will send a fear throughout their gangs because they know that we’ll come after them. I’ll kill them myself and I’ll certainly order a few of my brothers to do the same. It really doesn’t take much for this all to go down, so, remember, up here you’re safe. It’s the getting out of their zone that is the hard shit,” Jesus was winding down.
“well, as I always tell Amix. I learn new things everyday man,” I laughed. Seeing me laugh seemed to calm Jesus down a bit.
“Be careful with your car man. Change cars every few days man. They are tracking your car, even down to Lima. You guys park for the evening down at Calle 17, no? They are communicating through cell phones man. They know when you guys leave and when you come back. They know where you stop at to eat and where you fill the car up with petrol,” Jesus was getting dramatic again. Luisin even started gettling restless.
“Its tough shit man, but you’re here to help us and we’re here to protect you,” Jesus nodded his head, “you know that if any moto taxi starts to cross your path in any moment, write the fucking number of the license plate down, and I’ll track it down and go to the house myself and kill the thief myself,” he strutted around like he was going to start boxing. Ronald interjected,
“Dan, its okay. They will take care of you and your family man.” Ronald patted my shoulder. Amix turned from our circle and looked down the road past us.
“Bueno, thanks so much for talking to me man,” I reached for Jesus’s hand.
“hermano, de que. Estoy aqui para ayudar y cuidar tu espalda.” Jesus smiled with his teeth gleaming. He told me that not to worry and that he was there to help me and watch my back. It was comforting. In some strange expression, I was grateful for his friendship. It was all a bit overwhelming. I only had just begun to see the depths of community growth. Our NGO was growing and our name was becoming more widely recognized. People were getting word back that I had access to money or that I had friends and contacts with a lot of money. The truth was finally coming to a point of action. I just didn’t know what the equation was to solve the problem. The guys shook my hand. All of them. One by one the disappeared down into the shadows below. Amix came over to me and sighed a dramatic puff of desperation.
“Y ahora,” he said. (and now). He smiled at me. “don’t worry man, be happy.” Little did he know that this saying was annoying and I simply wanted to fade away into a hole to process this entire conversation. The adventure was kicing off. We had three weekly meetings with the mothers. We had youth group functions with the youth on Saturday nights. We had implemented a soccer team to represent the community. Incredible and exciting things were ejecting from the soil of hard labor with fruit to feed the people in the morning. Now, my life had changed within 24 hours. At least, what I knew of my life had changed. Perhaps the changes had already been erupting long before I arrived to awareness.