We’ve been looking for the young people. We’ve spent hours on the streets looking for the underage souls, who, for some reason or another, now call the street their home. With time, we have found the spots they frequent at night.
Where they go to dry off after an afternoon downpour; where they go to smoke in peace; what trash cans they raid for food; what streets
they wander looking for hand outs; where they go to rest in small communities that they have created as a means of protection and survival.
Finding where they go during the day has been harder. We have asked the homeless adults on the street where the children are, and they often claim not to know, or lead us in a direction, where we come to find more homeless adults. We know they are out there – we see them at night. So where are they during the day?
We spent one morning wandering the streets of “La Merced,” the streets that we had been warned we couldn’t walk at night. Within minutes I was approached by a woman working the street.
“You lost, honey?” She asked me in Spanish. “You shouldn’t be walking these streets.”
“I’m not lost,” I told her. “We’re just walking around giving out some sandwiches and juice. But thank you.”
“Well in that case,” she said with a laugh, “Where is my sandwich?”
She proceeded to tell me that we were certainly being protected by God for the work that we were doing, however, that we still needed to be careful. “These streets are ugly,” she told me.
As we continued walking, we felt the darkness of the area weighing on our hearts. Drugs, prostitution, many individuals in such deep states of intoxication that they couldn’t be awoken for food. And we also found a lot of the youngsters we had been looking for. They were found working, but in conditions that would perhaps be more appropriately referred to as exploitation. Paid a couple of coins for a day of hauling crates for factories or restaurants, or cleaning up abandoned construction sites. Taken advantage of for being homeless, and desperate. According to the gossip on the street, also taken advantage of for being addicts, often paid in street currency (a days hit), rather than being paid in colones (the local currency).
Therefore, when we arrived with sandwiches at an abandoned construction site, the young males that one would often fear or avoid on the streets, treated us with respect, kindness, and most of all gratitude. They ravenously consumed whatever nourishment we had to offer, while also assuring us that there was nothing to fear, and that they would not let anyone do us harm.
As a young, blonde female, in a country full of dark hair, tanned skin, and dark eyes, I stand out like sore thumb. I am often asked if I am afraid; at times I am even called naive. I assure you that I am not naive; I am completely aware. I am aware of the risk that I run each time I leave my home, much less walk down some of the most dangerous streets of San Jose. I take all the precautions that I can, and then I make the choice to spread love, hope and kindness in areas where kind faces are rarely seen. We all have different gifts, and we are all born with a unique purpose, in yoga they call this your Dharma. Many people have a hard time finding their Dharma – that thing that fills their soul and gives direction to their life. For now, this is where I am finding mine.