Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The sun is breaking through the clouds as we head for the second church that we will be painting, but there is still a huge amount of water in the streets from the storms last night. It rarely rains in Juarez and the sewers clearly aren’t equipped to handle this storm. We set off toward the highway, our vans plowing through the water like stallions fording a river.

By the time we reach Anapra, the clouds have cleared and the sun is blazing overhead. Everything we heard about the poverty here, one of the poorest barrios of Juarez, is true. The electrical wires overhead end suddenly at the outskirts of the neighborhood, rusting cars are everywhere and virtually every modest structure is constructed of naked concrete. As we are traveling, the driver of one of our vans runs over a dog in the street without even attempting to brake or swerve. The teenagers onboard are outraged, some crying after this very personal encounter with the low value placed on life in this forsaken neighborhood.

The job today is daunting. Padre wants us to put white paint on a fence that runs 300 yards around the perimeter of the church. It is constructed of crumbling, unprimed cinder block – very difficult to paint – and there is sand at the bottom of the wall that sticks to the wet paintbrushes. There is not a bit of shade. The sand is full of burrs with deep, sharp spines and is burning hot on this day, which is going to top 100 degrees by noontime.

The teens have requested that they choose the teams and set up the work plan today. They get a kick out of running the show, and enthusiastically dive into the project. As the painting teams spread out along the perimeter, carrying paint, brushes and other supplies to their workstations, a little girl climbs over the wall. She appears to be about six years old, and lives in a house nearby. As she talks with our teenagers, other little kids join her. Soon, our painting crew is supplemented by fourteen little children, all wielding paintbrushes under the tutelage of doting (and suddenly expert) teenagers. Spanish phrasebooks materialize on the steps of the church – now, no one is embarrassed to try speaking Spanish because they want to communicate with these children.

A three-year-old named Chewey steals everyone’s hearts. He is mischievous, affectionate, and funny, with black eyes so huge and limpid he might have been drawn by a Disney illustrator.
As the sun moves higher in the sky, women from the neighborhood are setting up lunch inside the church, which is at least 15 degrees cooler than the glaring sand outside. They carry in huge trays of tamales - steam-cooked cornmeal dough filled with cheese, beans and chilis, wrapped in cornhusks to retain the moisture. The kids traipse inside, hot, tired and sweating, shepherding the little ones in front of them. They sit the neighborhood children down at the table that has been set with cups of cold water and plates of food, standing behind them and waiting to eat until the little ones have had their fill. Could this possibly be the same group of teenagers who just yesterday had goofed their way through a haphazard painting job? Clearly, as our kids have fallen in love with Chewey, the severity of his circumstances has begun to sink in.

No question about finishing the job today. After a rousing soccer match with the kids, our crack painting crew finishes the task and poses for a triumphant photograph in front of the long, pristine white wall. As we pull out of the neighborhood to head back to our compound, fourteen little children are running behind the bus. There is a long silence, and more than a few tears, as we drive away.

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