Kilometro 52

I took my first trip outside the city of Santa Cruz on Saturday. We traveled about 50 kilometers to Casa Hogar Nacer, a boys home to rehabilitate street kids.

The place was absolutely beautiful. There were mountains in the distance, and green everywhere. To get there we took a bus out of the city and we passed through many small towns, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Like in Santa Cruz, any time we made an extended stop, different vendors would swarm to the bus shouting the name of whatever they were trying to sell, whether it was peanuts, soda, or salteñas.

It was strange to see the mix of rich and poor in this more rural area. There would be stick-and-mud adobe houses and then you’d see a mansion, perhaps a retirement home for someone wealthy. There was lots of livestock to be seen from the road, too.

The drive itself wasn’t too bad, though after the main highway ended and it became a two-lane highway, it wasn’t quite as fun. Every town had speed bumps to keep the buses from zooming through and killing people.

When we finally arrived at our stop, we took some pictures, and then began walking down a flooded, muddy road. We passed a Baptist camp, which was right next to Hogar Nacer.

As we came to Hogar Nacer, I noticed long lines of trees of a kind I recognized. They are the same kind of tree that my mom brought with us when we moved from Texas to St. Louis, but I can’t remember the name. All I remember is that they don’t do well in cold weather, so every winter we’d have to heave the tree and its pot inside the house, and then in spring, take it back outside. Well, these trees were far, far bigger than my mom’s. They were extremely tall and thick, and I could stand under one. It was quite amazing.

Hogar Nacer itself was a beautiful place with lots of trees, flower gardens, and nice brick buildings. We were quickly ushered under a thatched wooden pavilion to meet Miguel Zucchetti, a Peruvian missionary who runs this camp (as well as two others). He was a really, really friendly man, and I found his Spanish more understandable than many other people I’ve met so far.

I came with Yoli to this place because they wanted my help designing a brochure and a website. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do, but I want to help, because it’s clear they are making a huge impact in the lives of these children.

At Hogar Nacer, the children have responsibilities. When they first arrive, they are adopted into the “society” of the camp and learn the system. Then they begin the difficult process of detoxification, as they leave drugs. Hogar Nacer uses sports, physical activity, and work to help the children’s bodies and minds. The kids begin to recuperate and change. As this happens, they are given responsibilities like caring for animals, helping to plant gardens, cleaning the dorms, building new buildings, etc. The kids also become aware of the changes happening in their lives. Finally, when the children feel secure and have developed spiritual and personal maturity, they move to Camp Hogar Nacer Ciudad, a house in the city of Santa Cruz where they are re-integrated with society and learn a profession or skill they can use to earn a living.

It’s amazing to think that all the buildings, all the gardens, most of the food grown and cooked here, everything was done by these kids over the past 4-5 years. We ate lunch with them, and tentatively the boys at our table began to ask questions of me and Yoli, though mostly me. As I’ve come to expect from kids, there were some surprisingly deep questions. Some of them wanted to ask about how I felt when the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, and if there was a war in our country. But there were also silly questions and statements like “You’re so tall, you could make a basket just standing on the ground and reaching up!” There was one especially sweet 9-year-old Quechua kid who kept asking me questions and addressing me as “hermano” (brother). He wanted to know if I’d play basketball with him. Unfortunately we couldn’t play any sports, but we’ll probably come back in a week or two and possibly stay the night.

We stayed to talk with Miguel and learn more about Hogar Nacer and iron out details of the publications he wanted. But we soon realized we had stayed too long and needed to leave so we could get to Yoli’s house for a brief visit with her family, and then go to a 6:00 dinner at Rusty Penney’s house.

So we had about an hours’ worth more of driving and at least we came to Yoli’s house. We took bathroom breaks and cleaned up as best we could, then said quick goodbyes and apologized for not being able to spend more time there.

Finding Rusty’s house turned out to be a chore. We stayed on a bus til we got in the general vicinity of his neighborhood, but Yoli wasn’t really sure of where we were going. But her instincts were good and we did make it there eventually, after lots and lots and lots of walking. Suffice it to say that I felt travelled out when the day was over.

We had a nice time at Rusty’s with his family, another missionary family, and a young guy named Dave. Rusty’s wife made soft tacos, so the private joke between Yoli and I was that we did eat tacos in Bolivia. Back home, there are quite a few people who kept thinking that all of South America eats the same food the Mexicans do, which is completely wrong. They don’t eat tacos here generally, unless you’re an American missionary family from Texas. So, to everyone who asked if I would eat tacos while I was here: yes, I did.