October 11, 2012

Tea Leaves of Gold

Sharing is so much a part of the culture here.  I told you that we visit the youth prison a few kilometers out of town.  What came to mind when you read that sentence?  A scene from some movie you've watched, or that disturbing series on Fox that I never could bring myself to watch?  Maybe a weekend visit you paid a friend or relative, or the night you spent in jail for getting too loud at that party?  Well, wipe those out of your mind.  We're not in a US prison.

Imagine a group of guys wandering in and out of a concrete building onto a grassy area, surrounded by tall, thick walls with towers at each corner.  Of course, there are guards walking these walls and a chain-link gate locking the entry, but you won't see any orange jumpsuits or t-shirts with numbers on the back.  No black-and-white cotton pants sets or shiny white tennis shoes.    

These guys are wearing the clothes they came in wearing, or ones that the nuns have donated in plastic bags. Some are barefoot, some are using flip-flops or croc-lookalikes that have been pieced back together with string or rope.  Some have decent clothes and some have cloth covering their bodies.  

There's no cafeteria with metal trays and lined up tables, nor are there lunch ladies with their hair neatly tucked into a bun inside those little cotton surgery caps.  Instead, there are inmates taking turns at cooking the basic foods supplied.  Sometimes donations of bread arrive, but mostly there's a giant pot of pasta or rice cooked, and a little meat is split into tiny pieces to mix with a few sauteed vegetables and stirred into that pasta, all cooked over an open fire.  And if one of the prisoners doesn't cook it, well, there's no meal.

There's no work crew going out to earn a wage.  The boys make bracelets if someone brings them supplies, and they sell these for about 50 cents.  And should they need to purchase anything other than those 3 meals a day, they sometimes trade or sell items of clothing or something someone brought them.  Thankfully, the Bibles don't seem to be on the trade market.

There's no pavilion where those not playing basketball can get shelter from the unforgiving Paraguayan sun.  When we go for visitation, they bring out one of two or three handmade benches, long enough for 2 people, 3 if we sit tight.  Sometimes I sit on the ground.  

I don't tell you this to complain about the system.  They're doing what they can with the resources they have. I tell you this to point out that these boys don't have much.  And to tell you how they broke my heart last week.  

We arrived around 9 AM, and the temperature was already climbing up into the high 90's.  Without shade trees or a pavilion, we tried to all fit under the shadow of the building, this shadow that was quickly disappearing.  So everyone was pretty hot, to say the least.  

After about 15 minutes, one of the young men left and returned with a pitcher of cold water and a guampa (cup) full of terere.  This is like iced tea, and much appreciated in the heat.  I'd seen them drinking terere before, as do all Paraguayans, but they never offered us any.  I never had a problem with that, taking into consideration that terere must be like gold here.  

I tried not to even glance at the cold pitcher, when all of a sudden, the young man passed me the guampa.  I gladly sipped, returned it, and waited for him to pass it around the circle of about 15 teen boys, clearly roasting in this heat.  Instead, he passed it to one of the other ladies, and then back to me.  I asked if they didn't plan on drinking as well, as is the custom.  "No, no, this if for y'all.  It's so hot out here that y'all need it."  It was all I could do to maintain myself and not burst into tears.  

God, I have so much, yet I get so selfish with it at times.  Thank you for using these I came to minister to, to minister to me as well. 

1 comment:

Wanna leave a comment? Be nice, please, and if you can't, at least leave your email address...