By Brock Powell, senior
[Brock had a medical emergency and left the trip in Kenya to return home for care. Please keep him in your prayers as he recovers. He is greatly missed by the rest of the team.]
I distantly remember weeping into my own elbow pit as a rambling Swedish woman discusses the thrills of her blog-able life. Rambling of her love for travel, as we drive away from Los Angelito Vieja, she asked me my opinions of Argentina so far. The first response for every new question was to be a guttural growl, followed by the smashing of a window as I tuck and roll out of it in a ferocious Mr. Hyde madness.
I was not in the mood for a new friendship, as mere minutes before I had just departed from one of the most important friends I have ever had the great pleasure of knowing.
It was between soggy silent sobbing I began to recall how this leather seat tantrum came about.
As usual, my mind leaps to blame my Grandparents and their advice. Grandma “Peaches” is incredibly sweet but slightly off her rocker, which is why she remains in such a high place in my heart. Every morning after a homemade breakfast of garlic eggs, garlic toast and a fruit bowl with a confusing garlic aftertaste she would hold my shoulder and share some advice: “Make a friend, and be a friend.” This garlic-soaked proverb haunted me well into adulthood.
In the evenings I would discuss my high school days over garlic pork roast, and my Papa Bruce would speak of the Lord’s hand in my daily activities. He explained many of my encounters as “divine appointments.” In current memory most of my previous experiences with these supernatural meetings were limited to purchasing of a car or finding Concordia University. Never had these two pieces of advice collided so nicely. This was until my first visit to Los Angelito Villa in Buenos Aires.
I was with a group of a few over twenty, led by Ms. Lily of L.I.F.E. Argentina. L.I.F.E. spent time in at least five of the villas in Buenos Aires, teaching and playing with at-risk youth. Los Angelito was my second villa to experience. The first one resulted in my own near hospitalization as I was dog-piled and beaten endlessly by boys wielding an inflatable mace.
Los Angelito looked smaller, but there seemed to be just as many children. With much hesitation and little instruction on what to do—other than restrain the kids from rioting—I took to the sidewalk: chalk doodles for all.
Within minutes piggyback rides became my specialty. Some children held tightly to my shoulders, fearing for their well-being, while others pierced into my side with the gentle demeanor of Buffalo Bill halting a bronco.
This was when one of my passengers did not ask me to go faster or slower, yet enjoyed the piggyback ride for itself. He had a fine little haircut, a big smile with teeth too big for a nine-year-old, and eyes that never missed their destination. I called him the “little gentleman,” but he kept reminded me with a giggling whisper his name was Jose.
Our friendship was confirmed on the eve of my first visit when Jose took my hand and led me down a long alley of stone homes. We turned in past a whining dog and ducked under a moist clothesline. I was quickly greeted by a small woman with a dirty apron. She looked just like Jose, which was with good cause considering she was his mother. She told me of her illness that led her and her two children to live in this one room as refugees from Paraguay. Jose had no father, a sick mother, a sweet sister and a tiny roof over his head. Yet his smile seemed permanent.
The next day my visit to Los Angelito was substituted with a visit to the Buenos Aires Zoo. It was truly a special day for some children of the villas, where only the chosen could go to participate in a monthly “Zoo Day” camera competition. I agreed to help keep the villas kids out of the cages, but did so with a little bitterness in my tone. Jose was still in Los Angelito, though his older sister Sylvia would be in attendance. It just wasn’t quite the same.
The bus arrived, puttering, and spat out the eager passengers on the sidewalks. We waited at a side gate, as Ms. Lily told the American volunteers to keep silent, and, “Do not speak English while near the fence.” I stood for more instructions as I felt a tug on my khakis. “The little gentleman!” I murmured through a hushed voice.
Lily smiled and nodded, giving Jose and I permission to spend the day together, with the additional bonus of no camera competition to worry about.
Still, this situation made me nervous, for I am a terrible Spanish speaker. I roll my r’s and spit my vowels. Which for the listener this often made me seem inebriated, and in some ways I appreciate that assumption which offered at least a plausible theory for a few of my endless quirks.
Jose and I spent hours walking through dusty paths and forests of rusty cages. We would swap our languages’ names for the animals we saw, and invent our own language to describe them–animal noises.
Near the end of the day, I had taught Jose how to say “Look,” an incredibly powerful verb. Everything that interested him he would share with my eyes, and with only one word spoken I was able to see exactly what made him bare his big-teeth. To this day he is the only kid I know who was most excited about going to the zoo to see the cows.
My visits to Los Angelito became more exhilarating. Jose and I would begin the afternoons reading “Horton Hears a Who” in Spanish. Over the days, my small acting lessons to him grew longer. The games became more inventive. If he asked to get down from a piggyback ride, he’d have to survive being thrown in the air before he would be set down. The whole process caused us both to giggle.
The day of my final visit to Los Angelito still stirs a pain within me. I wanted to prepare the perfect gifts for my little gentleman. What do you give a nine-year-old who has nothing? I decided on a few books, a firm handshake and a silent promise to see him again someday, some how.
With tears streaming down flushed cheeks, I watched Jose walking into Los Angelito one last time through the rear view mirror of our puttering bus.
Admittedly it was not a place I had imagined making an acquaintance. Charity can be a way that we avoid our reality, but when one of these needy hands pushes through to your heart, the connection is unbreakable.
To make an unexpected friend while blindly standing in middle of “divine appointment” makes me realize that the Little Gentleman has been a messenger of God’s unending care. How appropriate to find his friendship in Los Angelito, the village of Angels.