marketatnightGUATEMALA CITY by Rebekah Green

Thursday in Guatemala city started at a shopping mall, an institution full of American brand shops and it ended at a table eating pizza at that hut place. Many days in my 30 years have included shopping and eating out – but not a single day has been like this one. I’m not sure how to describe the 12 hours between the mall and the restaurant but it has been significant to my soul and heart.

The day was always going to be about street kids in Guatemala city, well that’s what this trip has been about, but Thursday was going to be full immersion.

After seeing one group of kids at a park we moved to another zone of the city. We came across 10 or so kids sitting on a raised area at the corner of a busy intersection. This was a family of sorts.

All 10 repeatedly reach inside their jeans and pull out small plastic bottles, into which they dab a piece of cloth. The cloth soaked in solvent is then raised to the mouth and inhaled. This is commonplace for street kids in Guatemala city and is their drug of choice.

We watched as a young boy, no more than 13 years old, dealt solvent to all who came his way. We watched as he counted his wad of cash and as he passed this to the ‘mother’ of the group, before her ‘boss’ came to collect his earnings.

This poor kid was spaced out all afternoon, much like everyone else. This was no more apparent than when playing UNO with them, where even focusing on the colours was a task. In the few hours we were with this group I got continually propositioned by a crazy dude wanting a kiss, Matt experienced his closest encounter with some man on man action – taking place within a foot of us, and we got to pray with two sisters considering returning home. Oh and I forget to mention we cleaned feet that would make your stomach turn, Matt carried out a minor operation and all smelt like nothing else. Some of these kids reek so bad you find yourself wanting the solvent to sniff. The smell gets in your very being so much so that all food I've eaten today has tasted rotten.

If the afternoon wasn't enough of an eye opener the evening brought more. Around 6pm we wandered to a different area. El Hoyo (The Hole), where all the market and bulk shopping is done. Back allies where trucks and buses empty and fill their loads, where rats are as common as people and where the ground is littered with rotting food and God only knows what else.

We were led by Francisco to a small passage: dark, dingy and one person wide. Down the steps I could see shacks, tin lean too houses, housing a whole community of people, interspersed with stalls selling anything from fruit to mobile phones. As we progress a whole world opens out. A world I have never seen before. A place I would never want to be alone. It didn't feel dangerous, just a place where white tourists are rarely seen.

As we weaved through the dark maze, children started to seep out the allies. It was like the pied piper effect. Girls of 6 held our hands and skipped alongside us. We stopped in a lit area and pulled out colouring books and crayons and handed them out for a rare moment of fun for these many children. Little Moses aged 4 ran back and forth with his cute fluffy hair. Seeing the excitement and pride as he was given a new pair of socks was remarkable. Then there’s David – spends all his time on the street, no parents and ‘looked after’ by a woman who regularly beats him. He sat next to me, as close as you could get, and took such pride in the tortoise he coloured, looking to me for approval every 90 seconds.

But although this is shocking to me and maybe to you, it is the norm here. Seeing what Duncan, Herbert and others do here is inspirational. And it all boils down to love. You can see in their faces the love for street kids, the desire to do what it takes to rid the streets of kids. It has been a huge privilege to be here and to see this for myself, I’m still undecided if what I witnessed Thursday rates as a great day or one of the worst.