At precisely 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays I leave La Estacion and hop on the ruta (oh how I hate the ruta) and head to my second comedor of the day: Bomberos. The part of Bomberos where the comedor is located is also an area where the train used to run through, but now it is hidden behind a Sam’s Club and Nissan dealer. You would have no idea that this area existed if you hadn’t been there. The streets aren’t even marked on maps. Which at first that kinda sounds like Harry Potter going to Diagon Alley for the first time, but Bomberos is far from magical.
Much like La Estacion the kids in Bomberos have very little supervision and it’s up to the older kids to help the younger ones out. Shoes are a rarity to find in this comedor. About 75% of the kids show up with no shoes and the streets are absolutely disgusting. Sludge from the surrounding companies is dumped directly into the neighborhood, often leaving a nasty odor, and all kinds of animals use the street as their toilet. On a normal weekday, about 12 kids come to eat, but on Saturdays the number is around 40.
All the kids I’ve met there have been super charming. I have had races with matchbox cars, played rock, paper, scissors, and played guessing games with some of the kids. On my way to the comedor I am usually greeted and accompanied by one or multiple kids, who will then walk me there so I’m not alone. It’s strange, but I feel much safer walking through the community with a 4-year-old then I do alone. It makes me feel like I’ve been accepted and that the kids want me there. There is an adorable 3-year-old named Gwendolyn who comes to the comedor every Tuesday and Thursday and she is my little buddy. It took her a while to warm up to me, but this past week she introduced me to her 3 baby dolls, who all are blonde and blue-eyed and remind me of Big Baby from Toy Story 3, and that really made me feel like I belonged.
It is truly amazing to me how warm and trusting the kids are to adults, when many of the adults they know are treating them poorly. I have seen kids as young as 5 selling roses or gum on the street while their parents are at home drinking, doing drugs, or sleeping. I recently found out that many of the kids in the comedor have been abused physically and sexually since the time they were young. For me rape had always seemed like an abstract concept. I didn’t know of anyone personally who had been raped and I just always felt like it was something you read about. Hearing about kids that I personally know that have been raped breaks my heart. I don’t understand how these kids can still be so happy and nice to adults. Why aren’t they bitter and angry and resentful? And there is nothing that the government can do because many of these kids are unregistered.
The comedor in Bomberos is struggling right now to stay open. There are limited funds and volunteers, but these kids are in desperate need. If the comedor wasn’t there, days could go by where these kids would not eat a proper meal. It’s a difficult time, and a hard decision. I hope that it is able to stay open, and help put an end to the cycle of machismo and poverty, and help to show the kids that there are other things out there for them.
I am still trying to process everything that I am experiencing at the comedores but I feel like I may never be able too, and that’s okay.