Last week I wrote a rambling post trying to describe my intial thoughts on my new home in Los Laureles...it came out mixed up. Things have improved slightly since then; people still show up to my home in droves and almost always around meal time. In fact right now I have two of my favorite children silently staring at me through my bedroom window simply observing my every move. I think I've aclimatized though in a way - I more comfortable with the hoards of people that sweep through my home everyday and I've found time to be productive and useful. I'm finding a rhythym and though things aren't perfect they are getting better. I also mentioned that I live with 2 other people, Cristian my almost-son and Manuel. Cristian most of you may know - I write about him often and he's always showing up in photos. Manuel though you know little to nothing about, he's been in some recent posts but who he is as a person is probably a mystery to you. Now's the time to rectify that.
Manuel grew up in the poor community that resides along the banks of the river; in that it's within a stone's throw of the garbage dump he became good friends with a lot of the kids from Los Laureles. His childhood was awful. He was unwanted and unloved by his father and almost unnoticed by his mother. His older brother was treated like a king by the entire family and he was treated like an afterthought. He never understood why, he always wanted to know why he was beaten and his brother given a mild-warning for committing the same infraction. He always wondered why his father and brother would feast nightly on chicken or pork while he had a bowl of rice and beans thrown at him. He used to dream that his father would someday invite him to the river to go swimming or to go into town with him on an errand but he was never asked, he was simply ordered around, told to go haul water, collect firewood, run to the corner market. When he graduated from 6th grade he looked around during the ceremony and noticed that all the other graduates were accompanied by their parents and with gifts in hand - he was alone, no one in his family had bothered to show up nevermind purchase a gift. At the age of 12 after seeing what he deemed to be some inappropriate behavior between his father and his younger sister he packed the few meager belongings he had and left his home for good. He lived for a while below the municipal docks in downtown La Ceiba, he lived briefly on a cattle ranch just outside of town and then as luck would have it one day as he was traisping around downtown he happened upon one of his friends from the garbage dump who had gotten a job working on one of the garabge trucks. His friend invited him on board and asked if he wanted to help them for day, Manuel agreed and at the end of the day when the truck returned to Los Laureles this friend invited Manuel to stay at his house with his older brother Leo. Manuel stayed there one night, then two nights, then three until finally Leo offered to take Manuel in. And that's where Manuel finished his growing up years; for nearly 6 years he lived in Leo's home, worked the garbage trucks, became a soccer legend in the garbage dump and became a bit of a legend in his ability to carouse and party.
I've known Manuel about 2 months. I first met him through my good friend Soplo when he arranged the very first game between the youth from Laureles and the youth from the church. I had known of him for about a year and it surprised me that he would be interested in coming to a church-type event but I was happy to see him there. The next week he and large group of older youth joined us for Saturday Evening church which surprised me even more and about a week after that Manuel became attached to my hip. He simply went with me everywhere, no matter where I went or what I did he was there. For nearly a month he practically lived with me, he stayed in my home, helped me in my daily activities, helped me with the kids, gave me ideas for the new house and attended all the church functions. When it came time to move and we had a week-long problem with the preparation of the house he took on the task like it was his responsibility. He practically lived here with me too - which surprised me even more; he was within walking distance of his own bed but each night he preferred to thrown down a thin mattress and stay here. I later found out that his long-time roomate and best friend, Pulga was in the process of moving out of the room they shared together and into the home of his girlfriend. Manuel doesn't like to be alone. Still the idea never occurred to me to invite Manuel to live with Cristian and me - others hinted at it but I always waved them off and told them that Manuel had his own home and that he was perfectly happy there. I really believed it too, I thought that this would soon pass and that he would start to drift back to his own home and his old life. Christmas Day I was in the home of of Leo, eating a delicious soup prepared by his wife, Manuel was with me and we were talking about Manuel's plans for the future which include trying out for the professional soccer team here in La Ceiba and entering night classes at the local high school. Leo seemed pleased with the plan but then added "And go live with Mateo". I was a bit surprised by the comment but tried not show it but Manuel looked embarrassed and put his head down. As I began to think about it the thought came to me "Manuel practically lives with me already, why not make it official, make him feel a part of the family." I talked with him about the idea later that day and before I could even finish my sentence he was shaking his head in agreement. And so it's been, Cristian and Manuel share a bunk bed in one room and I'm in the other. It's tight at times but we're happy, we have our roles and responsibilities and life is fine.
pray for manuel.