The night I arrived in Orizaba, my host Miguel, his girlfriend’s family, and I, went out to eat. Afterwards the women went shopping and Miguel and I went for a walk. I saw a mass for the first time since arriving in Mexico 4 months ago. We observed the observant and spoke of architecture, the arts, and the beauty of the surrounding valley.
As we were walking back to meet the ladies, we saw a girl on the street making toy grasshoppers and lizards from long green leaves. The little animals were very nicely and skillfully made. The girl, who looked to be about 10 years old, was sitting in a corner of a shuttered store front, cutting the leaves to make the next toy. I could not tear my eyes away.
She worked with precision and confidence, and if someone from the gathering crowd asked a question she would answer with the surety of a proprietor of a handicraft store. I realized almost immediately that she was an exploited child. Most kids in the street work with their parents, she was alone. Whether sold into slavery by her parents, or kidnapped from them, or taken from a group home, or drugged on the street – I don’t know. But it was all I could do to hold back the tears. Unlike drugged children carried around by their “mothers” to solicit help as if they were sick, this girl was… like Oliver Twist, except creating as opposed to stealing. I wanted to grab her and run; ask one of my rich friends in Mexico City to take her in, give her a home, schooling, a future… happiness. I wanted to do it and be confronted by the man who was exploiting her so I could run my Gurkha across his throat.
The sad reality, however, is that it is harder to help these children than to prosecute the exploiters. The mob pays off the police so they do not bother their “pimps”. And that’s it – that is where it ends. But if I wanted to help her, there is an almost impossible process of adoption. And if she is discovered in the care of a citizen trying to help, before the papers are done, she is taken away and placed into unknown circumstances, and the person trying to help is heavily fined and possibly arrested.
I have never felt so impotent and angry. There was in fact nothing, especially because I don’t live here, that I could do. Damn it! Poverty is one thing. A person in poverty can still have friends and family – the most important things in life, but slavery is something else entirely. What were her days like? What kind of food could she eat? Did she have books, some sort of education, friends to play with, at least some knowledge of her parents…? Was she destined to become yet another child prostitute in Veracruz? Was the unthinkable already being done to her tiny, malnourished body?
The image of her burned into my mind. The next day, though I was set to climb Pico de Orizaba, I walked around town looking for her. I didn’t know what I would do, but I desperately wanted to find her. Of course I could not, who knows where she was stashed during the daylight hours. I left to climb the peak overwhelmingly despondent for my inaction and impotence. And even the crisp and rejuvenating air of the mountains failed to rid me of thoughts of this girl – thoughts I still carry to this day.