Go Carts, Cheating and the Human Condition

Go –carts, Cheating and the Human Condition

So I’m talking to this 12 year-old-boy at the Children’s Village. Let’s call him Tony.

‘You know, Grandpa Hank, sometimes I can’t figure it out. Like one time I paid five dollars to ride the go-carts at Scandia. They tell you your ticket is good for four laps, you know. Well, after that fourth lap, I just decided to keep going. I was having fun and something in me just sort of snapped and I kept going for another three or four laps. When they finally made me stop, they were pretty mad and they kicked me out. I don’t know why I did it. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.”

This was the longest speech I had ever heard from this kid. I couldn’t help smiling at his story and loving Tony’s youth and honesty in the telling of it. I did things like that as a kid, didn’t you? We knew it was wrong but we went ahead and did it. What was encouraging about Tony’s story is that, perhaps for the first time in his young life, he was wondering WHY he did it.

I’m hoping that his questioning of his own motives may give him some insight into why other people, especially people like his parents, have not done right by him. Maybe it will help him come to grips with why his Dad deserted him and his little brother or why his mom seems to like the bottle more than her children. Perhaps, in coming to acknowledge the stupid things he is capable of doing, it will help him to understand his parents better.

Kids like Tony (there are nearly 100,000 foster kids in California) have a lot of “figuring out” to do. They are angry because they feel that their parents have rejected them. At the same time, they carry around a burden of guilt because deep down they “know” that it’s their fault that their parents have put them on the throw-away pile.

It’s hard to know what to say to a twelve year old who has been rejected by mom and dad.. I can assure him that he is not to blame for his parent’s actions. I can hug him and love him and tell him that there are people who care what happens to him. I can encourage him to get on with his life and not repeat the mistakes of his parents. But I can’t really answer why his parents and thousands of other parents give up on their kids or neglect them or use them for their own sexual gratification. “That’s just the way it is,” is way too weak an answer.

Some day, when Tony is an old guy like me, he will realize that the way he was treated by his parents was not so much about him at all. He will come to understand that what makes a parent abuse a child is part of the same human condition that makes an alcoholic who has been on the wagon for a month, take that first drink or tempts a faithful husband to cheat on his wife. He will understand, maybe even forgive his parents because he will see the same human weakness in himself.

In Tony’s case, I know that this kid has gone through hell in his short life. No kid should have had to endure the trauma that will always be part of his history. Life has dealt him a lousy hand but salvation lies in acknowledging right from the start that he is not simply a victim of circumstances. When he made a choice to take his go-cart on an unpaid joy ride at Scandia, he disrespected the management at Scandia, the other kids and most of all, himself. I’m hoping that he learns from this little incident that, no matter what has happened to him before, he enjoys the gift of a free will. He will be confronted with far more serious moral choices as he grows older. I’m pulling for him to get his rear end in gear and do the right thing.

Travel as a friend not a tourist

Traveling As a Member of the Family, Not a Tourist

Becoming instant family in Guatemala

The accommodations were Spartan; travel along pot-holed roads was far from smooth.

The food was adequate but hardly gourmet. I have been fortunate enough, as a travel writer to have visited, many different countries all over the world, sometimes getting VIP treatment in swank hotels, yet in no place on earth did I feel so welcome, so at home as in Guatemala. It was clear to me from the beginning that the people of Guatemalans saw me not as a tourist but as a member of the family.

For the past five years I have been a sponsor (the Guatemalans call me a godfather) to an eleven-year-old Mayan boy who lives in the remote western highlands of Guatemala. The $30 per month I send for Alex’s support hardly qualifies me as a major donor but it has helped him get an education in a country with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the western hemisphere.

Alex’s dad was killed in the Guatemalan civil war when the boy was just five years old. Now his Mom is the sole support of her three children. She makes about three dollars a day taking in laundry so even the modest amount of financial help I give the family makes a dramatic difference.

On this trip I traveled with seventy other sponsors, all recruited through an organization called The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. When we met our kids and their families at the CFCA center, it was a scene to trump the best of a Disney feel-good movie. Americans of all ages, many parents brought their own kids with them, hugging their godchildren and their families like it was this gigantic international family re-union. Physically, the contrast between the well-fed Norte Americanos and their Guatemalan cousins could not have been greater. But it didn’t seem to matter. By their hugs and their cheers, Guatemalans were telling us thank you for coming from such a long way to visit them.

Typically, most of us spoke little or no Spanish. To compound the communication difficulties, many from our new extended families spoke one of the many Mayan languages, only a smidgeon of Spanish and no English. Hand gestures, smiles and the language of the heart enabled us to do just fine. Differences melted away in a common concern and love for children, their children who had now become OURS, too

Thanks to the good offices of the CFCA, we were divided into smaller groups and given escorted visits to the humble homes of the children we were sponsoring. It was a sobering experience. Sometime during our lives most of us have seen photos of the living conditions of people in third world countries. Actually walking the walk through the tiny dirt-floored houses and meeting the people who had become part of our family made us painfully aware of the material goods we take for granted. We live well, very well in comparison.

The personal highlight of my trip to Guatemala was, of course, re-connecting with my own special kid. Seeing the boy I have been writing to for the past five years was more than special. Alex and I first met when he was only seven-years-old. The change I saw in him was dramatic The skinny little boy had developed into a handsome young man, serious, responsible, a wood-gatherer for the family “stove,” and baby sitter for his younger siblings, the “man of the house” for his mom. His mother told me he loves to go to school. Parents don’t hear that very often in our country.

Alex has his fun side too. We kicked around a soccer ball a little and I played with him and his little sister with the walkie-talkie I had brought him from Radio Shack. I watched him goofing off with his two- year-old brother and blowing bubbles at his mom. In my own totally unbiased opinion, this is a good kid, on his way to becoming a good man.

To me, what makes trips like this one so different from the usual organized tourist jaunt is that you are coming as a friend not simply a tourist. You are investing your interest, even sharing a portion of your wealth in supporting the children of the country you have come to visit. And is there any greater way to win the heart of parents than to honor their kids?

You, in turn, learn another culture from the inside out. One very obvious part of their way of life is their spirituality. The people we met were routinely making reference to God in their conversations. Their attitude towards life, with all its hardships, was one of gratitude. These are people of a deep faith.

Having the chance to interact with people who put God and family first in their lives makes you pause and wonder about our own values. You connect with people like that and all of a sudden you find yourself being changed by them. You took your trip to help impoverished people in a third world country but you soon begin to wonder who are the ones who benefit the most by the encounter.

I’m not writing this article to promote business for the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. I’m sure there are other international organizations out there who you can find on the Internet and who have a similar purpose. But I would encourage you to contact the CFCA or another group and take a trip to a third world country. You will go, not primarily as a tourist but as a pilgrim on a journey, traveling to the country as a concerned fellow human being ready to help, ready to share even a small part of your wealth to educate their kids and provide support for their families. You’ll return home refreshed and a different person.

Author’s note. If you are interested in contacting the CFCA organization and finding out what is involved in becoming a sponsor for a child or an aging person, you can contact them at 1-800-875-6564 or www.cfcausa.org