When I walked into the Parche today, Willie* hailed me over to help translate a song into English. He had written down a verse that he liked on a big sheet of paper and on top of the verse he wrote, “La Calle.” It read:
“Esta es la historia de un caminante Judio errante
Andante que su ego va en busca de un por venir
Errante andariego que va en busca de un por venir
Acabo de la espada para sobrevivir”
Well, first, you need to explain this to me, I told him, because I don’t know if I fully understand. Willie tilted his head and answered, “It’s the street. It’s about walking and wandering and searching.” “It’s about a street person’s understanding of the future,” Carlos chimed in. “We walk looking for our future. Our future is what lies around the next street corner. We walk and create this future. Survival is the future we know.” Willie flipped the sheet over and drew a picture. He drew a tall mountain with a house on top of it with a banner reading “La Calle.” Then, he drew a long, winding, path from the bottom of the mountain that reached the house. He explained, “You walk along this path and the street lies at the end…the street is the future.”
Slowly we translated verse by verse, them teaching me more than I could teach them. Some times we would just laugh because we would look at each other dumbly, unable to get the perfect translation. We came up with this:
“This is the story of a wandering walker (or runaway)
A walker with an ego searching for a future
Wandering restlessness searching for a feature
To the tip of the spear to survive”
I translated Judio as Jewish at the time, but this doesn’t really make sense in retrospect. After doing a bit of reseach I found that Judio in Spanish can also refer to someone who won’t give up their own ways for Catholicism. In other words, it is a non-conformer to the system. When he finished copying out the English version, Willie started to tell me about his life. He flipped over another paper and began making diagrams. Here is the story he told me (unfortunately I didn’t have a tape recorder, so I am remembering to my best ability…It just sort of came up when we were talking about the song. I think I will interview him a bit more formally and try to catch some missing details):
“You see, I was born in a maternity/youth house in the center, in Bogota. Then I moved with my parents to Pedrera. I did my first, second, third all the way to eighth grade there. In Pedrera my parents began to fight and my father moved to Soacha, a poor suburb, South of Bogota. I had some trouble in school and couldn’t continue there. My mom didn’t want me at home anymore so she sent me to live with my dad. And my dad told me to get a job. My job was on a construction site at the North of Bogota. My dad would wake me up at 3 in the morning. I’d splash cold water on me, hop on the crowded bus and get stuck in traffic. It took me 4 hours to get there, because I lived in the hills in Soacha where the poor people live and I had to walk down the hill to get the bus. One day I arrived a bit late to work and my boss told me I couldn’t work. He told me I had to be punctual and I wasn’t responsible for the job. That was when I was 18 and I’ve been on the streets 5 years now. I am trying to get my cédula (identity card), because I need it to try to get a job or help from a foundation, but my mom has my original copy in Pedrera. I brought a photocopy in, but I was rejected and sent back. I never have the right form; I always go back and forth. The cédula takes 6 months to get once you send your forms in! She told me she would send it to my uncle in Bogota, but I don’t know if he got it or not. And by the way, my friend gave me these clothes…I’m only wearing them because I’m cold, normally, I wear jeans. ”
Willie looked at me a bit out of breath. He was wearing a “Scary Movie” mask pulled back on his head. He had an overgrown khaki suit on with a missing button. In addition to his story, I also knew that he was a serious drug user. I wondered how he had found the Parche and if he had ever sought help for his drug problem and what kind of experience he may have had with the health system given his missing identity card and difficulty in renewing it.
Ten-year old Nicolas walked over to us and Willie became childlike again. We had a fan-making contest and Willie won. Then Willie showed the other kids how to make boats and paper airplanes. “Hey Nicolas, you can finish painting my Che Guevara if you want. There is no black though, so you’ll have to make him monito! haha!” Mono is what they call blonds here. Willie called me blond all morning because he couldn’t remember my name.
Finally, when it was time to go, I asked Willie if he had written the song we translated. “No, I think it’s by a group called La Etnia…I’ll write it in your notebook,” he said. He copied out the entire song in Spanish and closed with: chao Celín!
Today I realized how dissecting the meaning of “the street” for street people is essential in understanding their concept of present and future and consequently their notion of self-care and health. To them, the street, rather than the state, is the affiliative group. So how can they trust the state to take care of them? What does it mean for a street person to leave the streets? What does this transition require, psychologically, physically?
*Names have been changed