The following is my attempt to put together snippets of Peru moments that I noted down at the time and was too lazy to write up. Here goes:
The kids, another voluntario and I come down the Zone S mountain for a soccer game during gym class. There are obviously no official soccer fields in this desert, but there’s an open space at the bottom of the stairs. Life in Hauycan is full of novelty. No two days are alike and I am almost (the tree on the combi story aside) not surprised anymore. Today there is a huge, fat pig tied to the railing of the stairs, standing near to one of the “goals”. He’s there. Just chilling. Fine. Okay we’re going to have to move one of the goals a bit, but the game can proceed. We play for a bit and things are going okay until I start to notice a situation developing near the pig. Some children have started to come out of their houses. A few adults. They’re standing around the pig and I hear him begin to squeal. I can’t see the little guy anymore, but I see one of the adults leaned over and the rope the pig is tied to going crazy. Oh my god they’re gonna kill the pig. Right now. Here. On the soccer field.
The kids realize what’s happening and run over to watch. I don’t look. “Watch, Mees. Watch!” No way. I walk away and listen to what sounds like a very in-expert form of pig slaughter that takes, I’d imagine, just way longer than something like that should. I mean, I’m not exactly a vegetarian, but come on. When it ends one of the little kids come over to me to report that we’ll have to wait for all the pig blood to be soaked up before we can play again. The other voluntario turns to me, “1st world problems, right?” Yep.
Ruta is five years old. She’s the youngest of like 47 (estimation?) from a family in Zone S. She is possibly one of the cutest little girls you’ve ever seen. She’s teeny, tiny, with huge brown eyes and long, thick black hair down to the middle of her back, and when she looks up at you from under those long dark eyelashes and gives you a shy little smile, you want to snatch her up and cuddle her to bits. And so you do. You pick her up and coo at her. She looks at you and smiles sweetly, leans in, and proceeds to bite your cheek hard enough to draw blood.
As you drop her to the ground out of shock, you feel badly for a second. You think, whoa, this little girl obviously isn’t violent enough to try to bite my face off on purpose. Kids are kids. She didn’t mean it, and you look down for a second like you might apologize for dropping her, but she looks up at you as you hold your cheek in pain, and she laughs this evil little cackle, and the glimmer in her eyes tells you that she knows exactly what she’s doing. That’s right “Ruta” is Spanish, for devil-spawn (loosely translated).
Ruta was one of the first little children I’d come to know in Zone S, and possibly the only child I’ve ever met that I think may be a certifiable, Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Illness status, textbook case of a sociopath. And there is nothing scarier to me, than a teeny, tiny, potential homicidal maniac. She’s like every made-for-TV version of the evil child you could ever imagine. The female, Peruvian version of Macauly Culkin in the “Good Son”.
I’ve seen her bite, punch, kick, slap, throw and throw dirt on everyone and anyone within her reach. Occasionally, provoked. More often not. And sure, kids hurt each other, the get into little tiffs and they push someone down and it happens. You see the way their faces scrunch up in anger, and you get it. They’re kids. They can’t control themselves yet. Anger overtakes them and they burst. But anger isn’t overtaking Ruta. You’re standing there, coloring quietly and she reaches up and pinches the soft underside of your upper arm with all her little might. Or shoves a crayon in the ear of the kid next to her. For no reason. Out of the blue. And you want to toss her off the side of the Zone S cliff when you look down and see her bliss at your pain. But child murder is frowned upon. You have to remind yourself.
She’s too young for classes so she just hangs around when the other kids come to class to torment everyone. As I stand up teaching my 8 year-olds about prepositions, she slams open the door to the classroom and begins a loud jump rope (read: piece of found black cable that she’s found somewhere) game, singing and interrupting. I try to ignore her. She gets louder. I finally look back and make eye-contact with her. Ruta! I try and say sternly. Nothing. It’s like I’m not there. I go back to trying to ignore her. She gets louder and louder, I look up to say something to her again and she drops the jump rope and looks at me. Then she smiles her homicidal little smile and holds her hands up in the air, making little pinching gestures with her fingers as a sort of threat. It’s as scary as it sounds.
Gum is a hot commodity Huaycan. If someone’s chewing some, everyone wants a piece, but there aren’t enough pieces to go around, so usually if a child asks for piece of gum, a negotiation takes place whereby they decide how much longer kid X will chew the gum before giving it over to kid Y, who may then later be required to give it back. Lovely. Ruta’s sister asks her for a piece of gum she’s chewing. One more minute, Ruta tells her. She walks away from the table where we are coloring and hides behind the classroom building. I see her drop the gum into the sand. She picks it back up, walks over and hands it to her sister. There you go, she says smiling. You don’t even have to give it back.
At some other point a kid brought his tiny kitten to class and put it down to sleep on his backpack while he worked. I see Ruta standing near the kitten, inspecting it for a bit. It’s sleeping all curled up and cuddled and purring. Ruta leans down and puts her face close to the kitten. It looks like she’s being sweet, nuzzling it. Then she hauls off and smacks the kitten in the face. I scream at her like a crazy person. How can you treat a defenseless animal like that? There will be no hitting of animals ever. Ever. Certainly not in my classroom. She doesn’t flinch. “Why?”, she asks, “does it make you mad, Mees?” I lift her up, holding her out in front of me like she’s a stack of dirty towels and proceed to carry her out of the classroom. She kicks me in the chest. Hard. She laughs. Is it immature of me to hate a child? I put her outside, and in the end have to get one of the older kids to lock the padlock on the OUTSIDE of the door to keep her from coming in. I’ve literally locked us all into the building to keep her out. A Ruta-proof panic room.
A disgruntled woman from the neighborhood bangs on the gate early one morning repeatedly yelling for someone to “Send out the white Miss”. Four of us walk to the door and open it up to see what she wants. She stops yelling, looking surprised, moving from one face to another. “Which white miss?” I ask her. She seems unsure. “I don’t know now. You all look alike to me.”
John the Irish kid doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. He’s new here and for a few weeks has been hearing our conversation before we leave the house and return with loads of junk food and candy. One night as we’re headed out, he asks if we can bring something back for him. “Yeah, what do you want?” I ask him. “I dunno. Whatever. Maybe get me one of those bodegas you’re all always on about.” Will do. One bodega, coming up.