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Latin America 2005

Journal 7

The strong aroma of glue hangs over the grassy area. Children and teenagers lounge around, most of the young women noticeably pregnant. Several infants lay in the grass, no mother in sight. After adjusting my eyes to the darkness, the plastic glue bottles become more obvious. With highs lasting five minutes or less, a continuous sniffing cycle consumes each individual.

An observed fight. A 29 year old woman slapped by her 14 year old lover. Her eyes fill with tears as we approach. He shoves her, laughs, kisses her fiercely, and turns away, this time with a mocking, haunting laugh. Helpless and alone, her small frame shakes. I'm encouraged to make conversation with her but am at a loss for words. Thoughts fill my mind, in English, about the drastic age difference, abusive relationships, and cycles of violence. She sniffs more glue and saunters aimlessly across the street, out of sight.

A pregnant woman slouched across a dilapidated cardboard box. In one hand, an insulated mug, in the other, a spoon and a glue bottle. She scratches at the sandy ground with her spoon, trying to dig a hole in a frenzied state. A DEA helicopter passes overhead again. A deep sigh escapes her as she continues creating a hiding place for the drug she is already high on. She turns her glazed eyes towards me. A slurred statement about needing water for her baby. My confusion must be apparent. I don't see a child with her other than the one awkwardly protruding from inside her. She explains that her son is down the street. Don't you hear him crying? He's yelling, she says. Latin music spills out from a local karaoke club across the street. Sirens cover any other distant noise. She releases her baby's cup, clenches the digging tool with her hand, and takes another sniff of glue with the other.

A young man with countless battle wounds wearing a torn, stained Old Navy shirt. Most remarkable is the chunk of flesh missing from his thigh. Or perhaps it is the story he formulates about its cause. Some cream and cleansing will jumpstart the healing process. A sniff of glue serves a different purpose.
Three young children hang on me. 'How about a ´malo caballo'," a small boy asks. His sister patiently awaits her turn. Their mother smiles gently while others stare at the white misfit on the corner. A warm sensation trickles down my back. It takes me a moment to realize that the little girl, still giggling, is peeing. I swing her off my back and down to the ground to see the face of a scared and embarrassed three year old. How can I be upset? She has no home, no bathroom, and her mother is lost in a temporary high from her glue.

Chaos. More stab wounds. Women who refuse medication, fearful of the effect on their unborn children, yet the glue remains a central part of their lives. A terrible burn, the police lit him on fire he says. Children darting through a busy lane of traffic, jumping over the barbed-ware fence into the median. The only thing that seems constant in this situation is the presence of glue bottles. And the stench, the stench of despair.

-Journal by Maria Landis

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