Josh shares a journal entry, a profile of a young man who lives at a camp called Kimo, owned by Unión Bíblica, an evangelical church. Kimo, which means “happiness” in Asháninka, the local indigenous language, is a home for boys who have been abused or neglected by their parents, or whose families are unable to provide for them because of extreme poverty. Luis is a pseudonym. Josh and Michael served at Kimo, which is situated near La Merced, a gateway to the jungle.
“Tienes un padre?” Luis asked Michael the evening of Father’s Day. We were studying in the classroom as dusk descended upon the camp when Luis wondered whether Michael had a father.
Luis was making a boat out of paper and ridiculous amounts of glue while we worked on our journals. I went upstairs to get something when Luis asked his question. Michael was a bit taken aback by the question, wondering exactly where this would lead. He answered that, yes, he had both a mother and a father.
Luis then went on to explain how his mother had drank herself to death, and how his father would beat him and his brother when he was inebriated. Once Michael told me about the short conversation, I was just as taken aback. The reason something like this surprised us the way it did was because it was just a little strange hearing such a sobering story from someone like Luis.
The first thing you notice about Luis is he laughs and smiles so often it’s easy to forget he came from such a difficult situation. From the way he goes about his days, you would think that he’d never had a bad day in all of his 11 years.
He’s right in the middle-age group of all the boys, but it might be hard to guess from his behavior and his size. Luis is the skinniest of all 17 of the boys; you could debate the fact that he sets a new standard for the term chicken legs. It’s deceiving, however, because Luis likes to wear sweaters and shirts that are far too big for him.
While the majority of Peruvians have very dark hair and eyes to match, Luis is a little different. His hair is a dark shade of brown — easily mistaken for black though his caramel-colored eyes are big and round, always in search of something mischievous to get into.
His voice is very distinguishable, easy to pick out in a group. Higher than it should be at his age; probably, you could even call it raspy.
My favorite part about Luis, however, is how much he laughs and smiles. Merely making eye contact with him from across the room is enough for him to make a goofy face at you, and you can’t help but make one back. Almost anything you do will make him laugh. If he has a fake laugh, he’s mastered it.
Sometimes, especially when groups from other countries make a visit to do service, he acts a little younger than his true age. He plays the cute card: tickling, smiling and laughing his way into everyone’s hearts.
Just as I’m writing this journal entry now, Luis made eye contact with me, made a face and laughed as he turned away.