I love family visits. Getting to see kids reunited with people they love, being welcomed into a part of their lives that I had never seen, and processing it all afterwards. Each time I pulled into the gates of Proniño the last 6 months upon returning from a family visit, a certain child would always yell, no matter how far, “HALEY! MY HOUSE PLEASE.” Yes, in English.
Just over two months ago, he sat down next to me instead of screaming across the field. We talked about how he remembered next to nothing about leaving his house 8 years ago; not his moms name, the name of the city where he came from, nothing. The only thing he remembered was the stories he told of walking for days, crossing a river, going through the forest until they came upon a city where they were able to beg on the street a few weeks before being whisked up and taken to San Pedro Sula and entered into a children’s home.
Thanks to his file, we knew the general part of the country. Beyond that…..nothing. It was a 4-5 hour drive. Based on the fact that he wasn’t sure he’d remember anything, it was a trip that appeared overwhelmingly complicated. I sat there and explained to him that it was a really far way to go when we had no general basis of even where to begin looking, especially if he still doesn’t remember anything when we get there. I’ll never forget the way he looked me in the eye and said “but Haley, isn’t there a 50/50 chance?”
A few weeks later, we were on the road heading west. We made it to Santa Rosa de Copan, a town that he said sounded familiar. We drove around a while before heading to the DINAF (governing body of children’s homes) office. Thankfully, they took special interest in our case and after looking at the stamp of the judge who completed his case 8 or so years ago, the woman gave said judge a call and asked if she just happened to remember this little boy.
“I remember him so much that I could even tell you what he was wearing.”
Chills. She told us the name of the town he comes from. What are the chances?
It’s called La Cuchilla Helada. Deep into the mountains, a pretty ugly road, about 3 hours in. Just ask people for directions as you go, you’ll make it there.
Until this point, I had been quietly thinking “Okay, this is going to be okay. He will have closure that we can’t find his family and know that we tried.” Then, all of the sudden, we had the name of the town. It was still a long way away, but the reality of finding his family suddenly because just that-a reality. His demeanor was quiet contentment. I could tell he was trying not to get his hopes up…but really, how could they not be?
Fast forward up and down 4 mountains later, 100 people asked, and some of the roughest roads my car had seen yet, we met a man that had finally heard of the place we were looking for. He told us we could follow him on his motorcycle, as he was going halfway there. As we reached that point, rain started to sprinkle. He stopped to advise us….we were halfway there, but with rain coming in, we won’t be able to make it out today if we go all the way. The mountain roads just get too slick and it is too dangerous. Knowing that it was already 5pm and we wouldn’t get to spend much time even if we did make it there, we agreed to return back to the nearest city, grab a hotel room, and return back first thing the next morning. Before we made the turn around, I asked a few people outside of a pulperia.
“Have you all heard of the town Cuchilla Helada?”
“Yes. You are an hour away.”
“Do you know, are there people with the last name of Rivera there?”
We were so close. We smiled ear to ear. High fived. This was happening. What I thought would be impossible was a story unfolding that would allow this child, whom I love so much, to fill a void that has been in his heart for years and years. His questions were so close to being answered. Was his mom okay? Did his grandpa pass away? Does he have any more siblings he doesn’t know about?
We turned around anxiously. I memorized the road and all of it’s markings on our way down; there was no way I would let us get lost tomorrow. We had a family to reunite.
7 a.m. the next morning…
We made it back to where we were forced to turn around the day before. About an hour of twisting roads and many questions later, we arrived in a town called Armenia. I asked a lady on the side of the road if she knew of anyone with the last name “Rivera” that lived around there.
I looked at him. Does that sound familiar?
“Haley…I think I have an aunt named Rosa.”
We followed a man on horseback for a few minutes, when he then patiently told us to leave the car there, that it wouldn’t make it back into the valley where she lives. 35 minutes of walking later…we came up to a house where apparently an aunt named Rosa lived. She was sitting outside. He trailed behind me, obviously overwhelmed with emotion. I asked her…”Excuse me, are you Rosa?”
She looked at me hesitantly. “Yes.”
“I think I have someone here that you might know.”
He came out from behind me. I introduced her to her nephew, a young man who is about to finish high school, who loves to work in the fields, and who brings joy to anyone he encounters. She hugged him and cried. “We had assumed he had been killed by now.”
He looked out on the land around us. In the midst of mountains, breathtakingly beautiful. He remembered playing in the next house over, running up and down these hills. So many memories coming back to him, pieces of the puzzle put together. It wasn’t too long before he looked at his aunt uneasily…
“and my mom?”