The War Next Door

(Please don’t make me come home after this Mom)

I thought my day was going to be pretty normal, like the rest.

I thought the most terrifying thing that would happen to me today would be watching the tweenage boys dance inappropriately to the radio.

But as Honduras usually seems to do, it proved me wrong.

Today I was reminded of how dangerous it really is to live here.

“Kaylie, look it’s Zimba!” Daniel, one of the boys in Nueva told me as he pointed to a picture of Zimba in my bilingual Disney book.

“Yeah, sure is.”

“He was in a movie, it’s a pretty cool movie.”

“Yeah, I know, I’ve seen it.”

“In the movie he gets held up, LIKE THIS! (insert hand gestures)”

“Yeah, I know, I’ve seen it.”

“And then his dad dies. Because his uncle is bad. And then he leaves.”

“Daniel, I know, I’ve seen it.”

“Right, but then he grows up!”

(I’m sorry, is my Spanish really that bad or are you sincerely disregarding everything I’m saying right now?)

“I’ve seen it Daniel, I know what happens.”


(Alright, fine, I’ll give the satisfaction you want.)

“WHAT? SERIOUSLY? Wow I should probably see that Daniel!”

“Yeah seriously Kaylie it’s a great movie.”

Suddenly the Tia came rushing in the room.

“Where is everyone? GET IN THE ROOM! GET IN THE ROOM NOW! GET IN!”

Huh? Calmate, Tia, I thought you were supposed to be the tranquila one. Why are you suddenly so crazy?

After rushing in kid after kid, the Tia swiftly locks the door. I come over and ask her innocently, “que paso?” expecting a response like, “we’re changing Tia’s, got to make sure I don’t get in trouble for having the kids out of the room” or something like that, which happens a lot. But she looked scared. This wasn’t just a the-mean-Tia-is-going-to-scold-me look. She muttered a word I didn’t know, and still have no idea how to spell.


Or tihos, of titos, I really don’t know what the heck this word is.

So after completely not understanding, I parted the Red Sea of shirtless boys to get to the window. It was then that I understood what that mystery word was. Gun shots. There were sounds of gun shots firing back and forth, not stopping for at least fifteen minutes. All of the shots came from El Carmen, the juvenile detention center next door. The boys/the Tias guessed it was either some kind of prisoner revolt or gang war.

I’m surprised no one started making jokes about how white I was, considering how pale my face must’ve gotten. My whiteness was always a laughable subject to the kids, even though I’m quite tan, just not Honduran-level tan. Do you know how many times I’ve had to deal with hearing gun shots in my backyard? I’ll give you a hint: I’m a rich white girl that used to live in a rural, privileged neighborhood. Answer: Never. I’m sure I got to be whiter than a ghost, because I was absolutely terrified.

After about fifteen minutes, the gun shots died down. All was silent for about ten minutes. A few kids got let back out of their room to get some water from outside (Not outside the orphanage, just outside the room. Don’t worry, this place is huge with giant walls around it). But silence never lasts for long.


A bomb goes off next door.

The shots continue, even more than the last time.

Everyone is once again rushed into the room.

I can’t stop staring at the window, even though several kids are trying to play checkers with me.

I could not believe how calm these kids were. A handful of them sat and looked out the windows, gossiping among each other about what gang started it.


“Nah man, it was probably MS.”

The ones that weren’t gossiping about what gang was fighting were either dancing to music or playing checkers. There wasn’t one scared kid in the room. Well, actually, there was one. And that kid was me. I feel like the biggest role reversal was happening when one of the youngest kids who I call Oscarcito (8 years old, by the way) came up to me and told me, “It’s ok Kaylie. You don’t need to be afraid, we’re ok here.” Seriously? The eight year old is comforting the eighteen year old? Ugh, I need some tougher skin.

Eventually everything calmed down, and my boss showed up to take me home before things got worse and we wouldn’t be able to leave. On our way home we saw at least five cop cars parked outside of El Carmen, with two more making their way up the mountain.

I’m fine, and you know what, I’ll probably always be fine and safe in Nueva and where I live. That’s not the problem.

The real problem is, what happened to those kids in the juvenile detention center? How many died? How many lives were cut short today?

I was in the same room as two kids that had just started getting into gang activity before they came to Nueva. Is this what their lives are going to come to when they get out? One of those kids was thirteen and was being threatened by Lucia weeks ago to be sent to El Carmen. What if her threats had gone through? Would he still be alive, unharmed? Am I supposed to accept that some of these kids who I love like my own family might end up with the same kind of future, one cut short?

And what about Jilli’s friend, who’s supposedly in El Carmen for stealing? What if he got hurt, or worse? What about all of the innocent people who could’ve gotten hurt, or worse, during this? It’s terrifying to think about.

Now, when I look back on the experience, I feel like the most terrifying part of all of it was not the gun shots or the bomb, it was the fact that no one was scared of it. What kind of lives have these kids witnessed that knowing a gang war was going on right next door meant nothing to them? How is this a norm for them? If murder is normal for them, than what kind of lives are they going to live? Are they even taught to value the lives of others?

I don’t even know what lesson to learn from this, other than to try harder to install the importance of life into these kids.

Right now, all my brain can even think of is, who in the world would put an orphanage full of little kids next to a juvenile detention center?



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