"I hear the little children of the wind crying solitary in lonely places" William (Fiona McLeod) Sharp
From this tiny rental casita and directly across the street lies the Parque Juarez and the children’s playground. From my rooftop terrace in the colonial village of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and at nearly 6,500 ft., the morning sun is as bright a white light as I have ever seen.
For many decades, the days of sun and searing light have attracted artists and writers, dreamers and believers; the uneven cobbled streets and dusty paths are home to generations of families, and new ones from once distant borders. From what I have been told, this is a place of opportunities and second chances. People seem to co-exist in an easy harmony of acceptance – live and let live. Family here is key. It is the mechanism, perhaps, from which all else functions and thrives. It is the nurturing nucleus; the heartbeat of San Miguel – of the Mexican culture.
There is an old saying that those who visit certain islands get sand in their shoes – meaning they have found “home” - and never leave.
Here, those from away get dust in their sandals and in places they didn’t know they had places, until the unexpected finding of a trail or pocket of dust. And on those eerie days, of blinding sun and razor-sharp wind, eyes full of grit. Newcomers and natives alike tend to believe that just maybe milagros can happen in a place with an other-worldly light, where fireworks explode beneath a star-studded sky. A place that celebrates death as intensely as life; a town where color bursts like confetti beneath a blazing sun, and church spires shatter like glass a cloudless ceiling of blue. Where you can wander the streets and smell earth and clay and tortillas, jasmine and hair and the fur of burros – all baking beneath an unrelenting heat ~ el sol. Where spirits stand guard at windows and balustrades like watery visions, mirages of the past straining to keep a watchful eye on the most precious -- the children of the zocalo, the hope and future of San Miguel.
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My days here begin with a morning ritual: equipped with my mug of strong Mexican coffee, I step into the clear morning air and listen to the overlapping sounds, like water across soft stones, of nesting birds, laughing children, barking dogs and the occasional peal of an ancient church bell. The harmonious cacophony is perhaps the most hopeful music one will ever hear. From early morning until well past sunset, the children, most accompanied by a parent or parents, sport hats made of twisted balloons and carry puffy clouds of pink and blue cotton candy. They fill the air with contagious laughter. It is a sound I have come to look forward to.
Two blocks from my casita, straight up the steep and uneven cobbled streets, many dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, is the calle named Sollano. Turning left onto Sollano I walk by a literal melting pot of color – stately Colonial homes, some with Moorish accents, hidden behind ornately carved doors, their façades dressed in hues of mango and chocolate, persimmon, pomegranate and butter yellow, ochre and periwinkle – a swoon of pastels and juice tints that makes one long for a cool agua fresca followed by a midday nap. Tucked alongside these grand casas are shops offering lovely home furnishings and quality Mexican arts and crafts from Oaxaca to Dolores Hidalgo.
It is what lies in between that paints the complete picture, tells the whole story.
One afternoon, in search of La Ventana, a tiny window opening onto Sollano and selling fragrant coffee beans from Chiapas, I gazed across the street upon another set of dark, ancient carved doors, some ten to twelve feet high. Upon closer inspection I saw the brass plaque and scrolled letters of Casa Hogar Don Bosco.
Safe House ~ Orphanage ~ Refuge ~ Home.
Sugar and spice, and everything nice. That’s what little girls are made of.
The girls are named after Saints and sweets and fragrant flowers.
Some have been orphaned or raped or emotionally abused, hungry and cold, abandoned and beaten. They are small and vulnerable and in their few tender years, have experienced a darkness and hell to which no child should ever bear witness, let alone be victim of.
These are the stories of the girls of Casa Hogar. It is also a story of milagros in the forms of children, resilience, and the healing power of love and the human spirit.
Not so long ago, found begging, malnourished, lice-ridden and anemic due to lack of funding for their most basic needs, many of the small girls from Casa Hogar Santa Julia survived on little more than a few tortillas, rotting vegetables discarded by a local market, and without fresh water to drink or in which to bathe. And yet, these were the better times, free from their previous horrors of fractured homes and lives, they were sheltered now, in the protection of loving Madres, but struggling still to find the few meager pesos needed to provide a nutritious meal, a healthy body, clean clothes – a normal childhood.