I’ve never forgotten the boy in the orange sweater. I don’t know his name. I never talked to him. He was maybe 7 or 8. He was small and, I think, maybe blind in one eye. And he was so lonely. His loneliness was his aura.
This picture was taken at Father Fabretto’s Home for Boys in Esteli, Nicaragua. It was taken 22 years ago. We had traveled to Esteli from Managua, six of us packed into a tiny Toyota, often the only car on the highway, with big black helicopters buzzing over us every few minutes. It was a time of the Sandinistas and the Contras and needing to know where it was safe to go and not safe. Our driver was a Sandinista soldier who was AWOL who kept a knife in his boot and could drive a car up mountains and through rivers. It was hotter than anyplace on earth and I was scared to death every second.
This is going to sound crazy. But I’ll say it anyway. The reason I remember the boy in the orange sweater is because I could’ve been his mother. If I wasn’t already on the hook to meet my new 17-month old son later at the orphanage in Managua, I could’ve easily walked over and taken this boy’s hand. I would’ve told him everything would be ok. I’d tell him we’d get his eye fixed. That he’d have plenty to eat and he’d be safe. And that maybe we could get him a new sweater.
It works like that. You can look at a kid and just know -I could be this kid’s mom.
P.S. Father Fabretto’s is still around. I just checked it out. www.fabretto.org It sure looks a lot different than I remember.