The fire crackles behind me. It is a chilly night and the darkness seems to have muted all sound. Light emanates from the TV in front of us playing Iron Man in Spanish. Trin and I are sitting with Boris in his living room high in the mountain above Quito Ecuador. It was a great way to unwind from a busy day.
“What was one of your scariest nights when you were living on the streets?” I ask Boris.
At the age of 11, Boris was turned out by his single mother who was struggling to make ends meet and could no longer care for him.
Almost Taken by the Guerrillas
“Oh, the guerrillas! My buddy and I were almost taken by the guerrillas in Colombia,” he exclaims as he sits up and leans forward, his face animated with the tale.
As he recounted the story the wind howled and I could almost feel the breeze growing colder. Boris began his story of two young boys huddled in the back of a sheep truck. The truck was climbing a mountain outside of Cali, Colombia, as darkness and fog descended around them and the jungle closed in.
Boris and Kervin, then eleven and nine, were both living on the streets of Bogota when they decided to head out for places with more food and better opportunity. Originally planning to travel to Cartagena they began hitching rides. It was a long journey and eventually, they fell asleep in the back of a truck. When they awoke they found themselves headed in the opposite direction. Their truck was bound for Ecuador. The other stowaways convinced Boris and Kervin that Quito would be better. So they continued on toward Ecuador.
Sneaking onto a Sheep Truck
Along the way, they snuck into another large truck and hid among the sheep and chicken in the back. The truck had joined a convoy of about twenty other vehicles traversing the dangerous mountain pass on the way to Cali, Colombia. There the lull of the motor and the warmth of the sheep had them once again slumbering.
Maybe it was the movement of the truck ceasing that woke Boris that fateful night or maybe the danger could be felt in the air. The convoy had stopped.
“I woke up. It was cold, and I needed to pee. I was confused,” Boris re-enacted his disorientation.
“I tried to get up but a hand covered my mouth and pulled me down,” he mimed the motion with his own hand.
A Mask and Assault Rifle
Kervin had pulled him down and motioned for him not to move. A finger in front of his lips signaled him to remain quiet. With his eyes, he pointed out the slatted sides of the truck. There a man stood with an assault rifle and a mask on his face. The man was walking slowly beside the truck, inspecting it, only a few feet from where Boris and Kervin were hiding. They huddled in the darkness next to the livestock, so that they would not be discovered.
The convoy had been stopped by a guerrilla group. All of the drivers and passengers from the cars were being ordered at gunpoint to leave their vehicles and pile in the back of the truck where Boris and Kervin were hidden. It was the largest vehicle in the convoy so the guerrillas were using it as a holding cell.
The car in front of the convoy decided to make a run for it. Tires spun, and the vehicle began to pull away. The heavily armed men opened fire.
They Open Fired
The driver was immediately shot and killed, and the car flipped. The guerrillas pulled the passenger out of the car and threw him into the back of the truck. He had been shot in the leg and was bleeding profusely. He moaned for help and writhed in pain as Boris and his friend watched from their hiding place in horror and fear for their lives.
Boris and Kervin knew that if they were discovered they would not be let go.
“We had no papers so we would have been forced to become child soldiers,” he says as the fire from the woodstove reflected in his bright eyes.
The other drivers attempted to help the bleeding man. His screams were so loud that the guerrillas pulled him out of the truck, stripped him of all his clothes, and dragged him off into the dense jungle.
Silence descended and everyone waited in fear.
Time passed and the huddled hostages began to wonder if they should leave. Eventually, everyone slowly climbed out of the truck and crept towards their own vehicles.
Suddenly someone yelled out that the guerrillas were coming back. Everyone scrambled back into the truck again.
Hiding in Silence
After much harassment eventually the convoy was released by the militant group. The vehicles slowly began to break up and head down the road. Boris and Kervin still hidden among the sheep gazed at the car flipped beside the road. There a man died before their eyes.
Boris and Kervin did not sleep the rest of the way to Ecuador. For two nights they lay awake in shock. Yet their fear was tinged with relief, relief that they were living to see another day.
Eventually, they arrived in Quito, Ecuador. With only cardboard separating him from the cold cement, Boris slept on the street shivering, night after night. Quito is 8,000 feet (2,850 meters) above seal level. Even in the summer the nights dip down to 50°F (10°C).
“Scariest night of my life,” Boris says as he shakes his head. He goes to the fireplace to put more wood on the fire.
“The Spirit was looking out for me that night,” he adds.
It is late and we are all tired. Boris bids us “buenas noches” and heads up to his room. Trin and I watch some TV for a few more minutes, but soon turn in for the night.
To be continued… with life on the streets