October 16, 2011

The things you find on the beach

Living on the ocean, you're at the edge of the world, it seems. So when garbage washes up onshore, I like to imagine it could have come from anywhere.

Glass bottle? Dropped in the ocean by a sailor decades ago. Obviously.

A barbie leg? A little girl somewhere in Venezuela is tailoring special barbie pants.

Plastic car parts? Some freighter from Hong Kong lost a crate overboard en route to Brazil or Detroit or Latvia.

Clearly I have no idea how the gulf stream works.

In reality, when the rain falls, it flows down the mountains and through the city streets and sweeps all the debris into the river and out to sea. And shortly thereafter, it washes up on our beach. So while the barbie legs and bottles and plastic debris - and a mountain of bamboo and sticks - could have come from a long way away, odds are they're from down the street in Pastillo or Juana Diaz or Santa Isabel. There are lots of familiar objects in there.

Yesterday, a number of kids were here at camp to pitch in and clean up the beach to earn a discount for our retreats the next few weekends. It's really more for them than for us. We even feed them lunch. We don't, however, give them swim time when it's all said and done, something that made me lots of enemies as I drove them home after we ate.

I spent most of our two short hours of work dragging a few of them back from the water cooler in the shade and encouraging them to keep helping while the others kept working. A lot of them haven't quite grasped the benefits of hard labor in the hot sun.

Builds character. Grunt. 

I'm 27 and still working on my attitude towards this kind of thing. So I don't know why I would expect an 11 year old to joyfully sift through all the junk on the shore. 

You never know what you're going to find.

Almost immediately after we started, one of them found a syringe.

She jokingly asked if it was mine. That's the brand of humor I expect from this particular girl. I shrugged it off and assured her it wasn't.

A minute later, she found a tiny baggie. She knew it had held drugs, and again asked if it was mine. I again denied it with a smirk. She explained to me with a few gestures and some basic Spanish what had been in the bag and what someone would have done with it, then threw it in her garbage bag.

Had I found that baggie, I'd probably have thought nothing of it. And had I found the syringe, I'd have quietly dropped it in my bag and then washed my hands for twenty minutes. It's the kind of thing you don't want kids to ask you about, that you'd rather them never know anything about. You'd like to protect them.

I stood there for a minute and spaced out. Here was a 13-year-old girl who lives right next to a drug point and has had far more exposure to drugs than I have. And she was making jokes. How do you protect them then?

When I was 13, I just wanted to watch Animaniacs and eat cereal.

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