Saturday, July 23, 2011
He’s here again. Random how he always knows exactly where we are. There’s a good chance he’s chatted with a trip member on Facebook or someone told him we’d be here in the Port one more time before we fly back to the States. Meko is good at that - just showing up. He’s 18, with a massive smile and a thin build. No features stick out save for that smile. His cornrows are common, his clothes are common, but there might be something different about this one. We may never know. He says goodbye to us at the airport and hours later has tagged many of us in non-sensical links and photos. It’s his way of saying he misses us.
Afternoon, Friday, July 22, 2011
Meko is mad. We told him he can’t come to the closing ceremony with our group tonight because it’s a special event. He’s gotten used to us this week and just assumed he could join. When he’s mad he gets quiet and sullen, showing his frustration by walking across the street to an empty porch and kicking an empty soda can as we drive away. He knows we’re watching. And we know he knows.
Morning, Friday, July 22, 2011
He’s here again. Arrives on his bike, which he parks across the street at Club Impression, a local watering hole. It’s basically a glorified shack with a big stereo and a bar, and Meko’s version of parking his bike is letting it lay next to the entryway. It’s not like it’s busy. Meko DJs at Club Impression from time to time under the name Shamoo Daboss, and he says that on weeknights it’ll bring in 50-60 people. The weekends are more fun with 200-300, but during the day it’s practically deserted. A male in his late teens is lucky to earn $120 a week working on the island. It’s safe to say Meko makes less.
1:15 AM, Friday, July 22, 2011
We pull the old pickup back into Xanadu, park and go to sleep. At least, we try to. It takes me about 45 minutes to even feel tired again. Dan, our trip leader, later tells me he had the same trouble. Should we have let him stay at Xanadu? Is there something else we can do for him? And will we see him tomorrow? The thoughts blend together as we cloud our heads and fall to sleep.
12:50 AM, Friday, July 22, 2011
The truck reaches Meko’s street. It’s towards the end of the stretch of coast our teams have worked on for seven years. Just beyond it are massive oil drums; beyond those is the shipyard, where cruise ships dock and passengers board buses that drive through these devastated neighborhoods to the nice shops and resorts a few miles away. Dan pulls off the side of the road, but doesn’t dare turn down the dark street. In his mind, we’ve taken him about as far as we can. And I agree.
Meko and I hop out of the bed. He reaches back over and pulls off his bike. He leans it up against the truck and gives Dan a big hug. Then he gives me one. As he walks into the darkness, he shouts back. “I love you guys.” It’s his way of saying thank you.
12:30 AM, Friday, July 22, 2011
This is the latest Dan and I have driven around the island in seven years. We pass the work sites of years passed, which are haunting in the moonlight. However scary the land may be, the stars above are breathtaking. I’m in the bed of the pickup with Meko and his bike. Dan later tells me he drove the whole way praying that we wouldn’t find trouble. In the back, I ask Meko if islanders have ever seen two white guys driving a pickup around this late at night. He smiles, and shakes his head no. I ask him if the area is actually dangerous, and again he smiles and says no. I tell him that I think the island gets a bad rap thanks to the drug peddlers and smugglers of the past and a few of the current gangs. He agrees with me, sort of. “It’s usually safe, but when it blows up, it blows up.” He’s referring to gang violence, which has grown since more Haitians and others have moved to Grand Bahama Island. I choose to disregard the terrifying thought and look up at the stars. Meko takes the cue and looks up as well. The cool breeze is perfect. The stares our trio get from locals outside of the bars we pass aren’t. One such bar is Club Impression. Meko says he knows all the men that turn their heads as we pass by.
12:15 AM, Friday, July 22, 2011
There’s a knock on the door to our room. Dan and I spring to the door. Is someone sick? Is there an emergency? No. It’s Meko. He was riding out of Xanadu when he noticed his bike had a flat tire. He needs a ride to a gas station (what gas station would ever be open so late?). We could also drive him home, or he could stay with us for the night.
The last option crosses an awkward line that blurs more and more each year on the island for our team. These islanders have become friends and even feel like family in some cases, but there are still taboos that cannot be crossed. Meko staying with us is one of them. Dan and I know we have to drive Meko home. It’s a shitty decision to have to make because Meko’s mother is abusive. But tonight, that isn’t our fight. It can’t be. There are too many fights on this island to have, and not enough people stepping into the ring.
When missionaries first visit Freeport, they want to fix it all. Shocked at the infrastructure and way of life, they nearly tear off entire sides of termite-infested homes, over-tar roofs needing patches, and practically destroy trip budgets in hours. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction to want to change the world in one swing. But it can’t be done. Meko’s family is tomorrow’s battle; tonight’s is just getting him home.
As we pull out of Xanadu, Meko looks back at the security guard manning the gate. “Do you think he slashed my tire?” he asks. I tell him no, that it was probably some stray glass on the road or an unlucky rock he rolled over. He smiles and nods. It’s his way of saying he gets what I’m saying but doesn’t really believe me. I’m not sure if I believe myself either.
11:30 PM, Thursday, July 21, 2011
Dan and I are in the lobby of Xanadu, the only place we can get wifi consistently. We’re about to head to sleep when the door to the fitness room swings open. Out walks Meko. Dan asks him what he was up to; Meko says he was working on his chest. Dan jokes that Meko needs it.
Meko notices Dan is on Facebook and has him pull up his page. On it is a video that Meko wants to show him. I’m across from Dan at the table and can hear the video but can’t see it. The music is a vulgar rap song, maybe Cat Daddy, or something similarly inclined. The quality sounds poor. Meko starts pointing at the screen. “That’s my aunt.” “My friend.” He points out people to Dan the length of the video. Dan later tells me the video is a photo slideshow of people he knows. Its quality is poor.
He shows Dan a few other videos before I say it’s time for bed. Dan agrees, and as we head onto the elevator Meko goes back into the fitness room to work on his chest.
8:30 PM, Thursday, July 21, 2011
He’s here again. In Xanadu, to see everyone and hang out. He sits in on my small group for the third time this week. Sometimes he tells interesting stories that add to the conversation, but other times when he’s bored he just leaves the room and goes out onto the balcony. Tonight he seems more restless than usual. Laying on his stomach, he talks for a moment about how hard it is for him to talk about God in his home. Meko speaks about Jesus so fluently that it can be hard to tell how serious he truly is about God. He’s obviously been taught well in the Word and how to live by faith, but how much does it really mean to him? His smile makes it seem like it means a lot. But that’s what smiles are supposed to do.
Afternoon, Thursday, July 21, 2011
We’ve stopped work in case it rains. Some nasty clouds are circling above, threatening to ruin a morning’s worth of priming and painting. Meko goes across the street to Club Impression and turns the music up as loud as he can. It’s his way of showing he cares. Some of us across the street start dancing to it. Meko smiles. He doesn’t think my Dougie is very good. I challenge him to do his. Meko’s Dougie is very, very good. He promises to teach it to a few of the girls later. It’s his way of connecting to us.
9:15 PM, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Meko sits in on my small group. At one point, a new member to the trip asks him about his family. I cringe. Not many know about his home life, and the questions are simple enough. But still, I cringe because I know this isn’t something he wants to talk about. My fears subside when he brushes the questions away with ease, and with his smile. As the group moves onto a new subject, he steals a glance towards me. It’s his way of saying he knows I know.
8:15 PM, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Our mission team is wrapping up a sunset service along the beach. Dan is about 75 yards away, deep in conversation with Meko. During a time set aside for reflection, Meko asks Dan how he could know what his calling is. Dan, who has only been a true Christian since 2004, is floored. He tells Meko about being saved, getting involved as a youth leader in church, and his first years down the Island. It’s as good a calling story as any, if there were to be a catalogue of those types of things. Meko listens intently, nods, smiles. They hug. It’s Dan’s way of accepting Meko after five years of meetings. It’s Meko’s way of telling Dan he’s listening.
9:00 PM, Tuesday, July 19, 2011
He’s here again. In my small group. Talking about his faith. Meko reveals that he wants to be an underground welder. He thinks that one of the most dangerous jobs in the world may also be the one God wants him to do. To break the tension, I say that Meko could be the world’s first Welder/DJ, or WelDJ. No one thinks it’s funny except Meko. I tell the joke about 30 more times over the course of the week. He smiles every time.
Afternoon, Tuesday, July 19, 2011
A familiar face appears for the first time on this year’s worksite. It’s Meko, who has returned to say hello along with a few buddies. He’s taller but still thin. And that smile is wider than ever. He chats it up with some of the returning trip members and seems to be very happy. It’s good to see, but I’m still wary of the past few years. I wonder if this year will be any different, or if he will fade in my memory as he has in the past.
He’s here again. Not for long. A quick hello before he is shooed away. He gets in an argument with Forbes, who owns the house we’re working on. What went wrong? He used to be so promising. Now he’s just like the rest of the teens who stare and jeer and waste away on this island. There was hope for Meko, but it seems like hope may be lost.
The visits are short and without much fanfare. He’s got some new friends that seem a little older. Or is it just that they seem harder? Sometimes on this island it’s difficult to tell. We still appreciate his visit, but he doesn’t work much. Distractions are not something we have much time for, and he slowly fades away.
He’s here. A little bit bigger than last year. Taller, really. He still uses the occasional ma’am and sir, but he’s falling back into some slang and street talk. Raul and Karen Armbrister, the leaders of Karazim Ministries, still support him as best they can when he looks to them and to God, but that’s happening less. They’re nervous.
Raul and Karen have someone they’d like us all to meet. His name is Meko. He’s 13. He’s about average size has a ton of energy. His home isn’t a good place for him, they tell us, so he spends a lot of time with them. His manners are improving and he shows elders a great deal of respect. Sir and ma’am are common when the Armbristers are around. But when they aren’t, his ball of energy turns slightly more sinister. It’s hard for us to get him to focus on the job site, and his attitude is lackadaisical. There’s a sense of urgency to how Meko’s being treated by Karen and Raul. It’s almost as if they are running out of time.