It was February 2010. Our nephew, Paul, was driving us on the highway into San Ramon, our Peruvian “home town.” Parallel to the highway is el Rio Tarma, the Tarma River, deep, with rapidly flowing water. We saw two tiny barefoot children, arms outstretched in begging, standing next to the highway. We pulled over, got out of the car, and walked to them.
“Donde esta tu mama?” I asked the little girl. “Where’s your mommy?” She pointed to the river. In the distance we saw a blue tarp. We walked with the children along the rocky riverbank and found their mother, their grandmother, and a dog near the tarp. A man was standing behind it and the mother was holding a baby. We talked a little, learned that Maria was five years old and her brother was two.
“Do you have enough food,” Francisco asked, and the grandmother replied, “Sometimes.” We returned the following day with groceries and a little cash. Francisco’s sister went back a few days later but the family was gone.
The next year, we tried to find them. Our nephew had obtained an address where someone had told him they were living. We went there but no one answered the door. He later heard that they were staying with relatives in Tarma, about an hour’s drive away.
So I think often of Maria, a little girl begging by a river. She’d be eleven now. Where are you, Maria? I wonder. Do you have shelter? Do you have food? Are you warm? Are you safe? Do you go to school? Will I see you again? Would I know you? I can only pray for you – and hope.