Children ‘Resistoleros, Chemeros’ Glue Sniffers

Her name was Carmen, a Resistol addict..

Photo by Sankhadeep Barman on Unsplash

Around the over one hundred-year-old, still not completed cathedral of a certain industrial city in a Central American country, were the kids. Mostly boys as girls don’t have the same survival rates as the boys do.

I would see them every day because I operated a hotel just a block from the cathedral. Over the years, I watched as the glue sniffing problem grew. No matter what anyone did to help seemed hopeless. The help needed was far beyond the capacity of money and skill by the government. They chose to ignore the problem.

One morning as we were passing the cathedral, I spotted a little girl in a dirty sundress. Probably to her great misfortune, she was showing clear signs of filling out, and soon would become more prey to the predators, even from her glue sniffing brethren. Alberto, a driver I sometimes worked with when I had to do errands, told me the little girl was named Carmen. It was rare to see girls on the glue circuit. But there were, they were the minority.

They carried small zip lock size baggies in which they carried their fume filled glue called Resistol. This is the name of the product. The glue sniffers are called ‘Resistoleros’, or in this city ‘chemeros’. A builder could walk into any hardware or building supply store and ask for a gallon of Resistol. They sold the stuff like any other product. Everyone knew Resistol had a dark side. But no one cared. No one wanted to have to pay for installing safety control on its sale.

One morning, my head of maintenance stepped into my office carrying a small paper bag. He handed it to me and waited for me to open it. I pulled out a Gerber baby food sized jar which was half full with a brownish, thick liquid substance. ’Resistol’ he said. I’d asked him to get a sample for me.

I unscrewed the top and, like a basket of deadly snakes, a powerful, sweet and pungent stench of fumes curled upwards, filling my small office. I placed my nose over the opening and took in a small breath. Even that was too much. One breath and it affected me. For a while, it sounded like my secretary’s voice came as an echo from a faraway room. The uncomfortable buzz passed, and I dealt with a headache that lasted for the rest of the day.

The kids will hold their face just inside their little baggies or just over the open plastic coke bottle filled with the glue and breathe in repeatedly. It was no surprise that often I’d see the kids sprawled against the church wall in the dirt, their heads forward, nodding.

The escape they craved.

The business community, as powerful as it is, resisted any effort at control.

Often one hand is hidden under a t-shirt. Driving down past the church, it was easy to spot the sniffers because of the hidden hand. Supposedly, the glue was illegal, but no one thought to ban the stuff in construction. Often I’d see when a kid pulled the baggie out for another set of full inhalations. The stuff had a shelf life; it didn’t last forever. As it neared its end was when the hunt for the next baggie started.

Many times after work when I was on my way home, waiting for the green light at the corner of the cathedral, the sniffers would do what they did most when they weren’t nodding off in a dark corner around the grounds of the cathedral. They’d be at my rolled up window. I could tell from their eyes that they were out of it. Little children completely blasted out of their heads.

They just knew that by simply standing, unmenacingly outside your raised window that the driver just might toss them a bill worth a few US pennies. Drivers knew these kids as sniffers and knew there was little danger from them. The custom was to drive with windows up and doors locked because of the rampant armed and violent theft taking place on street corners all over the city.

The professional thieves knew how to rip a watch from someone's wrist in a second. If the watch was of the flexible metal band sort it was as simple as peeling the watch away. If it was leather, an ever present razor sharp knife cut the watch away. In one second.

The kids were so small, threadbare, and shoeless and had glazed over eyes that seemed to dwell in an unimaginable hell world. They were harmless to a driver. They would simply present themselves at your window and know that they might get a penny's worth of the local currency.

They sold or stole anything they could. They even sold themselves. It was said there was a ready market of mostly sick minded men more than ready to take whatever a kid could give. An interesting fact is that these men rarely double crossed a kid, in other words not pay up once the kid gave what he had to give. More than once, they found a double crossing man in the street with his throat laid wide open. These predators were living off the streets but were older and had minor jobs and could take advantage of the kids.

It was said that if one of these adult predators, for whatever reason, wound up in prison, their days were counted. The prison population had determined these were the worst of the worst, not fit to be a part of a code driven prison culture.

For me, it was always a mystery why these young street dwellers gathered about the massive church. The legend is that it’s been under construction for over a hundred years. Perhaps twice in almost twenty years I attended mass at that cathedral. More a nod to my new girlfriend, who at the time was on the cusp of deciding to go to church more often. I am neither Catholic nor necessarily very religious.

I find it difficult to accept that the almighty doesn’t, with the flick of a mighty finger, fix this problem. Maybe having these glue sniffing children addicts surviving around the outer walls of his ‘earthly home’ serves his larger purposes?

Not judging here. After all, business is business, right?

So, frankly, one reason I am not an avid churchgoer results from the very thing I mentioned at the start. Homeless, tweens and early teens circling the church. They have been there for years and from what I can tell; the church doesn’t extend one gold ringed hand to give help or rescue.

The Vatican, one of the richest ‘countries’ on the planet, for all their bluster and moral demands upon those of us gullible enough to be taken in, won’t help. I was told that the church always said there wasn’t the money available. How could an enormous church, still in construction, with a huge congregation not be able to help? It seemed to me these glue addicted kids could’ve been one of the church’s pet projects.

In all the years I lived in that city, just a block away, the kids received no help that I could tell. I was told that it was the private citizens who, occasionally, tried to help. Help might come as used clothing, which was rather hopeless as these kids didn’t wash or have the luxury of having more than one change of clothes.

Many, including myself, tried to help with single efforts, such as food delivery, and used clothes handed out. We would administer over-the-counter medications for worms, pain killers, wash and bandage minor cuts and bruises from the hotel’s back door. One kid, who was born with a withered leg, a friend of mine, had given him a pair of crutches. He explained to me that anything extra, literally say an extra pair of pants as an example that a child came upon, was used almost immediately as barter for more glue, or was taken from him or her.

These minor efforts to help are akin to placing a band-aid over a gaping wound.

These kids market everything they can get their hands on to bargain for more glue. This, of course, includes their bodies.

Carmen was one of these children. Incredibly, she had reached the ripe age of thirteen.

Perhaps you noticed the kids are all very young. With some exception rarely will you see an older teen, much less someone in their twenties. Why? They never reach those comparatively older ages. They die off. Usually it’s the brain destroying habit of sniffing glue that eventually kills them. I was told by a social worker acquaintance that it was just a question of time when they sniffed more than they could handle, curl up in a protective corner just off the street, fall asleep and die.

They would simply expire.

Carmen could somehow evade the ever present predators in the street. Driving past the cathedral, I remember seeing her. Only later did I learn her name was Carmen. They found her naked in an open sewage runoff culvert near the railroad tracks where the tented vendors sold everything from pirated cds to electric fans, drugs, illicit guns. Most of what they sold had fallen off the back of some truck.

It was just a question of time, my secretary said one morning as she handed me the La Prensa paper. Several pages in was Carmen. The grisly sensationalist photo showed a young girl tossed into the culvert. Her private parts were covered over by what appeared to be the torn remains of a cement sack.

I’ve seen where these kids go to rest during the day. Usually they are little holes formed by detritus from construction going on. Perhaps even along the giant walls of the cathedral where large, concrete support buttresses offer a corner for holing up. Card board to sleep on, some extra rags thrown on top. There you will see them, sometimes huddled together when the night is cool, also for protection.

These kids are the most vulnerable of all kids in this third world hell. They are free of politics, don’t have to concern themselves with being popular at school, will never experience having an innocent crush, will never go to the movies or go to MacDonald's.

These are the castaways of the castaways, whose parents are dead or are themselves so deeply at the bottom of their own hells that to think to help is laughable.

Over the years, one or another organization has stepped up and said they were going to help the kids. They’d come to my office and ask for donations. Sure, I helped a little, but soon found that the money seemed to make absolutely no difference. One time, an American missionary group added the glue sniffing kids to their list of projects.

So for the two and a half weeks the Americans were in the country working on their church installation out in the countryside at day’s end they’d return to the city for the night which was when they attempted to help the addicts. On more than one occasion if I felt a certain mission group was making a difference I would offer another week at a deeply discounted rate. This so that they'd stay and help the addicts. A missionary explained to me that anything they gave the kids simply disappeared into the give and take, dog eat dog world of the sniffers. Everything up for barter, even the youthful body.

Carmen, it was said, was raped many times, damaged. Then a rock to the head ended it. One could only hope her nightmare and agony didn’t last too long. In a life where her every breath was hell, who am I kidding?

A police official acquaintance told me that no one wanted to help, much less the government. There just weren’t any funds available. As the problem wasn’t one of national concern, it would’ve taken a focused effort. An effort that would have aided this particular bunch of kids, which would’ve caused the necessity of paying employees and people trained in this type of work. No one seemed to know how to handle this strange problem.

It wasn’t until several years later that the authorities, with the help of an investigative Spanish organization, discovered glue sniffing was in fact a national issue, in all cities, even in the rural areas where the industrial glue could be stolen from construction sites.

The government promised to investigate the sources from which the kids were getting their seemingly endless supply of glue. Their efforts yielded interesting information. Enter the picture the older suppliers. These were much older kids who filled a particular niche of supply chain. These people know where to find the glue, took the risks to steal it or buy it from unscrupulous construction suppliers, then sell it to the kids. The kids, of course, had no money, whatever they had used to barter with they had stolen.

Glue sniffers are considered a local issue. Therefor a private, though embarrassing one. The busy city I used to live in didn’t want to project to the outside world of its addiction problems. A visiting traveler on their way to a tourist destination along the coasts or islands might see the glue sniffing kids as they passed in their taxi on the way to their hotel. These tourists only stayed the night only if they absolutely had to.

From a speeding passing taxicab, the kids might have looked like poor kids gathered safely next to the church. Unless those passing in the taxi were sharp observers, they would never see what was really going on.

After all, they hadn’t traveled down to these places because they wanted to spend time in the miserable city. They were on their way to posh hotels dotting the coast and Caribbean islands. When I saw these tourists, it was because their connecting flight had been cancelled because of the weather. Taxis would bring them to the hotel.

The glue sniffing kids seen around the cathedral was just a half block away from the hotel and the authorities had sworn repeatedly they would rid the city of such shameful sight. They never offered a solution.

The story in the paper about Carmen had few details. The writer said Carmen had come from the barrio; a neighborhood known as the Hernandez, a gang infested hell of its own. Supposedly, her parents had been slaughtered by a single gang member when the two were walking back to their single roomed hut after picking plantains from a nearby farm. They were found with bullet holes in the foreheads, execution style. It more than likely was a killing carried out by a gang initiate earning his street creds in the gang.

There is no happy or good end to this story.

I left that country years ago. After being kidnapped. This morning I contacted a good friend there who confirmed the problem is as bad as ever.

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Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson

Discovered the world of Medium some years ago. Amazing! Published first book, romantic adventure in Guatemala and Nicaragua, on Amazon. Title Lenka: Love Story.