BALTIMORE -- Boris Rauda of El Salvador and his two best friends were taking lunch to his father in the coffee fields the day the military opened fire. Boris was shot in the leg; his friends were killed. He was 9 years old.
Boris, now 11, told the story serenely, in Spanish. He had black bangs under a Baltimore Orioles cap. He wore an Orioles T-shirt and new running shoes. He was sitting in a Baltimore row house, his father Ramon on the couch beside him.
They had just been to another school to give a talk. Here was yet another reporter. For the Raudas, the past two weeks have been a funny blend of medical treatment and minor-celebrity whirl. "All this attention . . . , " laughed Ramon Rauda, a 63-year-old farmer who makes the equivalent of $30 a month.
His son is one of 12 wounded Salvadoran children brought to 12 U.S. cities for medical treatment by a nonprofit group called Medical Aid for El Salvador. For five years, the organization, whose board of directors includes actor Ed Asner, has given medical aid to civilian victims of El Salvador's civil war. The current Children's Project is intended "to give a human face to the tragedy," said director Jody Williams.
"They are rural children," Williams said. "If not for this, their injuries would go unattended."
Each child has a story. In Tucson, 12-year-old Dora Alicia talks about being shot in the arm when she went to fetch water; afterward, she hid out alone in the mountains for 24 hours. In Boston, 11-year-old Delores America, whose head was wounded by shrapnel, recalls her family's life outdoors for a year after their home was destroyed by bombs. In St. Louis, Rutilio Alberto, 9, tells about crouching with his mother in an underground cave for three days; his hand was seriously injured in the bombing raid that killed his father.
On an afternoon last week, Boris Rauda continued his story with the help of host and translator Haydee Rodriguez. After he was shot in the leg with an M16 rifle, a helicopter took him to a military hospital, he said. There, the soldiers accused him of being a guerrilla and posted guards at his bed 24 hours a day. "I told them I wasn't, but they didn't believe me," Boris said.
In the meantime, Ramon Rauda had no idea where his son had been taken. He began a search that would last more than two months.
"It was difficult, very difficult," Rauda said in Spanish. "The most difficult part was going from committee to committee trying to get my boy back." Boris was finally reunited with his family in a refugee camp operated by the Catholic Church.
Today, Boris has a limp, but he shook his head when asked if his injury bothers him. "No," he said, "I can still play soccer." His right knee is a starburst of scars, and doctors say the wound is causing his leg to grow crooked -- a condition that could leave him crippled with time.
For now, Boris is receiving physical therapy at St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson, Md. Like the 11 other hospitals involved in the project, St. Joseph's is donating Boris' medical treatment. Within a year, he will be flown back for surgery to correct his leg, Rodriguez said.
So far, Boris and his father have enjoyed their visit, they said; the contrast with their life in El Salvador is striking. There, they live on a cooperative farm with 120 other families, in a two-room house with no plumbing or electricity. Boris is one of seven children.
"You can't prevent a child from being impressed," said Rodriguez, 21, a native of Guatemala who is a philosophy student at Loyola College in Baltimore. "There are so many cars -- they have to walk for hours to get to a place. There are so many little things -- the coffee maker, the toilet, the light switch, the carpets. And even the fall, the changing of the leaves."
Almost every day, the Raudas have visited a church or a school in the Baltimore area to talk about their circumstances. This particular day, they had spoken at the Friends School. The questions, Rodriguez said, were the same as always: What is life like in El Salvador? Do you like it here in the United States?
Boris, who loves to draw bright pictures of birds and flowers, gave the class some of his artwork. The class in turn gave him drawings with "Thank you, Boris," written across the top.
"Boris is really shy," Rodriguez said. "Every time he goes to schools, they'll ask him something and he'll just smile back. His father ends up doing most of the talking. I asked him, 'Why don't you talk?' And he said he was afraid he'd say something stupid."
Next Monday, the Raudas are to leave Baltimore for Los Angeles, where they will meet with the 11 other participants in the Children's Project and their relatives. Then it is home to El Salvador.
"I fear going back because of the situation and because of the exposure we have gotten here," Ramon Rauda said through the translator. "But there is nothing to be done."
Boris said he may come back to live here one day. In the meantime, he said, he will tell his friends back home about his visit. "I'll tell them that I drew a lot of pictures and it was very pretty here. And I talked a lot."