Along with watermelon and grapes from the market, I bought some homemade ice cream to put in the freezer from a house Marco pointed out. I also visited a panaderia for same empanadas y conchas and picked up some Gatorade, cashews, and a packet of cookies at the super (mini grocery store). The Gatorade is to replenish the fluids I am losing from my biological introduction to Guatemala. I don’t know if the diarrhea is just from the new microbes or from my waitress’s sniffles, runny nose, and the use of her all too serviceable hand. !Bienvenidos!
Tonight I had a particularly interesting dining experience. I walked the 5 short blocks to the restaurant from the mission house and along the way passed a group of young guys in el parque municipal, one of whom was playing a trumpet. His music made me think he was snatched from a cool, Chicago sidewalk and landed here in Guatemala. After entering the restaurant with a Buenas Noches the waitress came and listed off the dinner menu. It was the same as last night, but I caught a few more of the dishes. She speaks very softly with the pace of a memorized dining list and at times the choices come out muffled. After ordering carne asada I sat back and watched the last two minutes of Harry Potter, Prisoner of Azkaban, on the restaurant TV. Then I heard from behind me a timid, sweet voice directed at me, “Dame un quetzal.” I turned to find two, very dirty and obviously poor, little boys hanging on the doorway, staring fixatedly at me. Again they repeated, “dame un quetzal.”
When I am driving in the US and I see a homeless person on a street corner I will give them food if I have it and sometimes a few dollars. Food cannot hurt and while the money may go to drugs or alcohol, this may be due to circumstances beyond my control. Maybe this excuse is just a cop-out for my conscience and my thoughtful gift will actually do more harm than good, but I also realize I live a very blessed life and can spare a few dollars for someone who needs it.
However, in this situation, I paused before responding, “No tengo quetzales.” In reality I had 7.1 quetzales in my pocket and two 1 quetzal coins that I could have given to them both, but something held me back. But, the boys just repeated, “Dame quetzal.” Now, the thoughts started running through my head.
They are so poor, they obviously need some money. But, if I do, will they come back every night to ask me for another? I can’t give them a quetzal every night. Well, I can, but is this really doing any good? Does it just reinforce a stereotype that causes them to ask every Gringo this question? Or, have I just created this stereotype in my head and these two boys ask everyone in Barillas this question.
I thought, maybe I could buy them a bit of food. And, after responding again to their pleas, that I didn’t have any money, one of the boys asked for some food. I asked him what he wanted. Well, this didn’t go anywhere for some reason and he reverted back to the “Dame quetzal.” I turned my gaze back to the TV as the two boys continued every few seconds with their plea. Still, the thoughts raced through my head. What should I do? What is really the best decision, what is really the just decision? My head and heart were both pulled in two directions, but something prevented me from reaching into my pocket. (What are your thoughts on this situation? What would you do?)
Then, I heard a deep mumbling from the doorway. I turned to see an old man stumbling into the restaurant, a bit of drool on his chin, hands stretched out for me. I quickly turned back towards the table and replied to what was probably the same question as the boys, I don’t have any money. I was very grateful as the cook rushed from the kitchen and herded the man somewhat physically out of her restaurant. There are various men that sleep on the sides of the road during the day, and I am sure this was one of them. I think this made me feel a little better for not giving the boys money because it seemed like it would only attract more attention. Still, my heart only broke more when one boy left and the other remained there saying (I think), “esperame un quetzal” I will wait for my quetzal.
I was glad to see another young diner come in a few minutes later. Elder? I think was his name, was studying medicine in Cuba and working here in Barillas. We began to talk first about the futbol game on TV between Real Madrid and another Spanish team. Our conversation flowed naturally between Spanish and English, as he was eager to practice his second language, as we covered H1N1 (swine flu), food, school, and more. It was a un placer to meet Elder and I hope to see him in the restaurant again tomorrow. Maybe I can ask his reflection on the two begging boys.