I walked to the internet café tonight. They were closed. Their front gate was securely fastened shut with a steel chain and a big strong padlock; the lights inside were off. In futility, I shook the gate a few times for no good measure. The sign on the door read that they close at 10PM. It was 7PM. I suppose the owner just had better things to be doing than running his business. Businesses in Latin America only pretend that they run on a time clock like other places in the world, but in reality, a place is open only when the workers feel like working. Tonight, I suppose the internet café did not feel like working. I cannot blame them.
On my disgruntled walk home I came upon two blond 20 year old American girls talking with a little shoe-less Honduran boy under the dark eve of a street-side doorway. The kids in this town are not too bad, they don’t really ask foreigners for money, and, from all apparent conditions, they do not need to. They are well fed, clothed, and their only disparity seems to be that they are, perhaps, just a little bored. So they ply the streets looking for fun. Sometimes foreigners mistake them for beggars. Sometimes they pretend to be beggars. I know that they are not, for they live right down the street from me.
As I walked by the girls who had accosted this little boy in a dark street, I could not help but wondered if he got caught trying to nick something from them. I would not blame him for trying. But no, this was not the case. As I approached one of the girls asked if I spoke English. I said yes. Then she asked if I spoke Spanish. I said enough. I looked down at the boy. He looked confused and a little nervous. I wondered what was going on. The girls then asked me if I could ask him what restaurant he wanted to eat dinner at.
These two strapping tourist were trying to save the world by taking a boy who they think is a pariah street child out to a big expensive meal at a foreigner restaurant. The Honduran boy looked frightened.
Oh brother. Against my better judgement, I sucked it up and asked the kid where he wanted to eat, figuring that it would be the easiest way to remove myself from being an accessory. He hesitantly muttered the name of some place and pointed to where it was. I begrudgingly told the girls. The girls smiled big smiles and excitedly lead the little boy off to eat what would probably be his second dinner of the night.
I quickly crossed to the other side of the street, but I could still hear the blond girls boasting about how they were ‘giving back’ to the Hondurans. “This will be our little secret,” one said to the other, “something that we can always feel good about.”They were saving the day, and were very, very proud of themselves.
I walked away as quickly as I could. I was almost hit by a truck. But I got away before I had to witness them continue their embarrassing charade.
If a kid in the tropics does not wear shoes it does not mean that he is a beggar. But the Americans wanted to feel good about themselves by taking a perfectly normal Honduran boy and turning him into a pariah. It seems as if they came to Honduras expecting to find a country of beggars, and they made sure that they found what they were looking for. Good work. By the standards of Western culture, a young boy walking around in the streets with unwashed clothing and bare feet may be considered an orphan beggar deserving of charity. In Honduras, the boy is just a young Honduran.
As another boy of the tropics is treated like a meager, belittled serf, two more self-riotous tourist can puff their plume and boast of their generosity. They flashed their cash in the face of a boy and showed him how poor he really was. Good work.
I have noticed something: a poor man often times does not know that he is poor, unless he is made to feel as such. Some of the happiest people that I have gotten to know in this world are also some of the least wealthy. In the jungles of Peru my friends had hardly a cent to boast of between them, but they smiled their days away drinking home made liquor and playing on the rivers. They were some of the richest and most generous people that I have ever met. But these two American tourist seemed to only be able to view disparity through the lens of their own culture, and they treated a normal brown skinned, bare footed Honduran kid as a squalid beggar.
I have worked for this past month with around 40 Honduran farmers. I have talked with them daily, visited their homes, and became their friend. They have little money, but they are not poor. They go to work with smiles on their faces, work hard, joke around, and then go home to their families with smiles still on their faces. They laugh at life through the week and then get drunk or play with their children on the weekend. They are very proud of their families, have enough to eat, and seem happy. They are rich beyond measure.
If only the workmen in the USA could be this fortunate.
I cannot comprehend how these happy people can be called poor.