Thursday, December 07, 2006

something borrowed and blue

Mad has been doing such a wonderful job posting about social issues all week long. I read her eloquent posts, filled with facts and links and all I can see are faces. Little faces. I see stories in the her words of hunger and of abuse.

I was travelling through Mexico a few years ago. I was sitting on the steps of a church is some little town when a boy came up to me and sat down. He spoke a little english, and I spoke a little spanish, and we spent some time together, quietly sitting. After a while I mentioned that I needed to get going, that I was hungry. When I asked if he was hungry too, he said yes. We shared a meal and parted ways.

The next day I opened the door to my little hotel room and he was sleeping on a chair in the courtyard out front. Ernesto, I said. Que tal? He said he was waiting for me. I asked if he was hungry. Si. We had breakfast.
Ernesto and I hung out for several days. He never asked me for money. Never asked for anything, just seemed to want to follow me around. He'd sit on the beach while I sat and read. He waited outside places I visited. He'd step back in line with me when I'd come out.

I didn't mind the company - I was alone for a good deal of the time and was sorting some things out, and he was easy to be with.

When it was time for me to move on I bought him one last meal and I talked about leaving, and about our time together. I asked him why he spent so much time with me. And if he needed money, I would give some to him.

No, he said. I just like being with you. You are pretty, and you gave me food. We hugged goodbye, and for a moment, we both were silent. Ernesto was nine years old when I met him. I can still picture him, standing at the bus stop waving as the bus pulled away.

When I was in Cambodia earlier this year, there were hundreds of hungry children. Many of them begging, pleading, unrelenting in their pursuit. They knew tourists have money, that we leave more on our plates than they eat all day. They pursued us well. And I let them. It was heartbreaking. I knew they had a job to do for their families, that they were part of a system. Part of a means of survival. They were so young. Stomachs distended. Thin. Filthy. Heartbreaking.

Children not much older than M were up late at night, begging. We'd buy them food and milk and they'd take it and still press for money. Money needed to bring home. We gave that too, not liking the way it made us feel but knowing that no matter what the reason or angle, they needed it so much more than we did. It was relentless. And even though Mad posted about human trafficking today, I still can't bring myself to write about the child brothels and underage prostitution we happened upon. I am sorry, but I just can't. Maybe at some point I'll find words to do those little girls justice, but I don't have the vocabulary yet.

Luckily, we happened to stay at this guest house and learned about this place. We felt it was a way to contribute to a concerted effort being made in one small town. Good people run this place, and do good things.

It is unspeakable, the horrors of poverty. The desperation caused by hunger. The way a child looks at you when they need to beg from you in order to eat. The dimness behind what should be bright eyes. The littlest faces.

The wedding. The wedding. It is only 3 days away. You still have till Saturday to get us your gift. And we can't wait to see all of you there on Sunday. I plan on blowing a hundred kisses in all directions of the earth.


Anonymous said...

One of the things I used to hear in my college years and didn't have the maturity to grasp is that we are 1) all more alike than we are different and 2) that when one of us suffers, we all suffer.



acumamakiki said...

I love these stories you've shared jen and you're right ~ giving that money to those poor relentless children meant so much more to them than it does to you or me.

I also feel sick with myself when I think about how much food I/We waste in this house and what you wrote, "They knew tourists have money, that we leave more on our plates than they eat all day". I'm going to do a better job.

Anonymous said...

I agree - it is so hard to see the begging when you go south of the border. I, too, would buy food, not trusting what the parents would end up doing with the cash.

meno said...

That's a sweet story about Ernesto. I can't help giving food to the kids in Mexico when i go, but i don't give them money. Sometimes they have gotten mad.

Anonymous said...

Jen, I use facts and links because I have no direct experience with any of this. I have never been outside the first world. Talk about a rarified existence, eh? (See, we Canadians do say "eh" a lot. You'll have to get used to this, I'm afraid). Thank you for your first hand accounts from the places you have been.

Anonymous said...

This sort of thing breaks my heart, Jen. I have seen it in numerous places and it always makes me ask'why.' And there is the problem. No-one can agree on the 'whys' and until that happens there will be no solution.

One of the most succesful approaches to helping solve poverty is through micro-loans where lenders let individuals borrow relatively insignificant amounts of money (often only $50 - $100) to buy a sewing machine, a pottery wheel, or other device which can be used to earn money. The loans are repaid through profits. This appears to work much better than foreign aid grants which typically never make it to the people who need it most, the hungry and unemployed.

I wonder if some of your readers who live or have visited places like Thailand and other Asian countries have encountered micro-loans in action?

Andrea said...

Oh god. This one made me cry. The world is so broken.

carrie said...

It breaks my heart. I just saw a piece on Oprah this week featuring a man from India who has won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping out people with micro loans. The average amount needed was $135 and this allowed the people to get out from under the control of money lenders who take all they have if they cannot repay the loan in a specific time. To date, the man and his bank have loaned $6 million dollars and helped countless regain a hold on their own futures with financial independence. Very inspiring!!!

The link you requested is:

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your moments with Ernesto. I've seen so many kids in the world who haven't been able to be kids, to live the lives of kids. The worst I've ever seen was in January in Madagascar, where I walked past silent starving children laying on mats on the floor. Why? There is so much food in the world. Why should any children be hungry? Why should any children be trafficked for sex? Why? Why? Why? What is wrong with the world?

I love Cambodia and Nepal and Madagascar. The countries that are the least developed, where the need is great, are closest to my heart.

I often feel isolated in having a life where I spend a lot of time with people in other countries who are in great need. This post made me feel less alone.

Deezee said...

It can be overwhelming to comprehend where to begin to heal all the pain the world offers. You do a fine job in your daily acts of kindness...

Now for your wedding gift. Do you need I DJ?

I'm trying to put together a list of music for the event (and I'm getting a late start - maybe I can enlist others, and we can all suggest some fine tunes to honor the spirit of the event.)

Here's a start...

Pink: Dear Mr. President
Cat Stevens: Peace Train, Where Do the Children Play
Broken Social Scene: Puff the Magic Dragon
Antigone Rising: You're the Reason
RHCP: Higher Ground
Michael Andrews: Mad World
The Finn Brothers: Won't Give In
Moby: We Are All Made of Stars
Pete Yorn: On Your Side
Badly Drawn Boy: Magic in the Air
Neil Finn: Human Kindness
R.E.M: Shiny Happy People

(to understand some of my choices, you'd have to crawl deep inside my brain!)

jen said...

We definitely need a DJ. And those songs are terrific.

and of course, it makes me want to crawl deeper inside your brain.

Momish said...

You break my heart with your passionate words and stories. That kind of poverty is one of the most mystifying uneccessary evils I will never be able to wrap my head around. My heart, yes, but my head, no.

Jenny said...

Okay. My wedding gift to you is up on Mama Drama.

I'm not sure if it's quite what you had in mind but unfortunately you can't return it.

swampwitch said...

I am visiting here from Jenny's at Mama Drama. My gift to you will be posted at my place Saturday morning.

Anonymous said...

Carrie... thanks for that micro loan info. I'll try to get more data on it.

Jen... My gift is my appreciation for your kindnesses and caring for those around you. You set a great example!

Karmyn R said...

Breaks my heart - makes me wish I could just give give give - everywhere. (and bring some of those starving children hoome).

Came over via Jenny - Mama Drama.