Happy New Year! I have to get in my January post! I thought that perhaps after a little over a year of living in the US, I would be completely adjusted. I’m not. My oldest daughter seems to be the most settled of us all. My younger two continue to express their desire to return to Honduras. And even though we have found out, more so, where we fit in our community, there are still things that perplex me about this place. Things that I find hard to understand, for example, beggars in my town.My two younger kids and I hopped into our car and drove to mid-town to pick-up my oldest. It was a clear, sunny day. We needed to get out. Therefore, we drove downtown to cross one of the pedestrian bridges. As we crossed, the chilly wind blew quickly and forcefully and we decided to run across it to warm ourselves up. That’s when I decided to treat my kids to hot-chocolate. So after crossing the bridge back, we quickly hopped in the car and drove to a local bakery/coffee shop we visit often.
We arrived at the bakery, ordered our drinks and sat down to wait. My oldest had her hot chocolate, my youngest his apricot smoothie. As we waited for our last drink, we began to play dominoes. We had just finished one round when I see a man approaching our table.
He was young – mid-twenties – a combination of hippie, bohemian and rastafarian. He was not dirty. He did not smell. He did not look starved. He had a back-pack and a nice cell phone. He was a healthy young white man with a some dread locks, a beard, colorful clothes, and several earrings who approached me and my kids to ask for money. I’ll call him Bob.
I felt nervous, embarrassed, surprised and unprepared. I had two dollars in my wallet. But I felt uncomfortable giving him the money. I offered to buy Bob food. He requested a grilled cheese sandwich. I left my kids at the table while I went to the bakery counter to order his sandwich. At the counter, I quickly found out he already had a panini sandwich coming.
I felt so foolish. He didn’t really look dangerous, but how should I know? In my country beggars are usually women, children or handicapped men. They look dirty and shabby. Most look hungry, beat and tired. If he does happen to be a young man begging, you better watch out! You literally may be murdered on the spot. Watching street boys in downtown Tegucigalpa is heart-wrenching. They sniff glue to numb hunger pains.
-¡Doña Vicky! ¡Doña Vicky! ¡Regáleme un mango! ¡Regálenos agua!- I still clearly remember the voices of the dirty faced children yelling for my mother across the other side of our fence to provide for a need they had that day: mangoes, water, food. I recall the young boy at a busy Tegucigalpa intersection wiping our windshield with dirty water in order to earn un Lempira (L.1 = $ 0.05). I once met a 10 year-old street girl dressed like a boy. She looked tough, yet she was so exposed and vulnerable.
Poverty… it is so common place in Honduras. There are so many kids that grow up in the streets. No parents, no limits, no protection, no one to teach them right from wrong. It´s survival of the fittest in the Central American city jungles. My “middle-class” me sometimes would become annoyed at the trash, the dirtiness. Sometimes I felt ashamed of seeing it every day, all the time. Helpless.
Beggars and street kids. I learned to distrust them. I remember once climbing out of a city taxi colectivo (taxi that has a specific route and will load up with as many passengers as will fit) after work at a downtown stop only to watch with fright when a street kid snatched the purse away from the lady that had exited just before me. He ran. She yelled. I was so frightened that I walked quickly under the canopy of central park trees , looking over my shoulder the whole time to see if anyone was after me. It´s a daily battle that most Hondurans have to overcome on their way to work, home, and places of worship. Fear.
This is where I come from. So … it is incredibly difficult for me to have compassion for or even try to begin to understand Bob at the local bakery. He looked wealthy compared to the burka-clad women begging, rocking back and forth, palms up on the streets of Kabul. Unlike the blind and mentally handicapped boy I saw begging at the night market in Chang Mai, Bob’s body looked intact.
Why are able bodied, well-fed and overall healthy men begging on the sides of the interstate ramps when illegal immigrants are busting their tails off working long and hard hours to send half of their paycheck home so that their families can have a better life (this is a very complicated issue)? It’s just hard to understand. It’s culture-shock.
I bought Bob a drink (non-alcoholic, please) because the cashier convinced me not to get him his grilled-cheese sandwich. Then we left. I thought about his mom, he’s someone’s boy. He is loved. So are you. And after all, I’m a beggar, too. I need Jesus. I want to be more sensitive to His Spirit and not be afraid.
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”