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Vida, Por Favor This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     On the flight to a luxury vacation in Peru with my boyfriend Danny, I imagined endless beaches, warm ocean waves, and an exotic jungle. But outside the airport, I was greeted with something quite different. Within the first 10 minutes, the poverty struck me forcefully. Shacks slapped together with rotting boards, grass roofs, or discarded resources passed for homes.

When the taxi slammed to a halt at a stop light, a dirt-smeared little boy ran right in front of our car. He put down a piece of cardboard and wiped his nose with his hands. Bending down, he put his hands on the cardboard and lifted his legs to do a handstand. With legs wiggling back and forth, he took his hands away and stood on his head. He tied his legs in knots, then quickly shot to his feet. The boy ran to my window.

“Colaboreme con algo, se&ntild;orita? Por favor?” Everyone in the car ignored him, looking straight ahead as though he didn’t exist. His puppy-dog eyes looked straight into mine. I turned to Danny and asked what he had said.

“Oh, he’s just begging for money,” he said casually, “for food and stuff. We just ignore those people.” The light turned green and the cab sped off. I looked back to see the kid fall sadly to the curb.

We just ignore those people? Those people? Is this really how people treat those who beg for a chance at life?

Walking through the streets the next day, a girl came up behind me and tugged at my skirt with sad eyes. She whimpered, “Por favor, se&ntild;orita? Una ayudita?” Danny grabbed my hand and sped up his pace.

“No me moleste,” he snapped at her. With shoulders slumped, she sadly turned away.

Danny and his family quickly taught me to say No gracias (no, thank you) and no me moleste (don’t bother me), but I never used these phrases.

As we’d walk down the crowded streets, and Danny wasn’t looking, I’d slip the kids some money. One time he caught me.

“You’re giving them money? You know that they’ll give it to their parents who’ll just buy alcohol.”

I was shocked. “No, I don’t know! Maybe they really need food! I’ve never seen anything like this before! Poor people at home are on welfare. Maybe they live in a ghetto, but they probably eat every day. These people obviously don’t, and they need help! People will probably never give them the opportunities they need, just because of their class in your society, Danny. So I should help them as much as I can. Ten soles is a lot to them, and it’s only three dollars to me, that’s nothing! But that would buy them at least four burgers. So I don’t care if you can just ignore ‘those people,’ I can’t.” Danny didn’t know what to say, so we didn’t talk all the way home.

Two weeks later, Christmas week, Danny and I were enjoying some candies and an Inca Kola as we watched a movie. Children’s laughter danced up the hall from the front yard, and then the doorbell rang. Danny put on his shoes. “I think the stupid kids next door are screwing with the doorbell again,” Danny said, and ran downstairs. I heard voices and was curious to know what was taking him so long. I started down the stairs, but Danny stopped me before I reached the bottom.

“Gina, Peru is a third-world country and not everyone has the kind of money you have in the United States. After Christmas, kids go house to house telling you they adore your lights, and asking to sing for money and food. Usually I slam the door in their faces, but what you said really got me thinking, so I invited them in so you can see this part of Peru.”

I smiled at him and turned the corner to see four grubby boys in his living room. They sat on the floor wearing ragged clothing, painted in dirt and oil. Their greasy hair stuck to their heads; the diesel and dirt stench perfumed the room. They sat in a circle, each with an instrument. One had two bent stainless steel spoons, the smallest had two rocks, the other a bottle, and the last sat with his hands poised above a box. I listened to them sing and play, watched them dance, and saw them laugh and giggle.

When they finished, they anxiously waited for what Danny would bring them from the kitchen. He came out with four cups of Inca Kola and their faces lit up. The room fell silent as they drank. They looked at each other over the rim of their cups, smiling. They finished and burst into laughter. Danny gave them each four cookies, and five soles.

“Mas Inca Kola?” he asked.

“Si, si, si,” they said. He poured them each another glass, and I don’t think they’d ever been so excited. Even though they were hungry, dirty and begging for food, money and toys, they were happy with a cup of Inca Kola, cookies and $1.53. Danny saw the tears fall from my eyes and grabbed my hand as we watched the kids laugh and go through their bag of toys that others had given them.

“Never seen kids like this, huh?” he asked.

“No, not like this.” I hesitated. “Or you caring about this kind of person.”

“Well, you care about them, and you really made me think with that fit you threw in the middle of Lima,” he said, wiping a tear from my cheek. “I decided you were right.”

I laughed, “As usual!”

We followed the kids outside, but Danny had secretly called a cab so we could all go out for burgers.

“They’ve probably never had a meal as big as the one they’re about to get!” he exclaimed as we crawled into the cab.

“Probably not,” I said, “and I don’t think you’ve ever had a heart as big as the one you have right now.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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musicprincess This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 6, 2011 at 10:35 am
This is very touching. I hope more people could be like that.
 
Bethani said...
Mar. 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm
Awww! how touching! im happy to know others care about those in need.
 
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