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


   I looked in my wallet. Ten George Washingtons stared back. What was I going to do?My Girl Scout troop was going shopping, and with those ten one-dollar bills in mywallet, facing the begging and pleading eyes on the streets of Mexico would be abig obstacle. Before we came here we were told over and over again, "Don'tgive the street beggars any money. That'll just make the problem worse."Most of these lectures were directed at me; I'm a bit of a softy. Maybe I couldsay I didn't have any small change to give them. No, that wouldn't work. Not onlyam I a softy, I am also a terrible liar.

"Hey, does anyone have aten they want to exchange for ten one-dollar bills?" I asked. No response.What was I going to do?

We walked in a pack. I was in the middle withothers who also had a hard time going out in public without giving into theincessant begging. Those who had mastered the art of reciting "No tengodinero" and could keep walking were our wall of defense.

As wewalked from store to store, we passed families sitting on the sidewalk with theirfew possessions. It was a country of opposites. The streets of Mexico City werelined with fancy department stores hoping to attract tourists while the sidewalkswere packed with beggars and street vendors hoping to make a buck, regardless ofhow many times they were rejected. The very rich live and work beside the verypoor - though the poor greatly outnumber them.

The Mexican governmentreminds its wealthier citizens and visiting tourists that if we give handouts,the recipients will never learn to fend for themselves. We were quick to agree;if that's what the government said, it must be the right thing to do.

Ourgroup continued to walk by these families and disregard any beggars whoapproached. Then I saw a little girl pulling on the jacket of an American man.She couldn't have been more than six years old, and her bare feet were coveredwith dirt, her hair was thrown into a messy ponytail, and her dress looked likeit had seen more hardship than most of us would in our entire lives. Just like wehad shrugged off other beggars, he shrugged her off.

She approached ourgroup with her little hands extended. The "outer wall" pretended not tonotice her, but she persisted. Her outstretched hands came toward me and pulledat my jacket. Avoiding her eyes, I looked to the others. They gave me thatjust-keep-walking look. And they walked on.

I would have followed if shehadn't stepped right in front of me and asked in the most innocent voice,"¡Señorita, señorita! ¿Dinero, por favor?"

"Ummm, ahh, no dinero ..." Then I made the big mistake. Ilooked into her eyes, and I was hooked. We have all seen the commercials on TVwith children clothed in rags living in shacks. These images are tear-jerkers,but with a click of a button they disappear, and we forget them. I couldn't justmagically make this little girl disappear. I looked deep into her eyes and sawher life unfold; no television camera can show you that. She was so young, yet itwas her responsibility to go out and get money to feed her family. She didn'teven have the chance to enjoy her simple life as a child. At the age of six, shewas an adult.

"¿Señorita, dinero, porfavor?"

"Si." I reached into my wallet and pulled out adollar. Her eyes, once filled with pain and worries beyond her years, weresuddenly radiating with sheer gratitude because of one single dollar.

"¡Gracias, señorita! ¡Muchas gracias!" Thenshe ran away.

My troop was 30 feet ahead of me, and I ran to catch up.Before I could get back to the safe haven of the middle, I was bombarded byseveral little boys and girls all tugging on my jacket. Again, I looked around atmy troop. Some thought it funny, others glareddisapprovingly.

"¿Señorita, dinero por favor?"Their excited cries echoed in my head. I heard whispers of, "Oh, God, lookat what she started." Then it hit me. Yeah, look at what I started. I gavethem each a dollar.

By the time I put my wallet away, I was very farbehind. Again, I ran to catch up. Instead of seeking refuge in the center, Iremained on the outskirts of the group. I no longer needed their protection, andI would no longer hide from my own conscience. In nature, the weakest animals arepushed to the outside of the pack. I was on the outside, but I chose to be thereand didn't feel weak.

When we arrived back at the hostel, I took anotherlook in my wallet. There wasn't a George Washington in sight.






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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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