Sometimes, when I have run out of aqua pura (bottled water) for coffee, I go to a favorite coffee stand, grab a cup to go, and sit in the park and enjoy the usual beautiful morning. This is where much of the sales work to the tourists is done.
Saturday, I met Dulce Maria, a little girl of six, selling cloth bracelets. I usually don't buy from the children because I don't like the idea of perpetuating the cycle. If I buy, they will continue to sell, right? I am losing my resolve. She told me she was thirsty and had to sell bracelets so that she could buy some water. I didn't have any water to offer her so I bought some of her bracelets (the beautiful turquoise one bled into my white hand towel in the bathroom - I'm going to have to be more careful about that).
The next day, I met Jose (pictured above).
Jose is 12 years old and lives in Chimaltenango (about 30 minutes by bus). He tells me that he doesn't have parents and that he rents a room from a Señora. This doesn't make sense to me. I have a hard time believing that it's true, but it very well could be. On the weekends, he works as a 'shoe shine boy' which is a common occupation for a young boy in Latin America. I wear plastic sandals and am not a good target customer(although one child offered to wash my shoes rather than shine them and when I told him it wasn't important to me he passionately insisted that it was important to him) so instead we talked and he showed me the gaping hole in the sole of his shoe. I was glad to hear that he goes to school and he carried his english book with him. He pointed to sayings like 'you are beautiful' and 'it was nice to meet you' - what a clever and charming little boy, verdad? He is also in the church choir and he sang for me the most beautiful song.
If I see Jose on a Saturday, when the market is open, I am going to ask him if I can take him to buy shoes. I know in this case that I'm encouraging behavior that creates dependency. It is a dilemna that I am stuck with. My first time in Guatemala, I shared my lunch with a little boy and when we were done, he asked me if he could have my chicken bones. It broke my heart. I know that I can't take care of everything and so I do what I can and try not think too much about it or judge how deep or honest the need is. And sometimes, I say "no, not today". The alternative is to become immune to it and stop seeing it. I think I'd rather do a little bit here and a little bit there.