by Josh Hardcastle
We wanted a cold coke (and I use “coke” as the Texan term for “soda”). That’s all we wanted, and, after being stuffed full of corn tamales for lunch, Dr. Moore, Julie, Poleth and I wobbled our way to a tienda to purchase a few.
Once at the tienda (the best one in Chajul I might add), I promptly purchased a Pepsi – they didn’t have actual Coke, which is my preferred drink – for five quetzals ($0.65) and did an about-face to exit the store.
As I did so, my eyes met his. His age was all of three. His pants were ripped, and he was covered in dirt.
He held out his hand wanting money – money which I could not give him, for I had agreed not to give to panhandlers in Chajul.
“No,” I said sadly. “I can’t.”
Our group walked away, and he began to follow us.
“Great, he’s not going to give up,” I thought. I wanted so badly to give him something, and then I looked around.
I saw poverty all around me.
I noticed the sheds in which the Chajulense people live.
It suddenly occurred to me that everyone here is in poverty, yet this was the first time someone has asked me for money.
Why is this?
People here are malnourished, work for next to nothing and live in buildings that we in America would considered “condemned;” yet, when we “gringos” have walked down the street, none of them have asked us for money.
Instead, they have greeted us with barrages of “hola” and “buenos dias.”
I realized there was a reason I was asked not to give to just one person. Everyone here needs help – help for which they don’t ask.
Though they are what I would consider “immensely impoverished,” they have a dignity about them that inspires me.
My realization didn’t make it easier to walk away from the boy, but I knew that enabling his begging would, in effect, change the dignity of Chajul. Instead of “holas” being given to passing gringos, pleas for money would fall upon their ears.
Eventually, the boy left, but the his image remains engrained in my head.
I still want to give to him, but I cannot give him money; I cannot corrupt the dignity of Chajul.
Instead, I shall give back in another way: service.
It has been said, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
Giving the boy money would not have helped him. I am confident in that. From this day on, though, I make it my vow to help him and the people of Chajul lead better, healthier lives.
This service is a gift of love and respect of their dignity. Giving money would corrupt that dignity, so, instead, I give my service.
I give myself.