Another day in
Lauren went off to work and I did a little more research on graduate schools and internships before heading off to have lunch with my friends who clean windshields. I was determined to exercise some demons and again took the bus, despite yesterday’s difficulties. The 106 and the 119 treated me very well today, and I made it to Metrocentro in about 30 minutes.
The kids spotted me when I was about 50 yards away and came running up to greet me. The five from yesterday, Carlos, Milton, Ninoska, Sonia, and Kevin, along with two more kids circled around me and started speaking way too quickly for me to understand. After a few minutes Sonia’s mother came over; she sells sunglasses on the street, and there was some issue about who was allowed to join me for lunch. Initially Sonia’s mother sent her back to work, meaning she would not eat with us. I realized how much I enjoyed her company by how upset I became. I tried my best to convince her mother to let her come, and eventually she consented. There was more discussion and eventually the regular five and a little boy named Ysaac were allowed to come.
These kids work on the streets for most of the day so clearly their experiences have forced them to grow up prematurely. Underneath all of the poverty, dirt, and hunger, however, they are still kids. Sonia and Ninoska excitedly brought with them plastic bags of clean clothes to change into. They hurried off to the bathroom and emerged smiling like they had just put on their prom dresses. It was an adorable scene. I have been thinking about how to most accurately describe that moment. Maybe the best way of putting it is perhaps I got a glimpse of how God sees us. Hopefully that makes sense, it’s hard to explain.
The kids wanted to eat at Pollo Campero again so we again ordered a family meal and found a place to sit. I had already eaten yesterday when I took them to lunch and they had insisted that today I dine with them. I went to get more plates and when I returned they had given out the food, placing a huge breast, an entire bag of fries, and a soda at my place. Although this might not seem substantial, I found it telling of their generosity since not only did they give me the biggest piece of chicken but also there weren’t enough fries or cups to go around. These street kids were more concerned with me, a rich American, getting a good meal than their own wellbeing. Amazing. They spurned my attempts to trade pieces of chicken, and eventually complied when I told them I wasn’t very hungry. Only when I pulled out my water bottle and told them I would rather drink that did Ninoska accept the soda. It was quite humbling.
We had a great time learning some English words for foods and household items as well as drawing pictures and doing math problems. When they asked me if I had a big house in the
At one point Sonia asked me (this took about 5 repetitions and hand motions for me to understand) if I was spending a lot of money on these lunches. How does one respond to that? I told them it was fine, not a problem. They then insisted that on Friday they would only eat ice cream because I was spending too much on their food. Again, I was humbled by their selflessness. I did my best to tell them they could get whatever they want on Friday, hopefully my point got across.
I’ve been thinking a good amount about how I can best serve the kids. My friend Andrew gave me good advice, telling me, “You want to give them a tool, not a crutch.” I know that simply taking the kids to lunch is not a permanent answer to their problems. I am hoping that the small amount of English I teach them is a helpful skill. Most importantly, though, I hope that they feel loved, cared for, and special for a couple hours a day. I’m excited to see them again tomorrow.