Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sabes porque, amigo? Por que eres...

As you travel there are things that happen. Things you just remember. People you remember. Events you remember.

I have this page in my journal that is ripped out. Now, I never rip out any page in my journal because I value those blank pages. I like to keep them and fill them out with ideas, experiences, thoughts, and random ramblings.

There is a weird story about this ripped out journal page that I have and am writing about. This blog entry is about a guy I met in the Plaza Independencia in Santiago, Chile. A bum. A guy who had nothing. A guy who really opens your eyes to how lucky you really are. I wrote on the back of the journal page that I ripped out for him after our encounter.

So here goes.

There are lots of benches to sit on in the Plaza Independencia in Santiago, Chile. Plaza Independencia's are town squares. The cathedral as well as important government buildings border plaza independencia's in South America. The Plaza Independencia is the main place where people to gather and enjoy the day or evening while talking, playing chess, or whatever. There are lots of trees, benches, a statue or two, and lots of folks taking a break between commitments. Its a great place to relax, do some people watching, and write in your journal. It was a very nice night back in early March so I decided to take a seat on one of the many benches and eat some pasta salad with beef strips on top that I had purchased at the grocery store after touring three museums that day. The beef strips in the salad were excellent, but the pasta salad with cilantro was not a choice combo that I enjoyed. Just a bit too much cilantro for me (had a bad experience with cilantro in Mexico). So there was a little bit of peas, corn, some pasta, and cilantro in my little portable dish that I was not going to eat.

In South America Ive become accustomed to taking whatever I dod not eat and giving it to bums on the street or whatever. No sense in throwing food away when someone else can eat what you dont eat. And giving food to someone is always better than giving money. This was a great idea that I learned this from a crazy liberal lady I met in Cusco, Peru. So I saved this to-go platter for any bum that would walk by and ask for some money.

Then this homeless guy walks by. He sticks out hand and asks for "una moneda" (some change). I shake my head and hand him the to-go platter with a fork inside it and then continue to write in my journal. Most bums usually take what you give them and move on. Or Ill be walking along and hand it to them. There is usually no more than a "gracias" exchanged. Well, this time I was sitting down when I handed it to him. So this guy sat down. And he sat down right next to me. He received the salad with open hands and then sat down. I was surprised that he used the fork I had expropriated from the KFC down the block. Two fork fulls later he lifted the to-go platter up to his mouth and wolfed down the peas, corn, pasta, and cilantro as fast as he could. I expected him to leave after that, but we started to talk. He talked, I nodded. It was very difficult to understand him through his mumbled words and I saw that he didnt have any teeth. The odor was repugnant. We sat side by side for about 20 minutes and thought a few different things to myself like, "What is this guy teaching me?" or "Wonder what I can learn about him?" and "I hope this guy doesn't try to hurt me or make some type of move on me." It was tough to sit next to this guy and listen to him. I was trying to be as helpful as possible but was a little jumpy (more jumpy than usual). I tried to make eye contact with a coupla people that walked by, I was trying to find a way out. Someone offered the bum a cigarette and thought that was just great. I was pretty worried that he could go nuts and burn me or something. Crap. I was alternating between worried and not too worried because he would say to anybody that walked by and point to me, "Amigo, aqui hay un caballero" (friend, here is a gentleman) I never felt in danger but didnt feel safe either.

This was just a weird night. Throughout the whole conversation he would say "Sabes porque, amigo...Por que eres caballero (or whatever)" I felt I really needed to get out of there. It started to get uncomfortable. He saw my journal and asked for a piece of paper and pen. All I had was my journal and so I had to rip out a page and offer it to him. He wrote on it "Te Quiero, Amigo" I believe that he was expressing his thanks for the food and time i offered to listen to him. It was just kinda weird. He offered his hand and I shook the grimy hand, looked him in the eye and told him that it was getting kinda late and I needed to get going.

Suddenly he stood up and in a low voice that grew louder as he grabbed his belt area up and down and said "Amigo...amigo...oh, amigo...) I left pretty quickly after that because I really had no idea what was gonna happen after that. Wasnt too sure if he was gonna whip it out or use the restroom right there. Ya just never know. "No tengo plata, ya te auyde, che" ( i dont have any money, i helped ya already, bro). That is when I left and walked home.

What I really got out of this encounter is that it's saddening to see people who have absolutely nothing. People who hafta beg for your spare change. People who dumpster dive for cans to recycle or for scraps of food to eat. They are at rock bottom.

This encounter really drives home the message that you should be very happy with the things you have. Family, friends, a roof over your head, and a little bit of change in your pocket. Stuff we take for granted are the things these people dream of. It makes you feel very thankful for the people around you in your life and the things that you have. Every time you get down on yourself or are feeling like nothing is going your way you should remember that there are people who have it worse. A lot worse.

So here is the little call to action portion of this blog. Why not take some time out of your schedule and help someone out. Instead of going out to the bar or getting a nice meal, use that money you would have spent and donate it to a shelter. Don't have a lot of dough, then donate a coupla hours every week/month. Im pretty sure that you will get more out of your time doing this than just going to the bar and people watching.


Anonymous said...

Well said, James!

The guy was probably a little off but then if I were living on the streets and virtually everyone treated me like a piece of street refuse that had yet to be thrown away - all out of sight and mind - or as a possible threat to be quickly bribed to go away, I'd probably go half-mad in short order myself.

The part that probably made his day was that you sat and listened to his ramblings much more so than the offer of food. That might have been his most meaningful human contact in some time, what with his smell, appearance, etc. It's hard to imagine the degree of isolation he must experience and maybe he felt a bit of his dignity momentarilly restored.

That said, one wonders how to balance the desire to help with that whole "enabling" thing and the real possiblity of getting mixed up in a bad situation - drug addicts, whose responses were unpredictable at best, made up a lot of the bums I encountered during my Euro backpack days. Sad how fear regulates us.


Melissa said...

Very well said, this is my favorite entry. It is so easy to walk by and let someone like that fade quickly out of your memory. You cannot save the world but you can touch one life at a time. You helped that feel "connected" with the world for that moment in time.

Melissa said...

correction *that man

Jenny K. said...

so, did you make an entry in your journal? or will you remember him from the torn out page?

poverty isn't always something that is avoidable. some people aren't always at the blame for being in the state that they're in.

does that mean that you're going to volunteer your time at the ronald mcdonald house or the chicano awareness center when you return? i know they're always looking for people to help!

hope all is still well,

Andy said...

Mr P. ... what's happenin'?!

The way you wrote that story sounded like you were telling it in person. Well written.

Why is it my favority entry too? Well it's one of those stories that may possibly echo for many years to come. The simple things that can easily go un noticed, you have noticed it and scribed it.

Well done Mr. P.

Daniel Fasy said...

Well said. Looking forward to more posts...