The people are starving of love.” — Mother Teresa

Walking over puddles to a coffee shop, the vendor boy with curly hair was sobbing inconsolably in a dark corner. When I first noticed it we had passed him by two meters–and I decided to spin around and involve myself in another something I didn’t want to get into. It would be another something heartbreaking that I didn’t want to hear. Not now…sometimes, I hate my moral obligation of responsibility.

Sighing, I knelt down: “¿Qué pasó, joven? ¿Por qué lloras?”
Perdí todo mi dinero,” he couldn’t look up, he was crying so much his face was swollen, “Me van a pegar, me van a matar.”
His clothes were torn, in the wetness it looked so pitiful, a pocket ripped. This twelve year old had just lost his day’s earnings and was anticipating a severe beating. With $350 in my pocket, I uneasily asked him how much was lost, knowing that now I was involved.
“¿Y cuánto fue, joven?”
$150…” he started crying harder. I started to feel guilty, deliberating what I should do.

….Hand over the money, but I didn’t want him to learn that foreigners had all the monetary solutions. This being Chiapas, even though I had never seen someone with so much terror and agony faking it, I couldn’t be sure this wasn’t a ploy to get sympathizers to part with money. I remember in parts of urban India, how they had beaten and incapacitated beggars in gruesome ways to provoke heart wrenching sympathy, and begging had become a professional business. Then again, this I knew about a darker side of Mexico…once in a while I woke up in the morning to lamenting cries of domestic abuse, the morning sound of a man beating his wife or one of his children crying just like this boy. The violent sound of drunkenness and uncontrolled rage, of fists or something hard against human flesh, the voice of begging that would pierce through my room. Nothing I could do would be enough, and maybe it would make it worse.

Maria works in social services for rape victims, and she is worried about her job too. But really, what do we do with these people? These uncomfortable issues? I decided to keep talking to the boy, because even if I decided not to give money (because I don’t think it would solve anything) perhaps the most important thing is to validate him as a human being, and recognize his pain as much as it made me sick to hear them, and listen to him, rather than walk on by…


So we found out that the vendor boy lost his money in the park, and he proceeded to tell me of what they were going to do to him when he got home. It was violent. I was so sad for him, feeling awful with the money in my pocket, but kept listening. Kept asking. Because you know why?

Easy money doesn’t solve these problems or do any real favors, but even more callous are the majority of people who walk by as if these people were invisible, thinking as I did: “that sucks” and moving on. And the poor do feel invisible, unloved, and unworthy of attention. Victims. They need to feel somehow connected to society, unique, and significant to somebody. They need to feel that society notices them when they’re down.

Maybe open concern and attention was the best thing I could give. I will never know. I told him I was truly sorry about his loss. And I found out the name of the curly haired boy was Elian.


Spanish Words of the Day chaparra” endearment term for short, squat, shorty | “saberes” know-how | “desalentado” discouraged | “indoloro” painless