(Antigua, Guatemala — December 2000) I glanced up from my plate of rice, beans and perfectly grilled chicken breast. I was nauseous and weak from days of vomiting. Third-world cuisine always leaves me thinner than when I arrive.
In hindsight, I’m not sure if it was the beautiful colors in the woman’s “huipil” or if it was the look of angst on her face that caught my eye. As I gazed out the window of the restaurant I sat in, all I could think about was my own discomfort and what my friends back in the U.S. were doing.
While I contemplated these trivial matters, my father jumped up from his chair. I watched as he grabbed my uneaten plate, bolted out the front door of the restaurant and caught up to the woman I had seen walk by.
The event diverted my attention from self pity to intrigue. What was he doing?
It was then that I realized the woman carried an infant swaddled in a traditional blanket wrapped tightly around her while two more children barely able to walk were desperately trying to keep up with her.
I saw my father offer her the plate of food I was too good to eat. Her reaction changed my life.
She took the food. The look of angst on her face turned to momentary relief. Her children would have a meal today.
I get it.
I get why comfy spoiled Americans like myself, don’t want to welcome indigent children from a third world country. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It disturbs the delicate balance of American life that consists of equal parts consumerism and complacency. It makes Walmart shopping more unbearable. It causes us to stand in line at the DMV with people who haven’t been Keeping up with the Kardashians.
To stare into the eyes of innocent children who have experienced hunger, thirst, fear for their lives, rape, violence and God only knows what else, is too shocking for the average isolated comfy American. It makes question why we are so fortunate while many parts of the world endure suffering we only see in movies.
The world is a harsh place. We need more humanitarians, not Republicans or Democrats. I wonder if that baby I saw 14 years ago swaddled in a blanket around its mother was on that bus that turned away from protesters in Murrieta, CA.
One thing I don’t wonder about is the resiliency of those children.
“Sticks and stones may have broken their bones but misspelled words on a poster board will never hurt them.”
No se rajen!!