[:en]“Señor, ¿me puede abrir esto?”
A little girl approached me, she must have been about six years old. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in children’s ages, but after being around children every morning and evening, I was able to say her age with certainty.
“Señor, ¿me ayuda?”
She lifted a sippy cup up to me as high as she could, and looked me in the eye, right there, at a mall in Lima, Peru, the most unlikely of places, as I waited to try a restaurant’s attempt at teriyaki chicken.
For the past five months, I have been in Cusco, Peru. I was volunteering at a school for the children of the city, from ages of 5 to 15. Saying goodbye to them was difficult, but what made it even harder was that my trip had not been exactly what I was expecting.
I was looking out the window of my bus, stopped on the corner. Two men were talking to two other men on a motorcycle. Ladies selling food next to them on the sidewalk. I looked away for a second, when I heard a two gunshots.
Then another three. And six more.
Time stopped as one of them hit the ground, and the other tried to run.
The motorcycle sped up and turned the corner, directly across from me. Took out the gun, and fired again.
The other man hit the ground.
People were screaming and running, one of the ladies from the food carts was hiding behind her cart, still in shock.
I thought of his family, he was likely a father, as he was lying there, lifeless, with his arm over his head, and bright red oozing out of his rib area. The other man stood up, and went toward the body. He was confused.
Walking out of the bus felt odd after that. Everything that you hear on television about violence in South America, you try to think that the media is exaggerating. You try very hard to think that people are genuinely good and that there’s nothing to be afraid about. But then, you see what it is really like.
I saw kids selling handcrafted gloves and hats out on the street at three in the morning.
Kids with torn shoes. A boy sleeping in a cardboard box.
Men sleeping next to a dogs out on the street.
And now, a man die.
In a place where people come to spend thousands of dollars to stay in nice places, try good food, and see one of the wonders of the world, we see this kind of poverty —because violence absolutely has to stem from some type of poverty, emotional poverty, perhaps. What else could lead a person to kill another? Money can’t solve that. And can money solve alcoholism or drug abuse?
I think we have this all wrong.
My thoughts were hopeful once I sat down to have dinner by myself, when I was interrupted by a drunk man grabbing my shoulder saying “buen provecho!”
A man with no legs arrived in a wheelchair asking for money.
I stood up to grab money from my pack when the waitress ran toward me, thinking I would run off without paying.
Are we all just scared? What has gone wrong here?
That night, those thoughts were the ones that drove me to sleep. i thought of the dead man, the cab driver who tried to charge me three times as much for being a foreigner, the dead man’s family, the scared lady behind her food cart. I thought of the kids from my school. Their letters, songs, hugs, and kisses.
I thought that perhaps leaving them was a mistake.
But there I was, looking at the pink cup that this little girl was holding up to me. Her hopeful smile, knowing that I would be able to open the lid much easier, as if it were some superpower that only adults could do. I saw those kids again right then and there, the reassuring smiles that tell you that you can do anything, because they believe that you can. Unafraid to believe, to wish for what we now consider impossible, but didn’t back then.
Let us not ruin that for them. They deserve to grow up in a better world.
“Si, vamos a ver,” I told her, as I pretended to struggle to open it.
Her face lit up, and she laughed. I saw her laughing, and decided to make funny faces.
She laughed even more.
“!Gracias, señor!” She told me, as she ran back to her little sister.
I smiled so easily that time. I thought about that happy scene for hours. No matter where we are, or where we are going, if we’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, we always have a purpose.
Little ones count too.
News article on shooting event (Spanish): http://diariocorreo.pe/edicion/ica/sicarios-asesinan-de-once-balazos-a-una-persona-en-el-ovalo-de-nasca-626215/
[:en]“Señor, ¿me puede abrir esto?”