All across Latin America, cities have zonas peatonales, where vehicles are not allowed, with a few exceptions in the early morning for deliveries. They make for wonderful gathering centers, for both tourists and locals alike. It’s nice to sit at a table streetside and watch everyone go by.
But… there is a constant stream of people selling things, usually women and young children. You can be sure that as soon as this little girl is old enough to walk and talk, she will not be going to school. She will be selling friendship bracelets or little toys on the street. I told her mother that I wasn’t buying anything, but that I would pay for a photo. I think I gave her 50 pesos, or about $2.50, half the minimum wage for a day in Mexico.
Immediately, every other woman and child selling on the street surrounded me, offering their wares. I suppose I could have bought a photo from each of them, but it was our first day, and I wanted to relax. So I didn’t. I shook my head and said “No, gracias” for several minutes until the last of them finally drifted away.
This is a constant struggle when I travel in the third world. It feels wrong to eat a meal that for me is cheap, but which is unaffordable for the kid selling chicles, but I have to eat. Rene bought a bunch of blouses for his wife and daughters while we were here. Today he got a couple hand embroidered ones for 60 pesos each. That is $3 for two days of work plus materials. I don’t know if he bargained. Probably not. Bargaining is another thing I am uncomfortable with. I know it is a cultural thing, but if an item is already inexpensive for me, why would I haggle over an amount which is negligible from my point of view and the cost of a meal from theirs?
I got lucky. I was born male and white in the United States. That’s about as privileged as it gets. I’ve never been rich, but I am to these kids. They would seem rich to some kids I encountered in India, and both are lucky not to have been born into a war zone such as Syria or Rwanda. Luck of the draw.
So, what do you do? I could give every beggar some money until I ran out. I could buy something from every person selling on the street until I was broke. I don’t think either would do much good. It hurts to sit at my meal shaking my head at everyone approaches, gradually numbing to the desperate faces of kids. They are kids. They should be playing, laughing, running, not toting bales of cheaply woven crap around trying to sell to tourists who live a life they can never have.
I could sit inside. Hide from them. Or I could stay in the US, and really hide from them, as my government kidnaps them and locks them up to keep them out. That’s what most Americans do.
Maybe I should just buy a photo from everyone who approaches me. That doesn’t feel quite right either, but I like it better than just handing out money or buying stuff I don’t need. Of course that leaves the old woman who has twice asked me for money as I walked down the street. She asked for one peso. I offered 20 for a photo. She dismissed me scornfully both times and walked off.