I’m eleven years old. My boss is giving me directions somewhere:
“It’s right next to the Combi stop. You’ll know it because of the huge Wang on the corner.”
Wang = large grocery store that I have never heard of. It doesn’t stop me from laughing for five solid minutes, and then again, every 40 seconds or so, for the rest of the meeting. The harder I try to suppress it the worse it gets. It’s not even really funny until you’re trying to behave like a grown-up in front of your boss. Then it’s as if I’ve never heard anything funnier.
“There is officially nothing that could happen on a Combi anymore that would surprise me.” Not even an hour after announcing this to my housemates, I walk down to Quince to grab a Combi up to Zone Z. I wait and wait. The Z Combi pulls up. It’s full. Half of the Combi is full of people. The other half is full… with a tree. Not like a small tree that someone could buy and maybe plant in their yard, but a giant–headed-to-the-lumber-mill log, that extends the full length of the vehicle. Leaves pressed up against the windshield, through right on out of the back door of the Combi, where the tree, roots and all, extends at least two feet out into the street. The cobrador looks at me: Sube?
Sometimes if you have a backpack or suitcase with you that’s too big, they make you pay for the space that bag is taking up too. So if I get on with a full bag the cobrador will analyze the size of it very seriously and then quote you whatever extra price. And they’re always all official when they’re quoting you the extra cost. Like as if he’s not just pulling that number out of thin air. Like maybe there’s actually some chart somewhere he’s memorized:
Bag – 12x15inches = 10 cents.
I would love to have been on there when whoever it was Sube-ed with that tree.
Arbol? – 2 soles!
So I sube, because whatever, it could not be any weirder than this, and I need to be somewhere. I step over the tree and hang on. A few minutes later the driver veers off to one side of the road, and starts screaming maniacally out the window. I look out to see that we just missed killing a man crossing the road on…wait for it….STILTS. Stilts. Yeah. The full on circus clown, parade type of stilts. Although I assume he’s using them to paint houses or some other something that’s way less fun than a parade. But all the same. It’s STILTS. And what makes it even better is that he’s carrying two bags filled with groceries, purchased from, what I can only assume must have been an outdoor market without a roof…or possibly a very large Wang…..
What I carry with me when I leave the house normally:
– The equivalent of 75 american cents
– 3-4 rocks to defend myself from dogs
What I had when my bag got stolen yesterday:
– Cell phone
– A two-ish pound wallet containing 16 different types of credit cards, 3 forms of ID, and about 75 random business cards
– Somewhere on the order of 7-10 pens
– Huge bottle of water
Obviously, I’m the most torn up about the loss of the snacks….
One of the women in our program has a flower shop, and I go by once a week and buy a big beautiful, bouquet for the equivalent of 2 USD. Anytime anyone sees me walking with them, even total strangers, they will just stop and ask me, “who died?” It’s sorta sad that there’s never a happy reason to buy flowers here. When I tell them that no one is dead, they don’t really believe me. They figure it must be a failure of my Spanish, so they just annunciate a little harder: “Whoooo is deeaad?” No one. No one is dead. They shake their heads at me. “I’m buying them for decoration for the house.” This doesn’t go over well, because I must seem like a rich, wasteful gringa buying this stuff for decoration. So now I just kill off a relative a week and try to keep track of who went last…
“How many great-aunts do you have exactly?”
Once a week, I bring leftover food up to Zone Z to feed a few of the hungrier, friendlier dogs. Usually it’s food that’s going bad from earlier in the week. This week there wasn’t much, so I supplemented it with some crackers and milk I bought from a local market. I was up there at a different time of day than usual, so this time, a few minutes after I started feeding the dogs I was surrounded. By dirty, sad, starving….children….
One little girl, maybe four or five, extends her hand out to me shyly:
– I saw you were throwing away food.
– I’m not. Um. I’m not throwing it away. I am um, feeding, the, um….dogs
She eyes me quizzically.
– You are throwing it away. On the ground.
– Yes. But. Um. (I’m sweating like I’m in an interrogation room, now and probably looking as guilty.) I’m not throwing it away, I’m feeding them.
– Feed me?
I give her and the rest of the kids the food and slink away feeling like just the worst kind of jerk. How am I feeding dogs when people are hungry? I dunno. I try to make excuses about it. You can’t just walk up to random children on the streets and give them food. I mean, at home, it’s exactly the sort of thing our parents warn us about. Don’t take treats from strangers. So am I going to now go and be that stranger. Hey kid, want a Zagnut? Futhermore, most of the food is rotten/rotting anyway. It’s okay for dogs, but I’m not going to proudly hand over food I’d have thrown away to some growing child, right? I give it to the dogs because they’re, well, dogs! They eat whatever…And what if their parents were around? What an insult for a parent working hard to provide for their child if some self-righteous gringa just showed up and started bringing their kids food. You can’t provide well enough, so let me? I dunno. I don’t feel right about it. It doesn’t make any of it seem any less like an excuse though.
So what do I do? Stop feeding the dogs? Hide it better? Feed the kids too?