Friday, November 2, 2012

Oh Yeah??? Well… Well… -- by Josh

I always find it frustrating to yell at someone in a language other than English.  Not because I’m yelling at someone, mind you, but because my lack of fluency hinders the scope of that anger from getting through. Angry words really need to roll off the tongue for maximum efficacy, and it's also helpful to have full command of insults so that just the right amount of sting is given without accidentally dropping a word that is too strong.
I found myself in just that type of situation today.  Zora and I were out taking care of some errands (which she said is her favorite thing to do, once she learned what the word "errand" means), which included a trip to the grocery store.
We did an overly-thorough job of shopping and headed out to the sidewalk to await a taxi. I'd already been asked for money once or twice before getting to the store, and upon leaving I was asked again.
"No, not today," I replied, despite the man's pushy persistence, and I moved our selves and our cart to a different part of the sidewalk.
I was, admittedly, already a bit grumpy when the old lady tried to get my attention.  She motioned for me to come to her but, as I was holding Zora’s hand and watching a cart full of groceries, I stayed put and asked her what she needed.  She kept motioning for me to come to her, and I kept telling her to just tell me what she needed.
This was all taking place in front of a huge line cued up, waiting to get into the bank inside the store.  The people in the line started to get impatient with me. “She can’t walk! Go to her!” they said, as though she were my own grandmother and I’d let her fall, and lay there on the sidewalk helplessly as I coldly ignored her.
I looked at them like the idiots they were, showing that I was kinda busy at the moment and that she could just use the same voice she’d used to get my attention in the first place to explain what she wanted.
Finally, a well-dressed man in the line went over to ask her, at which point she showed us the empty pill sleeve, meaning that she needed some pesos to get her medication.
This is nothing new and I have no problem helping out little old ladies, so I dug in my pocket for coins, pulled out a couple and handed them to Zora to give them to the lady.
As soon as Zora dropped the coins into her hand, the same man went over and very loudly asked her how much I’d given her.  “SIX PESOS?!? What are you going to do with six pesos???” he exclaimed.  He grabbed the money out of her hand and shoved it back into mine.
“What a jerk,” I thought, shocked by such a nosy, rude person.  I left it at that and continued our wait for the taxi. 
We waited and waited, and finally Zora asked me to let her give the lady some money again.  Now, I constantly get asked for change. CONSTANTLY.  It is no coincidence that Granny singled me out, despite the very long line stretching in front of her, full of Dominicans waiting to put money into the bank, most dressed much nicer than me.  And I would never claim to be anything but stingy, despite the fact that I always give to people who are obviously unable to work.  That being the case, I’m not going to toss around large amounts of money on a regular basis, for better or worse. I certainly could have given more and it wouldn't have hurt. However, it's also a reality that I am usually being watched and observed, and if people see me randomly giving out bills to people it warps their image of the kind of money I have and carry around.  
Anyhow, I found the rest of the coins in my pocket (including the tip I was going to give to the kid from the store who was supposedly getting me a taxi) and dropped them in Zora’s hand.  Zora repeated the drill, and when Old Lady Change Stealer did what I figured he would, I loudly intervened: “What’s it to you?" I asked him, continuing with: "It’s none of your damn business what my daughter just dropped in her hand, so butt out of it.”  I was pissed.
“I’m just checking to see that you gave her what you’re really able to give to her,” he replied.
“How dare you judge me,” I countered.  “I didn’t see you give her a cent.  What’d you give her? Huh? Tell me.  That’s right, all you’re handing out is your worthless opinion, so keep it to yourself.  Try some actions, not just your useless words.” (Fairness Note: Zora insists she saw him give her money, but it could have been one of her imaginary friends.)
It was also interesting to note that the lady did not allow him to take the money away from her the second time.  Is it possible that she agreed with me?
Anyway, the entire time I was trying to stifle the temptation to go general, to ask why on God’s green earth this sweet old lady has to BEG for her medication in the first place, why her society doesn’t provide that to her when there’s plenty of money around, like in the pockets of this guy who probably owns a business and pays his workers a wage that only the financially miraculous can scrape by on. Huh? Tell me that!
I chose not to go that route though, given persistent guilt about the last time I took similar actions in a Bulgarian sandwich shop (another blast from the past blog post?).  I calmed myself down, since he had shut his pie hole by then, and within a couple of minutes the taxi had shown up.  The checkout kid magically appeared to get the groceries in the trunk (unnecessarily) and was disappointed, I’m sure, to get no coins from me (strike 3 against the greedy gringo!).
It was over the next hour, of course, that some clearer thoughts entered my head.  Maybe that’s why I love the writing process so much.  I love the editing, the clarification, finding just the way I want to say something prior to saying it.
I thought about this strange expectation that I alone was responsible for giving this old woman a large sum for her medication, despite the fact that the next time I go out I’ll have several of the same requests.  I thought about the judgmentalism from the crowd and the detachment from their own responsibility towards this woman.
I also cannot help but wonder if that guy is a politician.  The way he did things reminds me of all the public works projects, no matter how small, that are plastered with the name of the politician who sponsored it.  It cracks me up, because it’s as though they’d used their own money to complete the project, whereas they simply managed to do their job.  It did not escape me that he didn’t express any interest at all in giving her money (if he indeed did so) until he’d had the chance to embarrass the American and make himself look high and mighty.

Finally, I decided that a good tack would have been to point something out.  To offer to educate this man, who was acting rather maleducado, with a cultural and academic lesson.  In many countries, people pay their taxes and those bits make up a large bunch, and when that money is used correctly it allows every senior citizen full health coverage.   Now, at least 40 people walked past this woman, and every one of them knew exactly what she needed without her having to ask.  If each person had given her 6 pesos, that would be 240 pesos. In that situation, she’d have plenty for her medication.  I can only hope that the disgust I stirred up in those folks inspired a few to help her out sufficiently.
Anyway, the point is that it’s not supposed to be on just a few people, but rather on everyone to chip in a little to create a system to take care of the weak or unable in society. 
Another option, of course, would be to conscientiously elect leaders who ensure that tax money (and there's no shortage of taxes here!) is used for the well-being of all.  I'm just saying.
Until we come together to do just that, both Old Lady Change Stealer and myself are in the same camp: wrong, and simply unhelpful.  There was a silver lining to all of this. After I'd vented to Rebecca about the confrontation, Zora came out of her room with a handful of change. "Next time we go out, I want to give this to a poor person," she told us.  Now, if we can just help her, Max and all the other kids in children's classes to think a little more systematically about this, we might avoid being in Grandma's shoes when that time comes.

**(I understand that there are pharmaceutical dispensaries for the poor here, but apparently only a few medications are available at a time, though in large quantities)

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