Tears and the price of rice and beans
Two nights later, Damarys and I went to do our bi-weekly grocery shopping in one of the poorer neighborhoods on the North side of
The little boy (around 9 or 10 yrs.) looked us in the eye, and in tears began to tell us of how he had been robbed by some older street kid of all the money he earned from selling his little bags of fruit on the street that day. He told us, in a sobbing voice, that if he went home without the money his Mom and Dad were going to beat him badly, please help.
Damarys went over and sat down next to the boy and put her arm around him. I remained standing, analyzing the situation. Over my years of work on the streets, I have learned how to respond to these situations and the first thing I try to do is see what’s the real story. Some times they are invented schemes, which is part of a street kids survival repertoire. But this one felt different.
So, after Damarys comforted him a bit, I sat down on the other side of his sister, looked him in the eyes and asked him: “So, tell me how many years have you worked on the streets? He looked back at me and said, “About 5 years”. So, I said to him, “hey my little buddy, if you have been working on the streets for that long then you should know by now that you need to get your little butt home before it gets dark! What’s the deal, why are you not at home at this time of night?
He then went on to tell us, that they “were on their way home, but the robbery happened on the way to the grocery store where they were going to buy some rice and beans with the money they earned for their family.”
After assessing the story and looking at the boy, who appeared from his style and dress to be telling us, at least some version of the truth, I said to Damarys, “hey, why don’t we help them by buying them some rice and beans to take home?” She looked at me and agreed. I told them to wait for us.
When we got back to the car they were still , waiting for us. We gave them their “rice and beans”. We offered them a ride home, but they did not want a ride. So we negotiated an agreement that if we gave them the rice and beans they had to go straight home. They agreed, gratefully took the rice and beans walked off in the night, stopping occasionally, and looking back at us… with frightened eyes.
Rice and beans, the food of the poor, which continues to be more costly as the months go by. At least for those who are not making millions of dollars in profits from the “world food crisis”.