Buenos Noches again dear readers! It is so hard to believe that we only have one more full day here in San Cristobal. For me this day began and ended in tears. This morning when I went to get my coffee at breakfast time I was suddenly overcome by a wave of homesickness. I felt lonely and just wanted to be home with my family and my familiar surroundings. The waterworks were short lived, but took me a bit by surprise since I have never been one to get homesick. This trip has been a wonderful experience, but this is the longest I have been away from my home by myself in a very long time.
This evening ten of us went out to dinner at what has become a favorite dining place on Real de Guadalupe, one of the pedestrian shopping streets downtown. While we were eating a young boy came around and asked Pam if he could shine her shoes for 20 pesos. She had been hoping to do so before leaving so she agreed and he set to work. It was 9:30 pm and I could just see the top of his head at the end of the table bobbing up and down as he shined her shoes. I lost it right there and the tears flowed. It just did not seem right that a child would be out working at that time of night working through the restaurants with his shoe shining kit. He worked with gusto and I caught a glimpse of his sweet face looking at Pam with an impish grin as he showed off his expert polishing skill. Dave S. asked him a few questions and I am sorry that at this moment I do not recall his name, but we found out that he was 10 years old. He did attend school and worked for 3 hours every day. He had been shining shoes for three years and his brothers and sisters also worked in a similar manner. A few minutes after he left our table Dave noticed he had left a container of shoe polish behind so he went to find him. He had moved to another table in the restaurant.
A few moments later another boy about the same age came to our table selling the little clay animals that all of us have already purchased, probably for 5 pesos each. So we said, “No, gracias.” He was standing over my shoulder and began placing the little figures on the table, naming each one; cerdo (pig), armadillo, ganso (goose), les (hen). His voice was sad and tired and I looked up over my shoulder into a set of very dark, very sad and tired eyes. Dave explained that all of us already had purchased the animals and I again looked into those sad eyes and said, “No gracias.” One by one he placed the animals back in his basket and went on to another table.
In our reflection time tonight Chris asked us to name some of the ways we have moved out of our comfort zone during this trip, either deliberately or by accident. For some of us it was the language difference, for some it was getting lost in a strange place, for some it was being willing to engage strangers in conversation. I think one of the things that sends me right out of my comfort zone is the children selling in the marketplace. It makes me sad to say, no gracias. It makes me sad to simply see; to see the poverty, to see the need. At the same time it makes me sad to know that I might not see.
Even after only eight days in San Cristobal I can become used to seeing such things to the point that I no longer notice; perhaps much the same way that when something is out of its place in my home for any length of time it sort of becomes a “fixture” – like a laundry basket sitting in the living room. It shouldn’t be there, but maybe we are busy and maybe no one takes time to put it away, so we walk right by it day after day. Then one day we get a visitor and we suddenly take a look around and notice everything that is out of place, including the laundry basket.
This United Seminary Global Justice Trip is all about becoming aware and taking notice of what there is around us that needs to be seen. Sometimes it is difficult to gain that awareness because we can get so wrapped up in our busy lives. I think tonight when I reacted tearfully about the boy shining Pam’s shoes it was that sort of moment when my eyes were again opened to the effects of injustice in this world. It will be interesting to see what home looks like when I return.