“No gracias” we tried to tell the little Guatemalan boy after he repeatedly asked us to buy his homemade bracelets for fifteen quetzals.
“I give you for ten quetzal” he smiled, but with a look of desperation in his eyes.
“No gracias, we bought las pulseras yesterday.”
He understood, but he would not leave us. He had been taught to follow around Americans because he knew they would eventually give in. We saw many children with bare feet and raggedy clothes and would normally feel guilted into giving them a few quetzals, but this had already happened to us so many times that we were used to having the kids follow us around.
We thought we would escape him when we entered the restaurant to have dinner, but the boy followed us in there. The trip leader mumbled something to him in Spanish, pointed to the door, and he quickly left. We enjoyed our dinner without thinking about the boy again, but afterwards, we walked outside, and he approached us once more.
“Special price for you five quetzals” he said, this time without the smile.
“No gracias” we replied again, just trying to turn away so he would leave.
Still, he was relentless. He followed us onto our bus and finally made one of the girls give in.
“I only have American money,” she said.
“We take American! We take American!” he yelled as his face lit up.
She handed him a ten dollar bill. “Here just keep this,” she said.
The boy yelled, “Gracias! Gracias! Thank you!” and then he started to cry. Tears streamed down his face as he jumped up and down with excitement. He walked off the bus with the bill tightly in his hands, sobbing and giggling at the same time.
The rest of us sat in the bus quietly, thinking about what just happened. Our spare change was probably enough money to feed his family. The clothes we wore and the bags we carried were probably the cost of their homes. Our lives were so different.
This small encounter with the Guatemalan boy truly made me think how much I had in my life and how little I appreciated it. I was aware of the poverty in countries like Guatemala, but meeting kids who were living through it was much more powerful than reading about their stories online or in magazines. I complained about not having smart boards in every classroom or not having the new iPhone, but these kids had nothing compared to me, and they smiled in the face of despair. I had a family, a home, a safe neighborhood, and so many other blessings, and when I returned from my high school study abroad trip I felt that these were things I would never take for granted again.