29 December 2010

Crackers, and why I don't have any

I'm ready to head out the door, so I do my checks: keys (check), phone (check), money (check), sunglasses (check), mace (check), crackers...gone. It's no surprise, really. I can't go outside anymore without crackers. They used to be for me. I hate being without a snack in case I get stuck in traffic or my errands take longer than I think. But lately, I find I'm putting them in my purse for my...posse.

I hesitate to call them that, but I can't think of a better moniker. After all, they're part security team, part fan club, and always trying to sponge off me. Their leader is about ten, and I call him Sandal Kid. The first time I met him, he told me he needed new sandals. Talking with kids is a good way to practice Creole, so I engaged him about school (he doesn't go) and his family (he said his mom died in the earthquake...still not sure if that's actually true).

But he was persistent. "Buy me some sandals," he insisted. "You don't have to come with me, just give me the money." I pointed out that he already had sandals, as he does every day…he claimed they were borrowed, as he does every day.

I told him maybe another day, which was my attempt at cultural politeness (they don't like to say no). I've been telling him that for about six months now, and he still asks me every time I see him along the road.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I don’t have anything for you. Maybe another day.”

It was true in one sense—I didn’t have anything for him. But untrue in another sense—I wasn’t sorry. His greediness bugged me. Because if he wasn’t asking for sandals, then it was food. If it wasn’t food, it was money. If it wasn’t money, it was a free ride in the MAF car. He was willing to take me for whatever he could.

And yet, I was convicted by how irrelevant that was…and my poor attitude. Little by little, God kept putting the truth in my path. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. I’ve heard that verse pushed aside due to cultural context…but it kept coming up, in my context. I’m still not sure exactly what it means, but it seemed pretty clear in other verses as well that when given the opportunity, it was better to give.

Somehow, even before I'd felt convicted to give more, the group started getting bigger. Now I'm up to four kids who I see on a regular basis, though not always together. They like to come to the gate and antagonize my dogs...because then I come out. “We’re hungry,” Sandal Kid says. “And thirsty,” he adds. Peeking in my gate’s door, he says, “You need to cut your grass. I’ll do it for you…if you pay me.”

I thought about it for about five seconds before I said no. “I can’t give you a job, you’re too little to work. You need to go to school.”

“How am I supposed to learn to work if no one will give me a job?” he yells, dramatically throwing his hands in the air. “Buy me some sandals!”

I shake my head. “That’s your family’s job,” I tell him.

He lights up. “Oh, you want to give my family a job? I can go get my dad…”

I shake my head again. “No, I mean, it’s not my job to buy you sandals. You’re not my kid.” He seemed to understand that better. I wasn’t exactly sure what the liability of hiring a kid was, and I’m not willing to risk an angry family member coming to my gate. I gave them crackers and water in tin cups and waited in the sun while they finished. They didn’t thank me.

My posse came to the gate every day for a while, until I told them that I couldn’t feed them every time they came. I can’t stand the idea of them becoming dependent on me for their survival, but I still see them along the road, frequently…and frequently, they give me the opportunity to share.

On Tuesday, I gave Sandal Kid and his friend two rubber bands…and they shared the package of crackers I’d put in my purse for him. They’re his crackers now, and he knows it. And I’m still learning how to imitate the giver of all good things, one package at a time.

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