I pull myself off the motodope’s bike and drag my heavy bags up the stairs, spending 5 minutes on each stubborn lock I wearily try to negotiate with. I throw everything I own on the bed, grab my engrossing book and a bottle of red wine from the valleys of California, and plop into a chair on the balcony with my feet up and my glass ready. 5 delicious minutes later I find myself spilling wine and pages as I try to swat at the mosquitoes that have turned my legs into the Appalachian mountains. Few have survived the wrath of Shabnam, leaving tiny little reminders spotting my body like a confused Dalmatian. Others…well others obviously did not dare battle such a skilled fighter. Or perhaps the heavy layer of “OFF!” spray I lathered on has deterred them. Frustrated and defeated, I cant help but to consider a striking parallel.
The following evening, I resolved to cook my own dinner. This required a trip to Lucky, a pass through all the salivating items this supermarket has to offer, a Namaste to the cashier, and a long walk home. As I exit the supermarket, a flurry of raggedy children bombard me with their hands outstretched, mumbling words of pity and pleading for my eyes to meet theirs’, knowing all the power and persuasion that lies in a mere glance. I try to let that impressive and depressing glaze that all foreigners have mastered settle over my face. That glaze that numbs us towards the children of poverty and says, “You cannot defeat me! I will not give in to you.” A glaze whose glance stares coldly into the horizon, just a few inches above 10 dirty little hands and 10 desperate little eyes. A glaze that focuses every last thought on the road ahead and the self absorbed preoccupations of the wealthy while ignoring the buzzing sound of the needy.
But they bit. The children bit hard and I scratched. They bit at my heart and I conceded out of pain for their inopportune circumstances. The “OFF!” spray failed me as I stared directly into a little girl’s eyes and wondered what her evening would be like. I wondered how long it had been since she had a shower, I wondered with egocentric embarrassment if she saw me emerge from the decadent gym and supermarket, I wondered where her shoes were, I wondered how often people gave in to her resolute face, quietly stating, “I will not give up on you, please do not give up on me.”
Are the children just like the mosquitoes? Do they live to prey off others and sting as often as possible? Or do they have the option, the possibility, to fly free. To become beautiful butterflies that the world appreciates and cherishes, even studies and idolizes. And what happens when we give in? When we scratch the momentary itch to help them with a piece of bread or a dollar bill, are we proliferating their dependency upon others, stunting them from a desire to become a butterfly and fly free? Or are we simply ridding ourselves of guilt by chanting, “I made one child happy today,” when in reality we know that box of chocolates has not fed her for more than 10 minutes, has not taught her to fish on her own, and will not help her grow wings and be free.
Who is more human? The glazed woman in the dark shades whispering, “Don’t give in. They are better than this, they will never learn otherwise,” suffering from the disappointment that engulfs her. Or the lady with the dreadlocks and canvas tote doling out cookies to the kids whenever they pass, bringing unabashed smiles to their faces. What lies behind our small gestures of humanity and generosity? Are we making the world a better place or setting it further back in attempt to propel ones own self perception up a notch?
How do we choose whether to open our arms, invite the mosquitoes in and suffer the ephemerally contented marks that they leave on our hearts, or to wrap ourselves in invisibility, attempting to force the mosquitoes to become butterflies, independent and free, softly killing us each time they buzz nearby.