A Nicaraguan lady sat on the stairs of the Hotel Plaza Colon, a popular hotel in Granada. A group of Lindenwood students and I stayed there during a study abroad trip, and this trip enlightened my views about American society.
The lady had stained clothes and dirt splotches on her body. The expression on her face drew pity from me and my friends. We immediately reached into our pockets to give her our money. I still remember like yesterday the expression on her face: Her eyes stared into space, and they never moved even after we had emptied our pockets.
In my mind I thought, “¿Porque ella no nos dijó gracias?” Why didn’t she tell us thank you?
At the time, I did not express my feelings because I was proud of myself for helping someone in need. Throughout the trip I witnessed homelessness like I had never seen before. Homelessness did not simply mean being without a home; it was a lifestyle for some Nicaraguans. Poverty, lack of shelter, and begging for food and money were typical for some of the locals. It was their way to survive.
One night a group of friends and I went to a restaurant where a group of Nicaraguan children were performing and selling goods to the tourists. I enjoyed the performances but I did not want to continue giving away my money. Instead, I decided to share some of my food with one of the children. I asked the waiter for an additional plate, and placed some of my tacos and French fries on the plate. One of the younger boys kept staring at me while I was eating. I told him to come over to my table. The little boy quickly came to the table, but as I placed the plate in front of him all of the children gathered around us and began reaching for his food. A fight broke out between the little boy and another boy. My heart was pounding because I had never seen children fight over food in this way. There were cries, yells, and screams, and punches that filled the surrounding area. I got up to sit at another table with my friends. My friends accused me of starting the fight because I had given the little boy food.
The little boy decided to come to the table where I was sitting, after he had finished fighting. I asked him “¿Porque tú estabas peleando con los niños? Why were you fighting with the kids?
“Ellos llevaron mi comida entonces yo peleé con ellos porque yo no tengo comida. Por favor dame más comida. They took my food so I had to fight them because I don’t have food to eat. Please give me more food.
Those words from the little boy assured me that homelessness was not just a temporary lifestyle. It is how some lived their lives every day, and it is normal for them.
When I got back to the hotel, the same lady was sitting on the hotel stairs again, this time with two children. Again she had her hand out reaching for money. I looked at the lady and the children, and this time her eyes seemed to look directly into my mind. Though I felt sorry for her, I walked past her and went into the hotel to go to bed.
When I got back to the United States, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in Nicaragua, and how poverty has shaped their mindset. Now when I look at American society I start to think that we are also headed in this direction. Although American and Nicaraguan society have their differences, their citizens are beginning to share the same mindset. Like the Nicaraguans, some Americans are losing the initiative to do to things on their own. They rely too much on aid from the government.
Some Americans do not have the passion to live the American dream anymore because they believe that it does not exist. They cannot imagine a lifestyle outside their own. Similarly, some Nicaraguans do not think that there is another lifestyle besides homelessness.
The trip taught me that even though people live in different countries and have different cultural values, we feel the same emotions and face the same dangers. We all need some guidance as we discover our paths in life, but we also face the temptation to become dependent: to accept the aid of others with never a word of thanks, but only asking for more rather than working to provide for ourselves and for those who have even less than we do.
Andrea Scott is a recent graduate from Lindenwood University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Spanish. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and works for the St. Louis Language Immersion School District. Her dream is to leave a legacy through her writing.