Yesterday we were in Anapra at the Santo Nino Project. As Christmas approaches the wait-time at the international ports of entry to come back to the U.S. gets longer so we went to one of the downtown bridges where there are more lanes. Nevertheless, we were backed up almost to the Cathedral some ten blocks south of the bridge when we began to wait. For the next two hours we inched along the bottleneck before three lanes became five lanes became ten lanes open at the U.S. end of the bridge.
During those hours we were approached countless times by men, women and children who wanted to wash our windows or dust off our dirty Subaru for a dollar. We said, “No,” firmly but in many cases at least part of the job was done before we indicated that we would not pay. “It breaks my heart,” Tracy said. “They should be playing and here they are washing car windows.”
Vendors displayed various items as they walked up and down the lines of cars inhaling the exhaust. We could buy rosaries, bottled water, churros, dvds, artificial poinsettias and a variety of large posters featuring my personal favorite: “Las Princessas”. We said, “No,” again. There was a preacher-amputee sitting on the pedestrian sidewalk praising God and a family band with dad on saxaphone and son on snare-drum. People in wheelchairs and ragged indigenous women with dirty cups in their hands passed by the car asking for money. “No,” again.
A thin young man with a dazed expression tapped on the car window. He moved with us, tapping and tapping, gesturing for a handout. Years of sniffing glue have wasted his life, I thought to myself. I felt my heart closing in on itself. “No” and “No” and “No” again. I hate crossing this bridge downtown. I hate saying “No”. I hate keeping my eyes from looking into the eyes of these people. When we finally got away from that young man I felt a sigh of relief – and then a horrible thought: “O Jesus, I hope that wasn’t you.”