Experiencing the Harsh Reality

Press Play. Listen While Reading.

We both sat there, in complete silence, just taking everything in. Sounds, smells, sights… everything. “I can’t wait to read what you write about this,” JB says laughing. All I can do is sit there in complete awe. We’re sitting towards the back which was already completely crowded in the aisles with bags of food and clothes that were being taken down south to sell at another market. Jonathon and I were crammed in our two seats along with all of our luggage, but we were just happy to have it all safe with us, despite the lack of leg room. A woman missing her two front teeth came up to us with about 6 different sodas and pushed them in our face asking if we wanted to buy them. Although it was a scorching 90 degrees outside and about 5 degrees hotter inside the bus, we declined. She just stood there and keep repeating herself, as if our “no” meant “maybe, just try to convince us”. We kept saying no, she kept asking… more forcefully each time. Jonathon, being the extremely patient man he is, kindly and firmly said no one last time with a smile on his face and she finally gave up. Right behind her was another man selling sodas as well. We declined, thankfully he wasn’t as persistent.

I look out the window and see trash everywhere on the ground. Just as I’m processing the immense amount of garbage on the ground, I see a girl my age drop her soda in a plastic bag on the ground before she boards her bus to Leon. Well that explains why–very different than our eco friendly California home. Beyond the garbage is a huge market full of everything from fruit, veggies, ice cream and candies to dresses, shoes and handmade purses. Jonathon spots a stand selling fresh mangos slices in a bag and we instantly wonder how much a bag of pre sliced mangos costs. JB runs off the bus to grab a bag. As he’s gone, an emaciated young boy slowly walks on the bus and asks the woman in the first seat with her baby for money. He’s not selling anything, so I wonder what he’s saying to her. Then, he lifts his shirt up. There’s a large yellow tube coming out of his very tiny stomach just below his bony ribcage. I want to cry. He looks so sad and hungry. I know that this is how he makes money, but I can’t comprehend how bad it has to be for him to have to walk on buses and beg for money by pulling up his shirt. The woman gives him one cordoba ($0.04) and he continues to walk back towards me. He pulls up his shirt and says something in Spanish to me. I shake my head no, look down and choke back the tears. If I had any money on me at all, I would have given him something. But I had nothing– for my safety. All I can say is “Lo Siento”.

As he heads off the bus, JB is back with the mangos. 7 cordobas for the bag ($0.29). The mangos look great and as he opens it I noticed white crystals on the pieces. “What is that?” “I think it’s salt, I told them only a little bit.” We both grab a piece with salt on in and make the same face. Yuck. Not getting salt in the mango bags again. Despite the salt, the mango slices are amazing and just what we were craving. Another man comes up to us offering us sodas and we finally give in– 10 cordobas. People outside of the bus start yelling at us inside, trying to sell us food and drinks through the windows. We are completely surrounded and overwhelmed. 

Finally, the bus starts and the floor beneath us shakes. Door closes. I feel a sense of relief come over me because the heckling and selling is over. Or so I thought. 

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