First, I'd like to share one of the greatest pictures my camera has ever taken:
And I can't take credit for it...it's a self-shot by a 5-year-old who just learned how to use the camera!
She had her birthday recently, and for weeks building up to it, she and her family kept reminding me that she was about to turn five and asking what I was going to get for her. It presented a dilemma, because I'm already fighting the 'rich white guy' stereotype. People frequently ask me for money, because everyone seems to assume that white skin sweats money. I've had kids who I didn't even know (not in this batey, but in another pueblo) say, "Hey, American, give me a dollar so I can buy a coke." Not hungry kids asking for food, but well-fed kids playing in their yard who already think I owe them money, just because of the color of my skin. But I digress...
Anyway, she and her family are wonderful to be around, and asking for a birthday present from a friend is not nearly as bad as demanding money from a stranger, but I still can't be the rich white guy. Even if I could afford fancy gifts for all the kids in the batey, they point of the Peace Corps is teaching (creating independence) not giving material gifts (creating dependence).
That said, she's cute and friendly and smart and better behaved than most, and I had to get her something, so I bought her an apple. All kinds of fruit grow on this island, but not apples, so they're something of a luxury; lots of people only have apples to celebrate Christmas. It's kind of funny, because people are surrounded by the most delicious mangos, but those are boring, because they're so common, while the humble apple is an extravagant treat. She thought having an entire apple to herself was pretty awesome!
I also got her some colored pencils and a pack of gum, which were fun, but not to expensive or extravagant, so I can safely buy similar gifts for other kids. Her mom told me the next day that she finished all the gum that night. I hope she brushed her teeth.
Besides eating apples and gum, she likes playing those clappy-singing games that girls do, and her favorite topic of conversation seems to be 'pampers rotos:' broken diapers. Five-year-olds are the same the world over!
Yes, this place has mosquitoes and heat and diseases and racism and mud, but it also has some wonderful kids that make it all worth the effort!
PS: If any of you readers ever have visitors from Latin America in the autumn time, you should definitely take them apple picking. Bringing these kids to an apple orchard would be like bringing kids to Santa's Workshop in the north pole.