Exposure: Lives of Children in Poorer Countries

Arms resting on
The hot tub’s edge
At the gym
Steam rises
Dissolving golden browned skin
Peeling now
In lizard heyday exuberance
Marking a finality to the trip’s end.

Envious, I eye the healthy
Swimming laps, nearby
While I, listless, am still unable
And must wait for my own
Active lifestyle to resume.
At least I’m back in the building.

The heated balm
Brings me back to
Faraway warm nights.

Our family’s last night together,
Mexican beachside dining,
Under thatched awnings,
Another dinner experience that
Takes up a broad swath of our night.

Ceviche again
Plenty of chips, salsa
And margaritas to start but
No water to drink as
A luscious, weakening sun
Dips, first, down into the water
Then disappears completely
Over the horizon
To bring cool darkness
As if the world just ended.

To pass time, younger cousins
Fill up on soda.
Ma begins to buckle under the
Packed punch of a Cosmopolitan
On an empty stomach.

More waiting for
Appetizers that never materialize.
We spot the horse man we hired
Earlier that day, leading his mounts.
Finished, he is surely
Heading back to his own
11 “bambinos” waiting at home.
Bored, the kids run down to the shore
For another chance to pet horses.
Feeling unwell
I stay behind at the table.

In Mexico,
Many vendors traverse beaches
Carrying blankets, hats, sunglasses, jewelry
To tempt vacationers like us
To open wallets and buy.
They are allowed to approach
And try to sell to
Diners held captive
By their seaside tables.

A tween boy hawking small toys
We have no need for
Approaches our table.
He assesses our non-interest
And moves on.

Entrees finally arrive but
At random, different points
Causing odd timing lapses
Where half of the table digs in
While the other half waits and waits
Empty handed.
By the time the rest get served
Other people are finished.
With water so scarce,
Everyone leaves thirsty.

While finishing and waiting for the Cuenta”
Kids leave the table to
Go play on the beach.
The waiter catches my eye,
Points to Cousin’s empty seat
And asks if, “it’s OK”?
I smile and nod yes.

A slender, smaller kid,
Cousin has never been
A voracious eater.
Full on chips, soda and on an
Excess of vacation group dynamics
He leaves a plate overflowing with
Cheeseburger and fries.

Immigrants who have actually
Known hunger in earlier life,
Grandparents shake their heads
In disbelief.
The waste
The pickiness of privilege
The waywardness of overly lenient parenting.
We discuss bringing leftovers home.

But before anyone knows,
The tween boy
Who had been selling toys
Materializes from nowhere.
He sets down his box,
Sits in the empty seat at our table
And begins to eat this food.

My kids, older, know this is
An awkward deviation from
What they know as “Normal”,
But say nothing and instead,
Glance at me for cues.
Ma, shocked,
Pokes me and whispers,
“What does that boy think he’s doing?
Why is he eating our food!?”

“He’s hungry,” I said.
“It’s OK. Let him eat.”

This boy,
A child and working so late
Wending his way among strangers,
Must need to earn money badly.

This boy,
Eyeing other people’s
Half eaten plates with desire
Strong enough
To set aside notions of pride
To sit with unfamiliar folks
And eat their leftovers,
Must possess a hunger
Raw, alive and enormous
To which, heretofore,
Most of us
Have not had exposure.

We all,
Glazed and tanned on foreign sun,
Shiny with seafood, alcohol and
Other sweetened tropical drinks,
Sunset cruises, horse rides,
Day tours and
In-home private chef visits,
And have had more than enough.

While I had not initially
Understood the nature
Of the waiter’s question,
I’m happy to have said
“Yes”, anyway in the end,
Enabling a hungry kid to eat.


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