Although the story I am about to share is lighthearted on the surface, I believe it addresses important topics about culture and the delicate nature of the work we do at Poppys House. Plus, I simply feel it is too wild not to talk about.
Sometimes the girls take a bus to go to their psychologist appointments. The city bus system could be a whole story in and of itself with its lack of bus stops and speedy driving along crammed streets, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole today. What’s important to know in this story, is that sometimes people sell snacks on the bus, and the middle-aged woman next to me had purchased a wafer cracker.
Our then three-year-old, Rosita, was sitting on my lap when unexpectedly, she had a wafer in her petite hand. I was quite surprised because the lady had just gotten this snack and immediately decided to give it to a complete stranger rather than eat it herself.
I think poorer countries are automatically stamped with the stereotype of selfishness, but I have learned from experiences like this, in my short time here, that this is completely wrong. Just because someone is in need doesn’t mean they ignore the needs of those around them. I wish more people were like this woman. When they see an opportunity to provide for someone in need, they act upon it.
Let’s get back to the story. Rosita didn’t just eat the wafer, she devoured it. By this time she had been living with us for about a month, and before that she had been neglected and her nine-year-old sister had been acting as the mother. During this time they didn’t have consistent meals; they waited on the generosity of their neighbors.
The habits of that lifestyle don’t fade away easily. When Rosita is given food, she eats as if it’s the last meal she will ever have. So when I say she devoured the wafer, I mean she licked every bit of the wrapper three times after it was gone.
Imagine my embarrassment when the generous lady began to side-eye me. In that moment I realized two things.
1: She thinks that this girl is my child. The rest of the girls were sitting behind us, so she didn’t know I was with them. Although I’m young by North American standards to have a child, I am not too young at all in Peru. Although I don’t look completely Peruvian, I’m tan enough to pass for one, as long as you don’t hear me attempt to speak Spanish.
So in her eyes, I wasn’t just a mother, I was a bad one, which leads to realization 2:
She thinks that I am starving my child. I’m sure that once she saw Rosita eat with the vigor of an adult man who skipped a few meals, she thought that her simple act of selflessness saved a child from starvation. I, knowing that it was past the point of saving my image, simply sat there with embarrassment.
If Rosita had been given that wafer a few weeks sooner, she would have been a starving child. She wouldn’t have just wanted a snack, she would have needed it. When I first met this lively, adorable girl, she had an eye infection, heat rash on her forehead, and not enough energy to run. In fact, she didn’t walk much and would only speak a few words at a time. She only had one set of clothes and they were too big for her. If you had asked me to describe her when I first met her, lively would not have been the adjective used. Now, that is definitely the right word choice. She loves to run, jump, and do gymnastics. She has plenty of energy to speak her mind (and yes, she does). She still loves to eat, but now it comes from a place of enjoyment rather than desperation. She looks like a completely different kid. Her face has a brightness to it that comes not only from health, but also happiness. Although I am not Rosita’s mother, I am incredibly blessed to have seen this literal life-giving transition take place.