Jul 22, 2008

The City Bus

Now that I'm working downtown, I take a bus to work. It's way too far to walk the distance, so I catch the #48 that takes me down Salaverry Avenue to Jiron Manuel Segura, then to Mexico Avenue, over the Expressway and across to Manco Capac. Eventually, Manco Capac crosses a bridge and becomes Abancay Avenue, which runs through the middle of Lima Central. I work just a half block from Abancay, on Cuzco Street.

To say that downtown Lima is crowded is an understatement. It is a SEA OF HUMANITY at any given moment. When I arrive at the institute, I feel like I have reached a safe haven. Working at this place gives me many opportunities to observe people. When I get on the bus, there are always many personalities that make themselves known. There is always someone in need who is allowed on the bus to do what he or she can to collect money. Today there were three on the bus that I rode home for lunch on: first a man with no arms and only one leg hopped aboard to ask for pocket change. He was clean and well-fed, clothing pressed and neat, but obviously unable to work. So he delivered a 30-second speech explaining that he needed to money to help contribute to his family in gratitude for them taking care of him. Pockets opened up. Change purses opened. Money clinked into his shirt pocket as he walked on what used to be a knee and knelt on the complete leg to make his way down the bus aisle. He was there and gone in 5 minutes, having completely torn out our hearts by not whining or begging.

The next person to jump on the bus was a young man selling candy. A bag of 100 pieces of candy costs about 2.50 soles. They sell each piece for 10 cents or 3 for 50 cents...by the time they sell the bag of candy, they've made their money back 4 times over. Not bad, but after the bus crowd has paid their own bus fare and donated to two or three people that are perceived to be needy, a candy salesman rates pretty low. Sympathy for an able-bodied man who's selling over-priced candy does not abound.

The third person to enter the bus to ask for money was an elderly man who was alo selling candy. He claimed to be 84 years old with no income. I was out of change by the time he arrived. Luckily, other people had recently gotten on the bus and there was a fresh crowd for this elderly man to work. I thought of my own father, who is not 84, but will be one day. It would hurt me to no end if he chose a lifestyle that led him to spend his last years going from one bus to another, selling penny candy to pay for his meals.

Sometimes I think about O's family. They have no home of their own, they have no savings, nothing between them and the street except what they earn for that day. I've talked with O about this many times. He has no savings of any kind, either. I cannot even consider him living like the old man on the bus, or working as a shoe shine man or panhandling on the street till his last day. I wonder why so many in this culture have not even a thought beyond tomorrow, or the next weekend, when they can go to a party. I know it is not just in Peru, but this is where it's been really evident to me. This morning I noticed an elderly lady, fairly well dressed, begging on the sidewalk. She looked about 100 years old, but in good health and again, clean and pressed. I wonder what her story was.


wildtomato said...

Your bus adventure reminds me of our adventures in Vietnam. Every time we boarded a bus, we were a captive audience for people hawking all sorts of wares. The bus drivers, who had to be in on the deal, would stop and pick peddlers up!

Kathleen said...

Usually the bus drivers will let the vendors on in if they will hang out a door or window and yell out where the bus is going.

This morning we had a couple of singers who serenaded us while they pounded the backs of our seats.