When I was about six or seven, I was always reminded of how lucky I was to live in a developed country by a small photo tacked on the fridge. It was of two little boys from the Dominican Republic, with a background of the typical falling down, crumbling painted school as they stood in ripped clothes, smiling from ear to ear. Underneath the picture was a letter they had written in broken English with little drawings done in weak crayon. I can’t quite remember what the letter said, but I assume it was something along the lines of thank you for all you have done and I hope that you are well.
As a naïve little girl, I remember always feeling so badly for the two boys. What terrible conditions they must be living in, without Brita filters and bubble baths. No light up Power Puff Girl sneakers or Arthur on television. What an awful life. I felt so good knowing that we were “helping” improve their lives. With our money maybe they could buy a game of shoots and ladders or silly putty and finally be happy.
Or so my seven year old western perceived notion of happy made me think.
Now, twelve years later, I live with one of those “poor” boys.
Just the other day I was exploring my family’s abandoned farm house with my host brother, when we found a letter, similar to the one my parents had sent to the boys in the Dominican Republic. Tupac grabbed it and exclaimed, “Mi madrina!” and he continued to ask me to read it to him, as it was written in English.
It read something like this.. “Hi Tupac, how are you? I’m great. The weather in Germany is beautiful. Yesterday I played frisbee with my friends at the lake. I’m so excited for Christmas. Are you? I’m going to celebrate with my family and eat lots of yummy food! I hope that you’re doing well. Tell your family I say hi!”
When I asked him who this was from, and how he knew someone in Germany, he explained that when they lived in the community, every year someone would come and take his picture and dictate a letter for him to be sent to Germany. And then he would get a letter in return.
He further explained that the first time he went into the main town of Guamote was to get his picture taken to send to his “madrina”
He thanked me for reading the letter, which he didn’t know what it said, and went off to go kick around a deflated soccer ball.
I was taken back to the picture on the fridge…then I was hit by the disconnect.
I was on the other side of the letter. I was living this “poor” life. I suddenly got very angry and personally offended that this girl from Germany thought she was helping by writing this phony letter. Tupac is no one to be pitied. As far as she could see he was an impoverished boy living without running water and electricity and so naturally he was sad.
But she was so wrong. Tupac is the happiest kid I know. I have never heard him complain or even cry. He is always smiling and dancing, even though he thinks I’m not looking.
Standing in the doorway of the farm house, I thought about the boys on the fridge. And I felt ashamed. Who were we, to think that our lives were better simply because we had more “things.” I bet those boys are just as happy as Tupac, which is a lot happier than most people in the oh-so-developed States.
And just like the two little boys in the photo on my fridge, Tupac’s smile cannot be contained.