I am standing on the corner of the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa. Across the street there is a woman screaming. Her face is leathered by age and contorted in pain. She is screaming because she is hungry. Her clothes are tattered from sleeping outside and a wooden stick that serves as a cane is resting at her feet. I am silently crying. I am not just crying because this person is in pain, I am crying because no one is stopping. I am crying because no one is seeing her. Something deep inside of me is mourning not just her pain, but her invisibility. Whatever this part of me is, it is awake now, and I can’t put it back to sleep. The crevices of her face and the dirty rags that envelop her feeble form are forever etched in my mind.
This day, nearly a year ago, marked the beginning of a personal project.
Once a month, I feed someone. I find someone on the street and I give them something. Sometimes it is a couple of empanadas. Sometimes it is a small bag of fruit. Sometimes some crackers. Maybe an ice cream for the child sitting with a woman on the corner who is selling candy to pay for her children’s next meal, one child latched to her leg, another tied to her back.
This isn’t as easy as it may sound, because my objective is not just to feed these people, it is to make them feel human, if only for a second. It is a learning process, and I learn more every time that I do it. It forces me to step outside of myself consciously, and remember those who are less fortunate than I, even when I am stressing out and ripping my hair out over whatever projects I am working on.
The first time that I did this was with a woman sitting outside begging on a cold night in Arequipa. I was leaving the restaurant with my friends. I had a bag of left over risotto on my arm. I didn’t particularly like it, and hadn’t taken more than a couple of bites. Every time someone would walk buy, she would frailly hold out her paper cup in a shaky attempt to prompt a stranger’s generosity. Once again, no one is paying this person any mind. I ask my friends to wait a minute and approach this woman. I get on my knees, look her in the face, and ask her if she is hungry. Gape-mouthed, she nods. I hand her my food. I apologize that I don’t have a fork, but tell her that the food is fresh and point in the direction of the restaurant that I have just come out of. I tell her that it is probably still warm, and I wish her a good night, and many blessings. She doesn’t say a word, just looks at me, confused and hesitant. She takes the food, eagerly, yet speechless. I feel a wave of sadness wash over me as I realize that it is the first time that someone has talked to her like she is a person in a very, very long time. I walk away, and when I turn around, I see her waddling down the street totting the plastic bag.She really was just trying to get enough change to buy something to eat.
This is becoming a ritual of mine, something that I carry with me from city to city. One that I develop upon, and something that I am beginning to consider sacred to me. I spend between one and two dollars (in Latin America).
I seldom talk about this personal project. Lord knows that I am not a saint. It is something that I do because I feel like I need to do it. However, something occurred to me this week, as I sat down next to a woman sleeping on the ground outside of the church to offer her a bag of mandarins and wish her a good day. What if everyone did this? What if everyone saw these people? What if everyone that could, spent a couple of dollars to give someone some food and make them feel human just once a month?
What if you did it with me next month?
I feel like I am getting better at this, because, like I said, it isn’t easy for me to approach a stranger on the street that isn’t accustomed to being approached, and who I am not used to approaching. I have developed four rules that I am doing my best to apply every month. The situation, people, and place are always different, but the objective is always the same.
Does it make a difference? Who knows? But don’t we all have a responsibility to keep trying to make this world a better place?
So here it is, The Art of Feeding People:
1) Sustenance and Nutrition. Anything helps, but something with some sustenance and nutrition is ideal. If I buy fruit, I will buy something that is ready to eat today, and something that will be ready to eat tomorrow. Bread, fruit, and empanadas are all good. I virtually never keep my leftovers. If you are in a restaurant, don’t throw your food out. If you choose to see them, I guarantee you can find someone when you walk out the door who hasn’t had a crumb of bread all day.
2) Get on their level. Look them in the face. Address them appropriately; sir, ma’am, señor, señora, etc.
3) Ask them their name. When do you think was the last time that someone asked them their name? They will probably be so confused by it that they will be hesitant to tell you. If that is the case, hold out your hand to shake theirs, tell them your name, and ask them again. I judge situations individually, but I often engage in a very gentle form of physical contact-a hand on their shoulder, resting my hand on theirs, gently touching their forearm. The poorest of the poor are treated like a contagion. I won’t forcibly hug them, but think about what a difference this can make to someone who is treated like a leper.
4) Give them the option. Don’t fling it at them like you would an animal. Ask them gently, “I don’t know if you would like _________, but I have some extra if you are interested?” Or, “I bought this for you, if you would like it. I got it from ________.” They may be tentative to trust you, and that is understandable. Giving them the option is empowering them, and reminding both them and you that they are people and equal in the eyes of a higher power.
So that is it. My four steps to The Art of Feeding People.
I haven’t had a set date in the past, but I generally think about it around the 20th of every month, and the 28th of next month is my birthday. I had recently thought about using my birthday to try and raise money for my site, travels, and personal projects. But that woman outside of the church, the one that I shared the mandarins with, she changed things. Every single one of them does in one way or another.
So this is what I want for my birthday. I want more people to do this. So let’s set a date, shall we? On the 28th of March, I hope that you will join me in celebrating my 25th birthday by buying someone else lunch, getting on their level, asking them their name, and empowering them through the potency of choice-wherever you are in the world.
And who knows, maybe you will continue to join me every month ;)
Que tengas suerte, exito, y bendiciones!
P.S. If they consent to having their picture taken, be sure to send me the picture, your name, and the location of the shot, and I will put it up on my site. Just imagine if we could get more people to do this…
P.P.S. PHOTO SHOUT OUT. All of these pictures were taken by the lovely Rašeljka Krnić. A major thanks to her for her artistic contribution to this little dream of mine <3