There’s always someone with something to sell. No matter where we are, on a bus, on a beach or at a famous historical site, there are vendors, both young and old hoping to make a buck. Snacks, cold drinks, knick-nacks, entire chicken meals, random bathroom tools to super glue and even a kids picture dictionary its a veritable shopping mall of goods on the go. While it can be annoying, in the case of a cold beverage on a hot bus, its often exactly what you want at the moment. Given that we’re traveling with small backpacks I often don’t even look at the handi-crafts that amble by for fear that I’ll want it and won’t have a place to put it. So when laying out on the beach in Tofo, Mozambique the kids came by with string bracelets, necklaces and their smiles pitch, I always replied “No, thanks.” in Portuguese. This had little effect, and hour after hour the same entrepreneurial children came by again… and again. Finally I gave up and just greeted and shooed them away in Spanish.
One boy, age 13, came by probably half a dozen times one afternoon. After declining his sales pitch, in Portuguese, English and Spanish he came by late in the afternoon, this time with a new offer. “Can I look at the pictures while you read?” he asked me in beginner’s English. Enthusiastically we went through the National Geographic magazine I was reading, him asking lots of questions and me explaining the pictures, ads, and articles in English or Spanish. As we went through the magazine more and more kids came over to look at the pictures. By the time we were half way through the magazine three or four young entrepreneurs crowded around the magazine some trying to listen to my explanations others just staring blankly at the pictures. The kids were amazed at the pictures of Angkor Wat, and if anyone from National Geographic is reading this please insert more maps! They had no sense of where Cambodia was in relation to Mozambique, so eventually we drew a crude map in the sand. Finally my friend asked if he could have the magazine when I was done reading it. “I will learn English in school next year,” he told me as he explained that he wanted to show the pictures to his siblings.
When confronted with a child in the developing world who asks for something educational like a National Geographic magazine what can you do but hand over the magazine? Handing it to him I made him promise to continue to work on reading English before school started. He promised me he’d read every night and in a gesture of friendship and thanks gave me one of his little string bracelets. As he carefully wrapped the magazine in a newspaper and put it in his backpack he thanked me and walked away with the other kids.
Of course everyone likes to think they have an impact, and perhaps no one more so than travelers. I was completely aglow as the kids walked away, thinking I had really made an impact on this boy’s life. Over the course of the hour he was so genuinely enthusiastic about the magazine’s contents and the pictures that I had the impression he found it to be a “treasure.” Walking through the market on the way back to our lodging we were again accosted by entrepreneurs big and small. With his same old sales pitch my friend tried to sell me a matching friendship bracelet to the one he gave me. As one little girl infamously said in Guatemala, “Business is business.”