November 13th: Hanging out with “the Boys”

Hardly a day goes by in Cabarete without me seeing at least one friendly face of a local shoeshine boy. Being a one street town, you are bound to find them whether you are walking or driving around Cabarete. They are always smiling, eager to please anyone in need of shoe cleaning and always appreciate a handout or just a smile back.

I cannot help but think of the contrasting lives of these boys to the lives of my own teenagers, who live a privileged life of secure condo living, attend a private school, wear brand name clothing and do not know the meaning of hunger. I often ask myself: Which child has the richer life – the one whose life is filled with appreciation for simple things, or the one who was born into privilege and has all his needs met for him without much effort on his part? Being a giver and nurturer by nature, I have an undeniable need to help those who need it most, but for most of us, it is always more pleasurable to give, when the gift is appreciated by the receiver.

Today I decided to test the level of appreciation of my young shoeshine friends by taking them into a large department store, La Sirena in Puerto Plata. After a fun drive of singing and dancing to Bob Marley in my SUV, the boys excitedly entered the store with big eyes and began shopping. I instructed each of them to pick out a school backpack and fill it with school supplies, and also to pick out a good pair of running shoes. They were careful not to overspend and looked for my approval prior to putting every item in the shopping cart. But their biggest test came when I told them they can buy any three food items they wish, regardless of its cost. Not knowing what to expect, they surprised me by their humble choices of a bag of rice, a bottle of cooking oil and a roll of salami.

In a painful instant I realized who had the richer life – it was those who did not take their blessings for granted.