*Sometimes stories are better heard than read. So sit back and relax while I read, if you prefer.
About a year and a half ago I had the pleasure of meeting a young Nicaraguan boy named George (not Jorge, just to clarify) in a town called Granada. Even at 13 years old, his charisma was captivating. As I watched him skillfully persuade tourists to buy crackers and cigarettes from his dirty basket, the ridiculous idea of teaming up with him evolved quickly into a whacky travel experience.
It was one of those nights where despite being surrounded by all sorts of wonderful distractions I was hopelessly paralyzed by boredom and loneliness. The street was filled with conversation, animated people, excited noise, and the type of poor yellow lights you only seem to find in developing countries. My brain should have been completely absorbed by all the stimulation, but instead, it could only manage to focus on this idea, which was perhaps a clever subconscious way of combining everything I was lacking. Before I knew it, George and I were meeting complete strangers left and right, offering them an assortment of late-night knick-knacks and patty-whacks, charmingly dipping in and out of Spanish and English like overly qualified salesmen. The occasional rich family from Managua that had come down to visit for the weekend. The group of grimy backpackers from Germany. Everyone seemed as intrigued by us as I was by them.
At one point I took the basket from George and as we were walking along, I stumbled over one of the countless uncivilized stones that seem intentionally hazardous. The basket fell to the ground, littering George’s products all over. I had literally spilled this poor boy’s only source of income everywhere. It was like a fight scene in a movie where the underdog has some kind of finishing blow that assures victory to the viewer but not the attacker, when all of a sudden an unexpected side character wildcards their way into the fight, and the swing that the underdog was supposed to evade ends up landing square in the jaw. I was the unexpected side character and George’s success in life, it seemed, had been sucker punched. He was pissed about it, too. His entire demeanor summersaulted instantly and he refused to let me gather even a single pack of gum.
Then he left. And I felt like the world’s biggest asshole.
Now fast forward about a year and a half to last week when I’m in Granada again on the same street looking for a place to eat dinner with some friends. As we’re waltzing down the pedestrian walkway known as La Calzada, the memory comes rushing back to me and I see the same fateful spot where I tripped. I start to tell the story, but can’t remember the boy’s name.
“Something even Americans think is a way-too-American name,” as I try to jog my memory.
“It’s not George, is it?” asks my friend.
“George! That’s definitely it.”
“No way. We see him all the…oh, hey, there he is right there. Look.”
George appears to be a little bit older with long hair stuffed under a wilted Yankees hat, but it is most certainly George I see when I look over my shoulder. It turns out that my friends, who regularly go to Granada, were also taken by George and often buy him dinner when they’re in town.
Recognizing the others, but clearly not me, George happily greets us and laps up the attention, well aware that he’s probably going to eat a decent meal for the first time all week. Being from Nicaragua where a higher percentage of the people play baseball than in North America, the recent playoff games emerge as a mutual topic of interest. He eagerly accepts my offer to take a slice of pizza without making it obvious that he could easily eat the whole damn thing – he unofficially works as a tourist guide now and knows better than to be greedy because it can be off-putting to travelers sometimes; tips are what makes his world go ’round, after all. This continues for about an hour before I ask George the question.
“Hey George, do you remember about a year and a half ago, when a gringo dropped your basket of crackers and stuff all over the ground? You were really mad and just walked away.”
He stops dead in his tracks and stares at me hard.
“Wait, it was YOU!” he started laughing.
We both enjoyed talking about that night and what we’ve been up to ever since. He proudly reported that he is now going to school once a week to become a certified tour guide, no longer working in the Basket Snacks industry.