Heading into town I start looking around for something to eat but in the process meet a person begging in the street. They needed food, so I did what anyone would normally do… after all, it was the least that I could do.
Fito’s is a small joint off the main drag.
There are some days when I get hungry at unusual times. Today was one of them as it was still far too early to eat in Argentina. That did not stop my stomach from growling. It was time to look for a place to snack.
Walking down the pedestrian mall I am presented with a myriad of different shops and restaurants. Some have chefs, waiters, and employees hanging around the doorway inviting you in while others are actively trying to convince anybody that looks remotely hungry to enter their store. Handouts and flyers are presented in a polished, noise, flick-out fashion every ten metres along the way, some of them large and unwieldy, most of them small and direct in what they are selling.
Ignoring the hustle and bustle around me I focus on the goal of finding a good place to eat that does not charge too much. Fast food chains here in Argentina charge more for their meals than eating at a decent restaurant, and ice-cream was not what I needed. Super cheap stores sold food that would fill the hole but leave nagging doubts in my mind about the value of the food. Restaurants offered great food but at a price I really did not want to pay. In the end it left me with just one place.
Looking down along the Lavalle Street pedestrian mall on a very quiet day.
Fito’s is a small place at the top of Lavalle Street which offers reasonable food at reasonable prices. The place itself was not exactly a palace, but the food was good. After walking the entire length of the pedestrian mall, this seemed to be the best compromise between price and quality, but I did not quite make it there before Adrian made my acquaintance.
Adrian, with several teeth missing and covered in old and tatty clothes, had come over to me while heading up the mall to ask me for a coin or two. When I asked him what it was for, he explained that he needed to eat. Many years ago I was taught to never simply give coins to people begging but to instead give them what they needed. Adrian needed food, so I offered to buy him the same dinner as I was about to enjoy. He readily accepted and we walked together to Fito’s, just up the road a little.
During the length of our meal we both chatted about life and Argentina. Adrian had been living on the streets for a while now. He had a number of amazing stories about people’s generosity and how it had really surprised him. He was convinced that there was a God who was looking after him. Although he had been working until a number of weeks ago, the downturn in the economy world-wide had also reached Argentina and he now found himself out of work. To make things harder, he did not have his identity card with him which all employers required before he could get some work in the city.
Adrian was a very talkative fellow, and even suggested that he and I return to the place that we met because there were free milkshake samples available which we would be able to enjoy “for our desert,” he said. By the time we had finished our meal it was time for me to move on. I bid farewell, and wished the man all the best. He was going back to his family tonight, a rare occasion these days, and so I slipped him the extra few coins needed for part of the journey. We then parted ways.
Although this sort of event does not happen all of the time, it is one of those things that I really do believe is important. Giving somebody coins feels like I am giving them the brush-off, telling them that they are not important enough to occupy more of my time. Buying them a meal, which sometimes I have had to do, also feels like a brush-off in that I am not willing to be seen with them while eating a meal. But being able to sit down and eat the same meal that I have bought them is a clear demonstration that they are worthy. Everybody wants to know that they are worth something, and those living in the streets need to know this even more. It may interrupt my schedule, or cause some change in plans, but there has not been one time when I have taken the time out to eat with somebody like this, that I have not received much more in return than that which I have spent during this time.
Oh, and my meal ended up costing the amount that I had been wanting to avoid. Not that I was really concerned. It was the least that I could do.