Saturday, May 8, 2010
Ratatouille and the Beggar Man
Today, of all days, I had a beggar. He just wanted something to eat. We have lots of beggars here in Brazil. Sometimes they seem to have a shopping list up their sleeve - Do you have any ... wait, wait, um ... coffee? Okay, no coffee, well, how about some old clothes. I usually help about one beggar a week. Some are regular customers. If I just plain don't have anything, I just tell them and suggest they come back some other day. I try to be kind and do my best to be helpful. I do not give money. On this particular day my morning had not been going real well and I was trying to get lunch ready. I had the ingredients for a new recipe I wanted to try for lunch, but my cupboards were a little bare otherwise. I decided to give Mr. Beggar Man my nicest sob story about having nothing extra to give away until the next month.
Everybody here lives with a monthly salary and understands that close to the end of a particular month things are always tight. I said I have no rice and no beans to give away until June. He said that was okay he didn't want rice and beans to take home to cook, he wanted something to eat right then and there. Whatever I had! Oh brother, today I had fixed my first ratatouille! I was sure he would have no idea what "ratatouille" was even I said it with a Portuguese twist. I said that he probably didn't want whatever I had. So I didn't tell the dear beggar man what the stuff was called. I just referred to the fact that it had lots of vegetables and wasn't your typical Brazilian thing. He seemed unmoved and just stood there - waiting. Ah, I figured "Why Not?" So off I went to get some of my fancy French ratatouille for a beggar to taste even before my family for whom I had so lovingly made this new dish. As I turned to go in, my new friend said, Oh, by the way, my son is right here with me and he's hungry, too. Ugh! Two servings of precious ratatouille! I was beginning to wonder about this! I mumbled something and went it to get two bowls and two forks and served up a fair portion of my newest concoction. I grabbed two mangoes and two bananas from the counter on the way out for their dessert! When I gave it to him I reminded him not to go too far and to call me when he was done to give back my bowls and forks.
Meanwhile I went back in to finish getting lunch on the table, see if the boys were done with their school work, and to call the family to come and get it. I stepped back outside to check on my street friend. He was gone, no where to be seen! Gone, bowls and all! And two good forks! I went and looked up and down the street and just around the corner. The man was no where to be seen. One of my sons rode his bike around a little, but alas the man and his son and my utensils had vanished. We all sat down for lunch and ate the ratatouille that ended up being pretty good, although somehow I had lost my appetite.
End of story, right? No, there's more! While riding my bike the next afternoon with the same son we saw the same beggar or should I say - Fork Thief! That's right, and he had one of my forks with him! It was crazy. I could see it! He was carrying a clear plastic bag with all kinds of little bags of food, from his wanderings I assumed. And there was one of my forks with a big letter A! I tried to question him and politely ask for the fork that looked like mine and was visible through the plastic bag he was carrying, but he denied the fact that it was mine and said someone else had given it to him to eat the food he'd been given by someone else for his supper! What was I to do! I felt like saying "give it here or else," but the poor guy wouldn't have anything to use to eat the food he had for dinner that night. He promised up and down to get my forks back to me the next day. He claimed that they were hidden in a potted plant at someone's house on my very street where he'd been doing yard work. He said when he had finished the whatever it was that I was gone and he didn't know what to do with my forks and bowls.
Well, I guess I could have ripped the bag out of his hands and gotten my fork out. I considered screaming - Thief, Thief! My son said, Let's go home. And so we did.
I'm more careful now. I don't give out good bowls or good forks. I have some disposable forks that I keep on hand and I often stand there and watch the people eat! But I do give. I give what I can and try to consider how I would feel in each one's place.
He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.