Central America Costa Rica North America

The Right Thing to Do at the Bus Station

I have seen the man in the wheelchair making his way through the middle of the Alajuelan streets begging for change. His legs are withered and he seems to have a death wish hanging out in the very center of the streets amongst the crazy wreckless drivers like he does. It seems like a hard life, to be disabled and to have to beg in the middle of a Costa Rican street.

I am soft when it comes to situations like this and I know that I tend to get taken advantage of because of it. It’s hard for me to understand the behind-the-scenes dynamics that go into play when I see a disabled person begging for money. What’s the story on these people wandering around with major handicaps? Why isn’t everyone giving them money? Most of the time, it’s because they know something that I don’t know. Or because they’ve given money to the disabled person many times before. But as a newbie, in a new place, I feel touched. And I am gullible. I feel obligated to give them something because I have something to give them.

At the bus station, the first thing we did was buy water from a blind man at the concessions stand and then we took our place in line, waiting for the Alajuela to Atenas bus. I wondered if he was burdened by having to work at a concession stand as a blind man or grateful for the opportunity to support himself.

As I was considering this, there was a man in a green and white striped shirt  with a very odd gait who came up to us as we were waiting for the Atenas bus. He had a single gold Colon in his hand and couldn’t speak, but kind of grunted and tried to smile to get someone to give him money. The people in line looked straight ahead. They didn’t budge, didn’t respond at all. I could call them heartless, but again, I have to assume that they know something that I don’t know. The three of us stood there in line following the behavior of the people ahead of us and behind us. The disabled man wasn’t pushy, but it’s hard to watch someone being ignored like that. Again, I don’t know why they were ignoring him.

After he walked away, John went over and gave him money privately. Perhaps we are idiots, but we felt like it was the “right” thing to do

Drawing of the Alajuelan Bus Station

whatever that means. Shortly after the man came over soliciting for money, a big fat woman came over with an older man and a wooden box with a slit in the top and offered us some different colored pens or religious figures on trading cards in exchange for a donation. I bought two pens, one red and one pink, thinking they had red and pink ink (I was actually excited about the pink ink pen and gave it to Lydian, but it turned out to be a pink plastic pen with blue ink). The woman and her old man then left us. The other people in line turned around and looked at us (they wanted to see what real idiots looked like perhaps).

Costa Rican pens
The two pens I purchased “by donation” from the old woman and her companion. They are pink and red, but the ink inside them is sadly, a very boring and typical shade of blue.

In China, there was a man who crawled onto the subway system, dragging his paralyzed legs behind him. He carried his donation container in his mouth and we didn’t give him any money. I still can’t say that I feel good about that decision, which was based on a journalistic documentary that we had watched about how people will prostitute these disabled individuals in China and India and have them go collect change in this dramatic way by pulling at heartstrings. Whether it was the “right” decision or not still remains up in the air for me. Something should be done for these people, I think. And then I wonder why no one has stepped forward to help. And then I think, probably somebody has…but these people are being used and exploited by other people to make a buck. But I don’t know for sure.

Woman from the bus station in Alajuela
Through the window, I happened to see the woman and the old man who had been selling pens and Christian paraphernalia while standing in line waiting for the bus to Atenas.

Later, I saw the woman with the pens and the man sitting at a restaurant as I was sitting on the bus waiting for it to turn the corner. It was not incriminating that they were at the restaurant, just interesting and coincidental so I discretely snapped a photo of them. I figured that what they were doing with their pens and Jesus trading cards was more respectable (perhaps) than the man on the sidewalk who had tried to mug us earlier by throwing his change on the ground right in front of us and then trying to trip us. (He pursued Lydian and I until John came up behind him and said in English, “Uh-I don’t think so…” with a very menacing look that is universally understood in all languages to mean, “I’m going to kick your ass.”)

A Costa Rican mugging drawing
Ticos might also come up and spray mustard on your shirt to distract you while they steal your money.

So, basically, there were several people who solicited us for money in different ways at the bus station: a man begging, a woman selling worthless crap, and a man trying to mug us. We gave money to the beggar and to the woman selling pens and Jesus stuff, but we were ready to beat the crap out of the man on the street trying to mug us. I’m not sure if that makes us “good” or just “gullible”. A lot of times those two things are by nature, intertwined. Perhaps the good people are the people begging or maybe even the people mugging. It’s hard to say what motivates any of them to do what they do. I’d like to think that I “did the right thing” and all that bologna, but in reality, all the stuff that people do regarding money is silly. Giving it, receiving it, working for it, stealing it… perhaps it’s all sort of the same.

Anyway, it’s something to think about when I’m standing in the hot sun waiting at the bus station.

You Recently Viewed ...

Trying to Enter El Salvador as a Myanmar Citizen – Lydian Shipp

The Full Central America-4 Experience: On Being Turned Away at the Border –By Jennifer Shipp

How to Get a Guatemala Visa as a Myanmar Citizen – Lydian Shipp

Hoping for Honduras: Planning a Wedding from Outer Space — By Jennifer Shipp

The So-Called Curse of Being a “High-Maintenance” Woman — By Lydian Shipp


Bruised Banana