I am a generous person. You want my money, my time, my love. I’ll give it to you. I’m not stingy. I am not one to look for the rational reason not to give. Will this bum use this money for alcohol or drugs? He might, but I’m not one to care. He looks like he needs money, so I’ll give it. Someone wants my time in some inefficient, bumbling but good-hearted project? Sure. My time’s all yours. You’re annoying or mean or weird? I’ll still love you. I may not always be smart or logical, but I am generous.
That is, until Iquitos killed it.
It started to die on the streets of Iquitos. Kids, clearly starving, would ask for money. I’d give it. Adults with disabilities I could not even imagine before coming here would beg me for money. Not one to think it through, I’d give. But then I’d get a little following. Kids that would cling on to me. Begging for more. People in wheelchairs coming me after me down the sidewalks, please blanquita. I’m begging you, bonita. Just a little bit more.
I’m in the same office as my boss, an American who’s headed this lab in Iquitos for almost 10 years. She’s also a generous person, clearly more buoyantly generous as this is still occurring 10 years later. People file in, all the time asking for money. It’s all legitimate need too. My roof burned down, I need medicine for my kids, my lover ran away with all my money, I got TB in the hospital. They need money and see my boss as an unending supply of money because she’s white and she’s American and she continues to give.
I’ve given several times to my co-workers, but when the same people started circling around again for money I couldn’t take it anymore. I was afraid I’d turn into my boss. Then I was chased down the sidewalk by a no-legged man in a wheelchair asking for more than the 2 soles I had given him and it died. Right there. Next to the dead dog I’d almost tripped over on the sidewalk in Iquitos. Dead.
I feel exquisitely guilty over this and have pondered, as I turn away my co-workers requests and push away the hungry kid grabbing a hold of my arm. I’ve decided that while I didn’t think I had many rules to my generosity, I expected a certain kind of decorum from the receiver. If I give, you will not ask immediately for more. You will give me time to recup, money or love or time. You will not stress our relationship. You will not appear so needy that it breaks me to look at you, to interact with you. I can’t give if I’m broken so don’t break me. If you are my friend, you will wait for me to volunteer money to you because I want to believe we are equals, despite our skin colors, nationalities, and opportunities in life. And over the course of our relationship if you do have to ask, you will not ask too much, as it is bad form to ask and ask and ask. Don’t manipulate me, abuse my goodness or identify me as Ms. Moneybags. It’s rude to think that way, so don’t.
The people in Iquitos have not followed these simple codes of the decorum of poverty and now my generosity is dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
I realize that the poverty they experience here has given them a completely different attitude than mine. If you need so much it hurts, you’re going to keep digging in the hole you first found gold (a white American) you have to keep digging because you have no other choice. If you find a foreigner with something to give than you’ve got to figure out every way to get that thing. It must feel like you’re only chance. Their poverty has formed the way they approach givers in a way unseemly to the developed world. And is that their fault?
Still, I’m spent. I can’t give anymore. I can’t have people hanging off of me, pursuing me down the road. I can’t handle knowing that my friends are always trying to figure out how to get money out of me. And I’m heart-broken because this is the only thing I was good at. I’m terrible with authority, I’m hardly obedient, I’m the worst at enduring to the end, my faith falters but I was good at giving. Really good at giving.
I want people to follow my rules so that I can be revive my generosity and feel good about myself again.
Because, seriously, isn’t that what it’s all about?