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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ice cream bars and Latin princesses

Friday, November 16, 2012

It had been a hot, dusty day riding the bus in Peru down the Pan American highway, and I had learned a lot. I had learned that, in Peru, the lines on the road don't mean anything. Cars make three lanes out of two and six lanes out of four. I learned that the biggest car always has the right of way. I learned it is better to let the bus driver drive and close my eyes when big trucks looked like they might send us on the one -way trip out of this life. My heart fared better when I did. There is one other, even more important, thing that I learned.

After traveling for hours across the long, hot desert, though we traveled in an air-conditioned bus, we stepped out, tired and hungry, into the heat of the day to stretch our legs and get something for lunch.

The dry desert air baked a person in an instant, and we sought the shade of nearby trees and the dilapidated gas station. My stomach expressed its discontent, and though I was not carrying much money, I purchased some bananas and oranges from a vendor with a cart built into his bicycle. With a little more money, I obtained an ice-cream bar from a small store at the gas station.

Hanging around this small oasis were some young children. Their father ran a small taxi service from there to try to earn some money for their family. The children, with homemade sponges, offered to clean vehicle windows for any price a person was willing to pay. They approached our bus with that in mind, but the water in their buckets looked murkier than our windows did.

Traffic was minimal that day, and business was not good for these young entrepreneurs nor for their father. As I left the shop, a young boy of about eight years old looked longingly at my food. I have a hard time eating when I know someone else is hungry, so I shared my fruit with him and he slipped off to the shade of a tree to quickly devour his portion.

When I had finished what little fruit I had left, I continued on toward our bus. I deeply anticipated slowly enjoying the cool vanilla and chocolate as we traveled further across that endless landscape of sand and adobe huts. However, just before I climbed aboard, a young girl came to me and begged for some food. I had nothing left besides the ice-cream bar. I looked at it. Even if I had enough money for another one, the bus was ready to pull out. I looked into her small brown face and she reminded me of my own six-year-old daughter at home. I turned the ice-cream bar over in my hand. "Princess Bar" it read on the picture of chocolate covered nuts on a mound of snow.

I glanced once more at the sweet little girl looking hopefully up at me. Truly she was a little Latin Princess, though she was dressed in rags - a princess just like my little daughter was a princess to me. I handed the ice-cream bar to her and patted her ebony black hair.

Though I didn't understand much of her language and she understood almost nothing of mine, I learned two important things as she looked up at me with her big, brown eyes dancing with excitement. I learned that the smile of a child is the same in any language and needs no translation, and I also learned that sometimes an ice-cream bar tastes better when you give it away.

* Daris Howard (daris@darishoward.dom) is an author and playwrite, and contributes an occasional piece for Pilot-Tribune readers.