Alvin, the pockmark-faced amputee, rushes to direct me into a parking spot I am already half-way settled in and stops me as I exit my vehicle. “Good Day my friend,” he says, “I help you, now you help me.” Although unclear as to what “help” he had offered exactly, I nod curtly stating, “Yes I will get you on my way out, keep on eye on my car.” This is the deal, the destitute amputees “protect your vehicle” while your in the store and you tip them for it on the way out.
Alvin means well but something inside me bristles at his entitlement, and the aggressive way in which me makes me feel indebted to him. Just as quickly, I flush at the crudity of my own thoughts. I leave my new “friend” in charge of protecting the car and I enter the supermarket to buy some supplies for my pending trip up country.
As I exit the UN Supermarket, I am again accosted by a sea of beggars. They know their chances are much better on my way out as I may have some ‘small small’ change, making it nearly impossible to get past them without giving someone something. Three or four of them grab at my grocery bags and others simply make a path to my car. One quickly grabs at the door handle after I unlock it and asks for a handout. I manage to get in after tipping my friend Alvin and two other gentlemen for gesturing physical support while I placed my bags in the back seat. I take a deep sign and turn the ignition: nothing. Shit! Alpha Victor Two had overheated from a long day at work and I needed to do a hill start in 3rd gear to get the engine to turn over. In an effort to find humor in my predicament I pictured myself as one of the sub-characters from Little Miss Sunshine.
I open the window to 12 pair of gleaming eyes staring in at me knowing exactly how to help. One look at their faces tells me they are ready to push me get out of my predicament with only approximately 4 feet of open space to utilize for the roll. They quickly push me forward but the engine doesn’t turn, so they are forced to push me back to try again. In a perfect ironic twist thunder crashes and rain starts to fall. We try again – no deal. It becomes clear that I’m not completely savvy about these things and this gentleman peaks in my window and says, “Move over I’ll do it.” I look around and see all eyes on me and figure this guy won’t be able to do anything inappropriate with all these witnesses watching, so I scoot over and squat in the passenger seat. With rain falling hard, not one of my helpers moves toward the awning for cover.
Another car leaves, giving us approximately 2 more feet of room and my friend calls out a few fast commands in Liberian English and we are quickly being pushed at an exceptionally fast pace for such a limited area and then chug chug purrrrrrrrrrr – she’s good to go! My new buddy jumps out of the driver’s seat and walks away without looking back. The rest do the same (except for a few straggles hoping I might decide to tip them). Between the help, the rain and the lack of expectations I am nearly brought to tears by this expression of selfless charity and scream out, “Hey wait!” They all turn around quickly and move toward me. “Listen if I tip one of you will you break it up fairly amongst yourselves.” I get a quick “yes yes no problem” in surround sound. I check my wallet and hand one small boy a 20 dollar bill and speed off. I hear screeches of delight and see a few of them dancing in the rain in my rearview mirror. I wish I would have given more.
I shake my head, to clear out the earlier irritation I was feeling and I am overwhelmed with a warm feeling of optimism. With the rain falling hard, anything seemed possible.