Another Dominican Moment…
It’s payday, and even though fast food joints are everywhere in the States, it’s a real treat to eat at Burger King once a month. Puerto Plata only has two American fast food places: Burger King and Pizza Hut. KFC is an hour away. Many Dominicans, children and adults, celebrate their birthday at Pizza Hut. My friend Paul and I climbed into my rusty 1985 Suzuki Jeep and drove through the congested streets dodging motorconchos, taxis, and guaguas to eat at the beefiest and greasiest delight in town. We arrived to a welcoming procession of young boys begging for money.
Inside, we ordered our Whoppers (pronounced woopers) and meal combo, and sat in a booth to enjoy our salty fries and greasy burgers. It was getting late outside, and only one boy remains. I could see his little face staring longingly at the food inside. Paul explained to me that when the boys are old enough to walk and talk, they are sent out to beg for money. They aren’t allowed to come home until they make a certain amount. I don’t like reinforcing the bad begging behavior, but I also can’t change a family’s needs in one day. Today though, I thought I should give a little more.
Because my Spanish wasn’t the best, I asked Paul to invite the boy inside and order whatever he wanted. I watched as the boy tentatively walked inside, looking around and then focused on the menu board. He pointed to one of the options and Paul ordered for him. The boy gathered his tray of food and sat in the booth right behind me. He had ordered the Whopper with cheese, large fries, and drink. I couldn’t believe this kid ordered so much food! There was no way he could finish it all! Was he going to take some of it home?
Paul and I had finished our meals, but I wanted to stay to see if he ate all the food he ordered. I watched as he took one fry and ate it. Then he took a second fry, and ate it. He continued to eat every fry slowly and individually, savoring each starchy bit. I could only imagine that an opportunity like this doesn’t happen often in his life. Here he had a feast in front of him, and he didn’t have to share with the rest of his family which could include many siblings. It was fascinating to watch him enjoy his meal, taking his time to extract all the delicious oily flavor from each bite. To me, Burger King was just a place to get greasy food, but to him, it was a special occasion.
He politely moved the empty fry carton to the side, took a long drink from his gargantuan soda, and placed the wrapped whopper in front of him. He stared at it affectionately for a few seconds, and then gently uncover his whopper like it was a fragile present. He picked up the meaty burger, studying all the different colored layers before biting in. The burger was piled so high with condiments that he couldn’t get his mouth over the layer of buns. He dove in for a second bite, and got a good chunk of meat. A bit of mayo was on the corner of his mouth while he chewed with his eyes closed. At that moment, I was put in my place. It might be a privilege for me to have the money to buy whatever I want, but it was a gift to enjoy and appreciate what I could give to others.