Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mongolia Memory: Recycling kids

No, not trading them in or anything gross. A girl around 6 years old and a boy around 4-5, after dark, collecting cans & bottles. They kicked them along their route, because their arms were full of plastic bags overflowing with recyclables. I first heard them behind us as we were about halfway down a LONG set of outdoor stairs that went partway down a mountain. We'd been sightseeing, to a small mountain you can climb to see some kind of historical monument. You can meander down the back of the mountain over the grass & rocks, past a giant Buddha who stands overlooking the capital city, Ulaan Baator, which I can proudly pronounce properly.
I forget what the historical monument was all about, but I remember the shabby, rickety bus ride there and the walk back. I still have some little rocks I picked up from an excavation site on the way. I wrote "I am from Mongolia" on one.

So on the way back from our dusk jaunt to this little mountain, halfway down that LONG flight of steps, my little rocks in pocket, water bottle in another... we start to hear clinks, clanks, & clunks falling down the stairs from the top. The kids were gently kicking, more like nudging, cans & bottles down the stairs with their feet... arms overflowing with shopping bags overflowing with recyclables.

They wanted EVERY can they could get. They were not only cute, and it made such a lovely yet sad scene, but the thing that stood out after seeing so many kids begging... not only begging but physically grabbing tourists' arms and saying their few English words, "Money, money, eat, eat"... was that these two kids were walking near us, two white people, and NOT begging. Not asking for a cent. They were working for their money, at that age - hip height. My sightseeing buddy had lived in Mongolia for a couple months and I'm assuming he handled it in a good way. He didn't hand them money. He dropped it in their path. He dropped a 500 note (about enough for one night's worth of vegetables for a family). He didn't say anything, and neither did they. The girl stopped and looked at us, unsure of what to do. I wondered if she was thinking of telling us we dropped something. I didn't want her to feel like she'd stolen, so I turned back and smiled and gave a look that said it was for her. She smiled back and stooped down, managing to pick it up without putting down her armfuls of cans & bottles.

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