The youngest of the two sisters approaches, her playful nature shining through a timid smile. Loose strands of her jet black hair hang from a messy ponytail. I grin her way and wave hola. We are soon sitting together chatting away in Spanish. She is no more than eight years old but I don’t question why she isn’t in school.
I push my hair behind my ear and the glimmer of silver and blue beads catch the young girl’s eye. “They are earrings,” I explain, and she tugs at one of them with more force than I expected. I shriek in pain and mutter some mild profanity while my new friend begins to laugh an infectious laughter that soon has me chuckling.
Seeing I pose no threat, her older sister approaches. The two girls don’t resemble each other very much, but their eyes communicate in a way only sisters can. The youngest looks my way, “let’s play a game.”
Uno, dos, tres, cuatro… One hundred is a long way to count. I barely reach thirty before I go looking for them. We take turns hiding behind boulders, tree trunks, shrubs and the village’s few buildings. After a few rounds and no more places to hide, we finish the game and sit down to catch our breath.
I take out my camera but before I get a chance to shoot my subject, she holds out her hand and asks for un peso. I am slightly stunned and hurt by her request. Our new formed friendship fizzles and I become another tourist passing through with a camera in hand.
Questions tumble through my head. Did her request slip out by habit? Do I give her the money with the hope that it’ll benefit her? If I give her money, am I buying her friendship? I struggle internally.
Before I have a chance to make up my mind, the girl speaks again with a look of sincere contemplation. “It’s okay, let’s take a picture.”
I look at her with affection and hand her my camera. “Here, let me teach you and your sister how to take pictures instead.” And so we spend the rest of our time together; the girls snapping an array of foreheads, blurred images and excited smiles, all the while giggling in their joyous way. I didn’t get my shot that day, but I helped them get theirs.
* This is a slightly altered version of my submission for the 2011 Travel Writing Competition run by Pure Travel.
** All photos snapped by the girls. : )