Photohunt: Chipped

The word “chipped” makes me think of three things: ham, china, and attitude.

Chipped ham is what we get in Pittsburgh when visiting my extended family.  No one else does it quite the same, in little pieces so fine that they clump together — little ‘chipped’ pieces of meat.

Everyone’s got some sort of chipped china-ware in their house.  Or if they don’t, they are stressing about where and when it will inevitably come.

Attitude?  It comes from the phrase “chip on the shoulder,” meaning you’ve got some attitude.  Granted, you can’t really have a “chipped” on your shoulder, but I can’t really stop my brain from making word associations, can I?   That is why you must be very careful when talking to me about that round, juicy, sweet produce you picked up at yesterday’s market.

When I thought of attitude, I thought of this picture.

It was taken in the dusty young town of Pachacutec, in the extreme end of the Northern Cone of Lima, Peru.  Lima is a huge city of over 8 million clinging to the strip of desert between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.  Fresh water is extremely limited; in this community, water is literally trucked in a few times a week, filled by hose into outdoor barrels.  More than half of the city’s population has less water per day than the UNHCR standard allowance of 20 liters.  In this type of environment, “clean” is a relative term: “clean” is when a dirt floor is swept, and the grime on children’s faces is rearranged by a dry, dusty cloth.  Our concept of “hygiene” is not possible, nor can it even be conceptualized, in a place where water is so scarce and poverty so pressing.

There was a big, brightly painted bus outside of one of the health clinics my friend Barbara took the health class to last summer.  The bus was the local government’s response to the paucity of health care facilities in the community (e.g.: 1 pediatrician working 2-3 times a week in for a community of over 200,000).  It boldly sat outside a worn health post, fading into the surrounding buildings in muted grays and browns.  The huge faces of children smiling with toothy grins seemed to make all sorts of unbelievable promises… along side the name of the local mayor.  I took a few pictures of the bus and a makeshift market outside of it, selling decorations for a celebration at one of the schools.  Then, two boys approached me directly and asked to have their pictures taken.  “Por supuesto,” I said.  Then they wiped grins off their faces and posed.  I paused and laughed, “estan seguros?” I wanted to be sure that this was what they wanted.  “SI!”

And I love the picture.  I love it because it’s in front of that damn bus, that although helpful to a few will have no chance of reaching the many.  I love it because the message is to me and all the other immeasurably privileged people that will see it, people with opportunities that they could not dream to have.  I love it because it says to me, ‘what? you want to see how rough it is to live here? well, screw you.  If you want to do something about it, then do it.  But don’t expect me to be all pitiful and thankful to whatever you throw my way.’

Finally, I love it because, underneath it all, they are just kids with senses of humor and pride and love and goodness — savvy enough to understand their perceived place in the world and throw out a little statement about it.

And they are exactly right.

In my view, no one deserves to have more of a chip than these kids.

For more takes on “Chipped” — please check out the rest of the Photohunt at tnchick.