“Somebody ought to do something about this guy!”
I was walking home from downtown Iquitos when I heard the remark. The comment was made by one of three middle-aged American tourists sitting at a table near the street of a sidewalk café. It was obvious that the man who uttered the remark had already had plenty to drink. Though it was only eleven-thirty in the morning.
“Get out of the street, you jerk!” the tourist yelled.
The object of his scorn was fifty-six year old Raul Perez. Brother Raul is a deacon at a small Pentecostal church on the outskirts of town. Most Saturday mornings he walks from his home to this street to share his faith to anyone who will listen. A frayed black Bible in one hand and a tiny tin cup in the other. The coins in the tin cup jangled as he flayed his arms round and round—pleading with pedestrians to change their wicked ways and turn their lives over to God.
Locals respect street preachers.
Some will stop and listen for a minute or two. A few will drop a coin into his tin cup. Technically, Brother Raul was breaking the law by preaching in the street. But the lone traffic cop lounging on the corner under the shade of a canopy was ignoring him. The irritated tourist noticed my Atlanta Braves baseball cap on my head.
“Hey, Atlanta,” he shouted to me. “That guy in the street is annoying me. Somebody ought to run him off. Don’t you think so?”
I said nothing.
Instead I took a bill from my wallet and stepped out in the street. Shaking Brother Raul’s hand, I placed the bill in the cup. “God bless you, brother,” he said.
I thought about saying something to Brother Raul’s antagonist. But I didn’t. It would probably upset him more. As I headed to my house, I recalled a best-selling book decades ago—“The Ugly American.” The book is about some American tourists who are poor representatives of their country when they travel to other countries.
One thought occupied as I continued my walk home: Maybe it’s time for the book to be reprinted.