Saturday, February 4, 2012

Begging: Remember Me?

I need help. This isn't uncommon, though I have found often enough that its useful to reach out to others and compile their thoughts on any given topic--be it their favorite ice cream flavor (chocolate chip mint and occasionally pistachio, if you're asking) or if people should be able to move freely over international borders (mostly, sure). And this is where I'm at. I want your thoughtful input, so I can have something to chew on while I work through this. I see the wisdom in this Baha'i law, though am finding it difficult in practice:

It is unlawful to beg, and it is forbidden to give to him who beggeth. All have been enjoined to earn a living, and as for those who are incapable of doing so, it is incumbent on the Deputies of God and on the wealthy to make adequate provision for them. (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Paragraph #147)

I had three distinct experiences this week all related to begging and my part in the process. What do I do? What should I have done? What will I do in the future (since it will, no doubt, happen again)? I'm tired of giving pitifully or denying people entirely making me feel hopeless in a world with so much need and suffering. What do you do?

Experience #1: Thursday, a woman and her little boy, a bit older than Max, knocked on our gate. 
This is common and actually 3 times out of 4, the woman tells me that her house burnt down, she has x number of kids and has nothing. Do you have any money? Bedding? Towels? Perhaps some clothes? I sincerely try not to feel duped, though end up both frustrated at their situation (whatever the real story is) and angry that I'm being lied to/manipulated/seen only as an ATM. Since I truly have no access to cash (our hard-earned bank account is only in Josh's name) except what I find around the house and we used most of our luggage allowances on books, I usually don't have anything/much of what they ask for. Inevitably, the neighbor has gifted us a bag of bananas and I'll share a few with them. Did I just break a law of my Faith?
The difference this time was that she had been here before. 
Woman: Remember me? My house burned down two months ago? I still don't have anything. Do you? 
Me: Wow. You still don't have anything? What have you been doing?
She shrugged.
Me: Crazy. Well, I don't have any cash in the house, sorry. I do have some fruits. Would you like them?
RememberMe? then gave me a look I can only describe as "Fer real?!", then launched in repeating her spiel over and over whilst I responded again and again that I sincerely, truly didn't have anything to give her and it wasn't a matter of convincing me.
Me: Why aren't you working?
RememberMe?: I haven't been able to find any work.
Me: Oh! I have something for you to do. Can you come back on Saturday without your son?
RememberMe?: Great! What time?
Me: What time are you able to?
RememberMe?: I think 8 am will be good.
Me: Excellent. I'll see you then.

A friend and I have been loosely planning an SED project where we teach women how to upcycle commonly found materials into jewelry. A few weeks ago, after many hours logged experimenting, I figured out a pretty rockin' magazine bracelet. I thought this would be a good opportunity to try and teach someone how to make it. I'd pay RememberMe? to do this, even though I have no idea what the bracelet's ultimate value might be, but it seemed like a step in the right direction.

Experience #2: On Saturday, I got up early, prepared materials and waited. And waited. It wasn't raining. Maybe she had said 9 am. And waited. Maybe it was PMS, maybe I was too attached to this idea, but I was pissed that she didn't show up. At all. Really pissed.
I went to the vegetelera (a farmer's market, if you will, but instead of handicrafts, there's a couple of men who talk to you like you slept together the night before) for some lunch supplies and to spend some of the cash I'd set aside for my tragically pathetic SED attempt. 
Bags full of eggplants and papaya, I walked home with just a few coins in my pocket. As I turned onto my street, I saw a one-legged man in the middle of the road, looking away from me. I checked where I had my change. He swung his crutches around to take a side street when he caught sight of me. There was no suave left in this guy. OneLeg's eyes widened, he stopped in his track, turned to watch me walk toward him and grinned. All I could think was, Do I look like pesos to you? Please don't beg. Please don't beg. Please don't beg.
When I was five feet from him, OneLeg opened his mouth and held out his hand. 
OneLeg: Blondie, I---
I cut him off.
Me: Don't ask for anything. I don't believe in that. I already decided to give you this, just don't ask for anything, please.
I handed him my papaya change and kept walking. OneLeg smiled at me and asked that God bless me.
Well, I'm totally socially awkward, but like I said before, I need help.

Experience #3: Preparing dinner that night, I heard a knock on the gate. RememberMe? and her son were standing there. I breathed deeply.
RememberMe?: Hi. I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I couldn't come today because I couldn't find anyone to watch my kids.
Me (still pissed, God forgive me): Oh? Who's watching the other two?
RememberMe?: The neighbor. It's just that, it was tough to find childcare with just one day's notice.
Me: Two days.
RememberMe?: Oh, yeah. Anyway, I'm sorry I couldn't make it. Do you have anything for me now even though I couldn't work today?
Me: No, I don't. 
RememberMe?: Really?
Me: Yeah, it sounds like you have many obstacles to overcome and this won't be a good fit for you.
RememberMe?, in somewhat disbelief:  What do you mean?
Me: Well, I imagine you traveled a ways to get here (she nodded) and you seem to have childcare difficulties (she nodded again). So, it looks like you need to find an opportunity and a situation that will fit better with your needs. This doesn't seem to be it.
RememberMe?: But I have childcare!
Me: Oh? 
RememberMe?: Yeah, I do, but today it didn't work out.
At this point, I'm totally confused why someone so eager to come to my house to work, has childcare and had two days notice didn't simply show up this morning--any time before noon. It just sounded like too much drama to me. I'm probably entirely selfish.
Me: Well, the story doesn't seem to line up on this end. Maybe you should offer childcare in your home. That way you don't have to travel and you can keep your kids with you. You should begin to look for opportunities like that where there aren't so many obstacles for you. I will pray that you are presented with more opportunities that align with your needs.
RememberMe?: So, that's it?
Me: Yes. You're in my prayers. Have a wonderful evening!

Like I said, I need help.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You know, I have frequent interactions with people begging here (as well as in the past) and I have never regretted NOT giving to someone in that situation. That might sound cold, but given the fact that almost every single time I have offered food or to pay for the hotel room myself (for example), I have ultimately been told "no, I only want money." Also, if someone is so desperate that they are asking for change, they need a lot more than what I can give them. So that's my 2 cents, but I definitely still struggle with it, and it can be pretty uncomfortable. Thanks for the post, it's nice to hear someone else's thoughts on the subject.