Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Begging the Question



Everyday the out stretched hands are there.  In the medina, in front of the gate to my house and at every traffic intersection.  Some are healthy, but have succumbed to unfortunate circumstances.  For the others, their misfortune began at birth.  And their days are spent on the street showcasing their ailments and deformities for pocket change.  This is their occupation. Beggar.

In America there's almost nothing more shameful than being a beggar.  Like in Morocco, some are healthy and have succumbed to unfortunate circumstances.  But then there's the others.  The ones who drink away the generosity of strangers or shoot it in their veins.   Our distrust breeds contempt. But even scorned Americans have charities and programs.  And we can be part of the solution after careful selection of our altruistic priorities.  If we want to of course.  All we have to do is write a check to express our beneficence.  For a lot of us, it's that intangible.   

But in Morocco there aren't  many choices or social programs.  But the need is everywhere.  What there is is zakat,  the moral obligation of every Muslim to be charitable to those in need.   The thing about zakat is, it's intimate and visceral.  There isn't much time for contemplation.  And your checks aren't good here.  It involves looking directly into the eyes of another person and giving.  Or not giving.  I have done both many times for many different reasons.  But no matter what I do or don't do, I always feel helpless.   Because in the big picture, I haven't changed anything.  And that's not American at all.

It's emotionally overwhelming.  And some days I feel very small and insignificant and want nothing more than to hole up in my house and not interface with the rest of the world.  Then the doorbell and reality comes to call.  A stranger is at my house asking me for money, food, water, shoes or whatever else.  Neither my denial, nor my fervid want for things to be different, gives me reprieve.  Just as it doesn't for the beggars.

Many expats  have developed criterion for giving to help them mediate among the needs.   Some  give only to mothers with children.  Others only to the disabled who can't work.  Some refuse to give to mothers who beg with their children in traffic, thus putting them at risk.  Others will turn away anyone who comes to the door of their home.  I've never made my own rules for giving.  I do what a lot of others do.  I give to those I feel most compelled by in the moment.  It's not fair, equitable or well thought out.  And that's not American at all. 

Last Friday I went to the medina. And as I was walking, I noticed a woman older than myself  struggling to push the wheelchair of her handicapped teenage son up a steep incline. So I stopped to help them up. Her eyes were so appreciative and kind.  When we finally reached the top out of breath, we said goodbye before parting ways. While doing my shopping, I couldn't stop thinking about what life is like for her and her son.    And when I was done and came back around the same route, she was still there parked behind her sons wheelchair in the medina.  She's a beggar. And it's here that she relies on the generosity of passersby.  All day.  Every day.  So I emptied the money from my pocket into her hand.  And once again felt completely helpless.

Begging the question,  how do we solve the begging question?








13 comments:

Cerebrations.biz said...

In two words- we don't.
They are the reminders that there but for the grace of G0d, go I...
Those born with afflictions- they did nothing to so deserve.
The ones who lost their job- oh, we can rationalize that they may not have worked hard, but really- maybe they just kept picking the wrong employer (Enron, MF Global, etc.)

It's our job to do the best we can to help them. And, you're right, we can't help them all- but we can try to help those we can, when we can.

Thom Brown said...

I understand that you feel helpless because there is still misfortune, but what of the old adage that we should give until it feels good (as a response to 'how much?')?

Leah Griffith said...

Marie, I doubt there is a solution. I guess each of us can be a solution simply by paying attention and giving when we can. Opening our hearts to others.

Lucy Patterson said...

I don't think there is a solution. Our world and very social being (unfortunately) relies on there always being some one worse off than you.
I spent a lot of time in Indonesia a couple of years ago doing some charity work and it saddens me to say that the school for disabled children that I volunteered in, actually had children admitted who were disabled by their parents for the sole reason of being 'more profitable' whilst out begging. Once they became a burden - ie too old to be cute or tug the heartstrings of others, they were simply abandoned.
Begging is a harsh but true reality of society.

Chantel said...

I spent years in Mexico and Guatemala working in orphanages and health clinics. It was as devistating as it was rewarding. Then there was six months in the worst part of Philadelphia--on Kensington Ave under the L...where the police don't go after midnight. Even when you hear screaming and call 911. I was entirely more of a wreck in Philly, to have such...agony, such disaster, here--in our country.

I don't believe that it will ever be "fixed." But I know, and passionately believe that the changes that occurred in ME, in my own heart...have contributed to my three boys' lives. Those changes have effected my nieghbors and my employees and the old lady that needed help with her groceries yesterday. With each opportunity to give, to embrace, we have the chance to nourish our souls. We can choose to be more.

In that moment, atop that hill, that woman was blessed by kindness and greatful. How many Americans go through a day, a week, without such simple joy?

Anonymous said...

Touching, honest post. I find myself doing it here, assessing beggars, trying to determine whether their need is sincere or opportunistic. I always feel like a heel when I bypass someone. Even in the best of times zakat in the form of money only goes so far. But helping the women push the chair is an act of kindness that may stay with her forever.

Adriene said...

Hi, Marie, that was me leaving the "anonymous" comment above. I clicked too fast.

MuMuGB said...

A difficult question. At the end of the day we are all doing what we can. You were kind to the woman, and I am sure that this is something that will stick. As for saving the world and making a difference, well, we must go one step at a time.. As long as we don't close our hearts I would like to think that we are making a small difference.

Jaime Brown said...

Whether the people are truly in need or opportunistic, you giving whatever you choose to give-- is done with good intentions.

You know I'm Muslim and we believe good is rewarded with good. When you do a good deed, your intention of doing something kind will be counted as a good deed regardless of the beggar's intention. No matter what, you're still doing good whether they "deserve it" or not.

This post reminds me of something I read yesterday. Take 2 minutes of your life and read this excellent article. You'll be glad you did.

http://1x57.com/2012/05/01/a-lesson-on-patience/

Jaime Brown said...

Whether the people are truly in need or opportunistic, you giving whatever you choose to give-- is done with good intentions.

You know I'm Muslim and we believe good is rewarded with good. When you do a good deed, your intention of doing something kind will be counted as a good deed regardless of the beggar's intention. No matter what, you're still doing good whether they "deserve it" or not.

This post reminds me of something I read yesterday. Take 2 minutes of your life and read this excellent article. You'll be glad you did.

http://1x57.com/2012/05/01/a-lesson-on-patience/

Jaime Brown said...

Whether the people are truly in need or opportunistic, you giving whatever you choose to give-- is done with good intentions.

You know I'm Muslim and we believe good is rewarded with good. When you do a good deed, your intention of doing something kind will be counted as a good deed regardless of the beggar's intention. No matter what, you're still doing good whether they "deserve it" or not.

This post reminds me of something I read yesterday. Take 2 minutes of your life and read this excellent article. You'll be glad you did.

http://1x57.com/2012/05/01/a-lesson-on-patience/

Jaime Brown said...

PS-- if you can't click the link, just copy and paste it.

Joy Page Manuel said...

In a way, this reminds me of life in the Philippines. You can see beggars in streets, children knocking on your car windows. I can feel the helplessness you feel. But the solution to this problem is so complex, but at the same time I hate saying that because I think some people justify their indifference with that thought. I believe you are doing the right thing....doing what you feel you can do in the sphere you belong TO and in the sphere you feel you can make 'some' difference.

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