Monday, October 20, 2008

October 16, 2008

Written by an SASer a few years ago after departing Chennai:

Don’t give to the beggars they said,

So I didn’t and my heart ached

AS I turned and walked away

From a 4 year old starving child.

Don’t give to the beggars they said.

So I hid my money and walked away

From a thing Mother and her two children.

Don’t give to the beggars they said.

So I pushed away the little children.

Don’t give to the beggars they said.

So I laughed nervously as a leper

Clutched at my friend.

Laughed, because it was easier

Than to cry.

Don’t give to the beggars they said.

So I walked for blocks

Trying to ignore the kids at my side,

Running away, instead of staying to help.

Don’t give to the beggars they said.

I thought I hadn’t, but I was wrong…

I did give, each and every time…

A part of me, naïve to the pains of others.

I gave them my innocence,

And they gave me their pain.

And after India

I will never been the same.


So something I never mentioned about Cape Town: it is true that at every port, we are told to not give to the beggars. Doing so, they (and I) believe only justifies begging as a way of life. It only helps these people continue on as beggars. So although most of our stops in each country are spent completing service projects, we paradoxically build immunity to poverty simply by ignoring the beggars at each port entrance. As the poem says, it is easier to laugh than to cry.

By my last night in Cape Town, however, I had had enough with pushing away begging children. So as I stumbled (sober!) away from 1rand shot night I sought out a young boy and told him that I’d buy him whatever he needed at a grocery store. He immediately told me that Corn Flakes were his sister’s favorite cereal and beelined for that aisle. We filled up a basket of food and I spent my remaining money on him – hoping that the food got back to his family and sister.

The tables then turned as I wished him good night and told him to go home – it was way too late for a kid his age to be out and he should get some sleep. I suddenly realized that I was left with no money and would be on my own to somehow find a ride home. So with no real hope I went up to a taxi driver and explained my situation to him: I had foolishly used all but 20 rands (~$2.50) buying a child some food and now needed to get back to the port, an 80 rand ride. This is when we cue that insurance company commercial where one woman sees another doing something nice so than does something nice for a man on the street etc etc. follow it down the line – because the cab driver simply agreed. He’d drive me back to the port – and for free.

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