After almost six months living day to day with people in the streets of more than thirty African cities, my self-conflict of wanting to help but not wanting to instigate a mistake neither to be ripped off is still calling my attention.
Especially in Ethiopia, it was where we sadly saw more beggars, from all ages and gender in different areas. We tried to understand why these people live in the streets, but when we questioned the answers were only the obvious: poverty. We still hope to understand better.
The dilemma starts by not wanting to judge. Without knowing absolutely anything about the life of these people it would be unfair to conclude if it is right or wrong to be there.
The following unconformity is mathematic, for having conscious that the same quantity that I could spend to satisfy my greediness (not hunger) for a candy, a cheese and a wine, could mean the meals of a mother and her daughter for a few days.
The doubt is to be sure that “myself” wouldn’t be induced to an error due to a possible rascality of the person who is there and saw the possibility of surviving asking for money in the street. It looks like I keep analyzing too much, but there are cases of boy that are using new clothes and clean teeth while others have dirty old clothes and dark teeth full of caries. There is a clear difference that enhances my strangeness.
After the concern of our safety, even more with lady Gabi here , comes the self-defence to not play idiot, but I’m afraid how misplaced it might be… If I’m facing a human being who survives with not much dignity, giving up on his pride to ask for alms and pity to others, would it be a pertinent mistrust? Perhaps I mistake myself in prioritizing my pride while I question the suitability of that person who gave up on his own. All of it for a few pennies.
I always keep thinking on the “right or wrong” that is almost an instinct, but it still didn’t help me to decide my point of view in this matter. I tried to adopt the attitude of not encouraging alms and not giving money, only food and the situation allows, plus a huge, a smile and positive energy! But in Ethiopia with very little girls reaching out to ask for anything, it’s been difficult for the heart. The logic tries to tell that if nobody gave money, they wouldn’t be there and would find another way of living. It might make sense, but what livelihood? I’m still not convinced.
Another big dilemma it’s been nourishing this same patience when we are approached in the streets by hawkers, guides, holy fathers and students. It’s a conflict similar to the alms, but as the conversations start with a smile and a saying like “welcome, where are you from?”, the thought to be careful with a potential interested rings in my mind with another caution…
I believe it’s totally incorrect to judge that everybody is scoundrel and they are there to take some advantage. With a certain benchmark of experiences, I feel confident to say that in 90% of the situations we were friendly approached in the streets they wanted to offer something in exchange of money of course. So calm down, it was not rascality, they just want to stand out in their work and conquer new clients. Fair enough, according to the teachings to be victorious in the modern society…
Who has never received that inconvenient call from someone offering insurance, loan, cable TV, vault? It might be a personal opinion, but I see it as disrespect to need to stop and listen to a company trying to sell something that you are not looking for. Imagine ten of these calls in a day… At the same time I take a deep breath and strain my education for knowing that the person in the other side is doing a job that might be the only opportunity he had. Pointing the blame ones out of so much clownery happening today isn’t easy. Cheers for the competition and let the respect sink itself…
The challenge is really the patience to tolerate and respect what seems to be taught them as the concept of success: sell more and more while it doesn’t matter what is necessary. Most times they actually talk respectfully, but of course, aware of any interest we interact with them knowing they have an objective… Always in a good way, but answering in that mood like “thanks, but I’m out of here”. A clue here is not to keep on walking as if you are running away. Stop, get close, look into his eyes, thank, send a kiss and run! It always works with me…
To explain the level of mental complexity that these factors have reached in my head, small acts of generosity now touch me considerably. When we face a proactively kind person that clearly shows his intention to help and the immunity of any return expected, we feel so grateful that a necessity of recognizing his goodness comes up. Is like giving a chocolate for a well done exercise by that student in school.
But then I think that an act of generosity shouldn’t need a financial or material recognition, it would be enough to give a gentle thank you and the universe sign of joy: a smile. That’s what we do in our Brazilian way, celebrating, yelling, hugging and jumping around…
In our visit to Angola, told in the Experience #4, we lived more than one act of generosity than thrilled us so much, mainly coming from simple people in a deeply corrupted country that was in war until 2002.
The point of reflection in all these for me, is that, unfortunately, today generosity and goodness are becoming so rare that feeling it, generates emotions. It would be unfair to generalize this conclusion only to the African continent, but I risk myself to say that this is a global trend. Can you imagine the difference in the day to day happiness if this generosity was fashionable? It seems like we lost the responsibility of caring about others. Between you and me, the blame is only ours and now it’s our duty to stop playing around and decide to change.
From here, Gabi and I still need to have more patience, compassion and be tolerant. My dear mother in law usually tells a quote (which I don’t know the source neither its precise words) that says that after a generosity act is done, you should just absorb the positive energy of it and abstract any doubt about the receiver nature and its effects. This way you keep only the GOOD. Great hint for times when I’m doubtful, then I help and it’s done.
My preliminary conclusion might be obvious. I think we just need to remember and really care about a few principles that all of us already learned and know. Actually many grownups of today who forgot about using them, try to teach their children. They are human values that are independent of religion, reliefs and dreams. The time and our called development have hidden these feelings from ourselves, but we are conscious that they still live in us.
Now it’s just about wanting, isn’t it? To love, respect and be generous! That’s all.