What is it about beggars that make us so uncomfortable?
It doesn't matter what country; it's hard to see. Maybe it's the blatant suffering, the violent poverty. Maybe it's the reminder of how much we have, that the ipods in our bags cost enough to feed an entire family for years. Or is it the intimate connection of humanity, that there is a child, a mother, a father, who is in pain? And what if we can't do anything about it?
In India, rich men brush past beggar children without even looking at them. But it isn't all their fault. Many children are "rented" or "pimped," used to get money. They dirty their faces, snarl their hair, and clothe their bodies in rags. Then they press close to vehicles, pound on windows, grab passersby, and point to their mouths. "Please," their eyes ask. "Please." And they don't let go. But when given money, it's immediately returned to their owners, not their families.
Some beggars simply beg because they know they can get more money begging than working. And they know the white people won't hit them the way Indians do, meaning they will be extra persistent. A woman called my friend and I "moneyboxes" the other day... something I still can't understand. Like that would make me consider giving money when simple compassion wouldn't?
Many Indians give out of guilt. Or just to appease, because if they give a coin, they will be left alone. But they don't look in the eyes. They don't see a person. They just see another hash mark on their account for "good."
One morning, my team went to a market to look at heaters. It's cold here, and the marble floors make midnight bathroom runs almost painful. As we left our vehicle, two girls latched on to us, begging. Kim ran her hands through their hair and asked their names, teasing them. We couldn't give them anything. But even our small affection caught the attention of a well dressed man. He came over and scolded Kim, saying that she should ignore the children, that they are a disgrace to India, which is so beautiful and full of life. He said he wanted us to go back to America and tell people of this amazing country, not of the beggars and the children. That there is so much more to India than them.
But these children are India. And they are "us." And J saw them. How can we not, when he sees us?
That evening, we drove back through the same market. At the intersection, there was an old man. He had dark, almost black, skin and and a raggedy beard. He walked with a cane and beneath his rags, (which were too short and thin for any warmth), his legs were thin. Too thin.
My heart broke. As he came to my window, I looked into his eyes, this hungry man. Man, not beggar. There were some crackers in my purse, so I opened the window and passed them through. He looked at me and asked for money, which I could not give. And then we drove away.
I can't forget his face. I can't forget his poverty, his lack of dignity. When we look in the eyes of a beggar, it changes us forever. Maybe that's why most people won't look.
4 days ago