June 7, 2010

Little Sad Eyes.

As with most large urban centers around the world, it is not uncommon to see people here begging in the streets. And as is usually the case, there is something extremely uncomfortable about this desperation. Do you acknowledge the person you see before you? Or do you avoid eye contact altogether? Do you give a hand-out? Or would this be perpetuating a cycle of dependence?

This past weekend we were approached by three different people within a little over an hour span all seeking handouts. The first man sauntered up to our car window, dressed in an outlandish outfit, he smiled broadly, and said, "I am hungry, can you please give me 200Tsh so that I can buy some cassava to eat." Andrei and I both looked at each other with a mutually shared sense of endearment and I placed 100Tsh in his hand. You gotta give him points for confidence and charm. As he walked away, he gave a sweeping thumbs up motion, it seemed we had made his day, or at least fed his belly.

The second man to approach our car window was old enough to be my grandfather. He had deep lines from dimples that seemed to transform his whole face when he smiled. A slightly built man, he meekly made an eating motion upon his approach, paused, smiled, and then waited for "kitu kidogo" (a little something). How could we not? As I handed over a 100Tsh, he offered up a receipt book. When I asked him what it was for he burst out laughing. While his answer was never clear to me, this struck me as a truly hilarious and perhaps innovative distinguishing device in the otherwise ordinary game of "begging." We later joked, was that supposed to suggest that your donation could later be deemed tax deductible?

As we continued to wait in standstill traffic, we were approached by a woman with three kids surrounding her. One child was slung across her back in a khanga, while she held the hand of a barefoot little girl in a tattered dress. An older boy sheepishly hid behind her, and he held an iron grip on her dress. I suspected he was old enough to feel a sense of shame about this. She approached our car, staring off into the distance, murmured something hardly audible, and then just stood there, waiting. The silence was deafening. Three pairs of little sad eyes looked at us, wanting, needing, expecting. This was undeniably sad. But there was something so odd and lacking about her diffident approach. It was not even quite clear that she was in fact begging (and to be fair we had already had a number of people approach our window just to stare at us in amusement or to size up whether there was anything within arm's reach worthy of grabbing). With hesitation, I finally offered a 200Tsh coin out the window, only to realize she had begun a quiet retreat from the car. The little boy reached for my offering and placed it squarely into the palm of his mother's hand. It was only then that we realized she was blind. She thumbed over the coin, and returned to our car window, under the guiding direction of her young son. She handed the coin back to me and simply stated, "This is not enough."

And that is what little sad eyes are made of. http://popheadwound.blogspot.com/2009/07/mp3-magnolia-electric-co-little-sad_08.html

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