Destitute and still Dreaming – a Tale of Beggars in The Kingdom

As human beings, we are capable of great acts of kindness yet we deliberately hold ourselves back for fear of not being able to contribute to the greater picture.

Marianne Williamson said it best, as adapted in Coach Carter, Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

How often have we crossed to the other side of the street to avoid passing by a beggar, or group of them? How often do we walk past them, oblivious to their existence, as we travel to our next destination to either dine, purchase or a mixture of both? Are you not guilty of telling a beggar to “get a job” or that “god will provide you with what you need”?

I write this as I am in The Kingdom; Saudi Arabia. In the heart of Jeddah, and I have not seen as many beggars before lining the streets. Strangers from all walks of life, boys and girls of young ages, men and women of various nationalities and creeds, all huddled in areas near restaurants or shopping centers, some selling meswak’s, others selling t-shirts or sweets or fixing shoes.

As I walked to the nearest hypermarket to stock my fridge with edibles, I counted 14 such destitute souls, in a distance of 10 or 15 blocks. Yet one specifically touched my heart in the most profound of ways.

Truth be told, it is not the first time I had set eyes upon them. October 2010 was a great month for me. It was the time I got selected to go on my first audit. Location: Saudi Arabia. It was where the work was toughest and the operations largest, so I welcomed the challenge with open arms. Whilst staying in Jeddah for the first time, at the very same hotel, I came across the following figures. A  Father and his young son, sitting close together to the right side of a restaurant, the father with his tools for fixing shoes, his son sitting diligently by his side. Fast forward to April 2012, and it is as if a portal was opened between the two times. I took notice of the boy because of his smile and his eyes. He had something wrong with his right eye, but still he smiled at passersby.

Coming home late from work and walking to the hypermarket, it was an all too familiar sight to see the boy fast asleep on his father’s lap. It was heart warming. It made me weep. In a span of two years I had accomplished, to me, what seemed so much, in retrospect, this man, this father, was in the same exact position. Does he have a wife at home, whom he returns to with whatever meager amount he was able to collect? Is he a single father, trying to ensure a nest-egg for his growing son? I do not know, for as is the human condition, we remain oblivious to the trials of others, focusing instead on our own.

On this day, I sought to things differently. I had been walking past this man for too long, afraid to look him in the eyes for fear of what I might see. Despair, sorrow, sadness, spite, are all what I had imagined this man to be keeping inside. If life were different, he would not be here for the past two years. He must blame someone. I was so mistaken.

At the hypermarket I had a list of things to buy; milk, bread and juice. Whilst at the juice stand, I picked myself up a small bottle for the journey back home. Whilst passing by these two, I looked at the son. And what I saw made me smile from ear to ear.

He was looking at me, pointing at me and smiling. He was either pointing at the pink bags in my hand (I blame Danube for their choice of color) or the design on my t-shirt. Either way, I found myself smiling back at him. And that is where I finally understood. I stopped and pulled out my wallet and gave something to the father. As I was walking away, I remembered the small juice I was carrying, and I took it out to give to the little boy. Again, he looked at me and smiled, and his father did too, giving me a thumbs up as well.

It is not a matter of money. These people live their lives day by day, a kind gesture, a smile, a sandwich, a drink, anything offered to them is a sign of recognition. It is what they long for, human contact. To be looked at as individuals, not overlooked as vermin.

I am no angel, I am as guilty of walking past beggars and pretending they are invisible as the next person. We have been taught to doubt their sincerity. One school of thought teaches us that they beg for drug money, others that they are well off and just lazy. But pretending to be a cobbler in the same position for two years? I find that hard to imagine.

We are all capable of doing more to aid these unfortunate individuals. For in their toils we can find pearls of wisdom. A potential groom worries about placing a roof over his lovers head, a father worries about the future of the daughter he is about to give away, an unemployed person worries about next month’s rent, a spoiled child worries about the next big party and how much their outfit will cost. In retrospect, we should be thankful for what we have, for if these people were to worry about tomorrow, they would never live today.

As cliché as I sounds, the past is the past because you cannot change it, the future is undecided because you do not know it, all you can do is live in the present, the gift you receive today.

A gift given to anyone can be a simple smile, and it has the power to change the world.

Giving alms to the poor is one of the Pillars of Islam, and in Islam, smiling is considered a charity.

So smile.

August 2011 ( View complete archive page )

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