June 28, 2006

18 Beggars

I counted them today. There were 18 beggars in all. (Sounds like the title of a Sting song) I do not often sit in the car for such extended periods of time in Beirut, so it was a bit of an eye opener. My work is around the corner, the supermarket is across the street and the beach is two blocks down the road. So obviously I do not spend a lot of time in my car. But I had business today in several parts of town, both East and West, and sat in traffic all day.

And there they were; 18 people begging for money. They walk by the cars while you are waiting for an intersection, a traffic light, a traffic cop or while just being stuck in a traffic jam. Wich was most part of the day. Some on crutches. One in a wheel chair. One on a type of home-made skateboard, he’s moving around on exhaust level, so this cannot be very helpful to his not-so-good-health-already. Several Bedouin children. A lady with a basket of chewing gum. 18 beggars in all!

The first one was an old man. A very old man. The thought that this is someone’s father did it for me. If it were my father standing there, I would want people to be considerate. So I gave him a 1,000. What’s a 1,000? You spend it without even thinking about it. The next two were very old ladies, thus the same thought came to my mind; what is she were your mother? How would you feel? Now I was down 3,000 (If you give the first a 1,000, you got to give the next one a 1,000). Then came the man in a wheel chair. I was not so happy anymore, and vexed enough to start counting them.
Some of them didn’t - and shouldn’t - get any money. I once got into a tremendous fight with a Bedouin boy , and his very sweet and loving face quickly switched into a very demeaning grin, so Bedouin boys, sorry, no cash for you. I won’t support this Bedouin economic system, and Bedouin girls and ladies are out of luck with me too. (Funny how you won’t see any Bedouin men beg for cash).
Others however wouldn’t be able to get a job even if they wanted to. Somebody has to support them, and the government doesn’t do a very good job at that. So I was handing cash left and right. Left, actually.

I learned a few techniques from observing other cars. Some try to hold back a little, to make sure there is enough space to speed by him/her far enough to make it complicated for them to walk back, so they skip your car. Others changed lanes (beggars often take the left lane).The people with AC very conveniently kept their windows closed. They looked the other way and ignored the tapping on the window. My AC is broken, so I have to have my windows open. It’s embarrassing to ignore.

Friends of mine say you shouldn’t pay at all, because the extensive family lives from the work of one beggar. “Let their relatives them take care of ,” is the argument. I’ve tried to do the calculations. Let’s say you can find 5 people in an hour to pay you a 1,000. That is not inconceivable, I often see people dish out a 1,000. That’s 5,000 an hour. Let’s say that traffic is heavy enough four hours a day to come to a complete halt (that’s the only time you can ask for money), so that’s 20,000 a day. That’s 100,000 a week. Shitty working conditions. I don’t see how you can feed a family on a 100,000 ($66) a week. So I pay.
But I am glad I don’t have to spend that much time in traffic. I’d be bankrupt in no time.

Hana entertained me with her singing while in the car.

24 comments:

Anoesh said...

Hi there,

wat een ongelooflijke leuke weblog!
Mijn vriendje woont in Beiroet en ik (nog) in Nederland.
Plannen liggen er voor de verhuizing dus ik ben echt aan het genieten samen met hem van je verhalen!

Keep it on...

Grtjs,

Anoesh

Sietske in Beiroet said...

Ha die Anoush, dus je komt naar Beiroet toe? Ik zelf zou niet meer naar nederland terug gaan, zelfs al zou ik niet met een Libanees zijn getrouwd, maar Beiroet kan soms ook heel vervelend zijn. Leuk wat van je te horen. Ik ga volgende week naar Nederland voor de zomer, dus ik zou zeggen, mail ff. galama@cyberia.net.lb

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