The Guilt and ‘grrr’ of beggars on the street in Paris.

No woman, man or child should ever have to beg for their lives, dignity or daily bread.  In an ideal world, which we all know is nothing like the stories we read as children.  

Watching people beg upsets me. Coming from Africa, I thought myself quite immune to this, right down to the many street children with cupped hands at the lights.  But no, children no older than four doing the job for mother who is breastfeeding by the side of the road tears me up.  Or the blind man being led to my window for change.  I am a wreck when this happens and like PMS, on an emotional day, it’s me handing over all my money and sobbing all the way home.  Why is life so unfair?

However, I have also been on the other side of hostility emanating from those I thought I was helping.  Those very same children would, at times, reject my offer of nourishment – it’s the money for glue they want.  I have been spat on, cursed and told, with laden sarcasm, to ‘have a nice day because you can.’  This is the ‘grrr’ part coming to the fore.  I must say that in London, most homeless/jobless people are selling ‘The Issue’ and always polite.

The reason for writing now is my trip to Paris was riddled with beggars on the street.  Why do I always forget this part? Perhaps it’s my eternal romance with the city that causes selective memory but when it’s cold like this in December, at Christmas, the beggars are on practically every corner.  Some wearing Christmas hats.  All ages, men and women, sitting on cardboard or mattresses, many with animals beside them.  I believe they are given more government funding if they have and maintain good care of their dogs and cats (I actually met a man with a white rabbit on the sidewalk yesterday – quite entrepreneurial as the children could seldom resist.)

I know this is a controversial subject.  Been going on for years.  I thought I was immune.  I am not.

Reading up on where these individuals come from, Google has endless articles, all with varying opinions regarding the beggars in Paris.  Be it the older women, kneeling on the sidewalk, the mute but persistent young girls who thrust clipboards under your nose (and once tried to whip my Starbucks from the table – you should have seen me move and tell her to f … off, much to the delight of my children – goes to show what instinct brings out in all of us.)  Then there are the ‘did you lose this gold ring’ scam and the unwashed babies who should be safe and warm.  The signs and plastic cups are now so far placed in the middle of the sidewalk, one poor American kicked it over by accident – you would have thought he had killed Bambi. Kicking the man when he’s down’s cup is kicking the man when he’s down.

There is help.  Charities work tirelessly to feed, cloth and home the homeless and the hungry.  It is not a permanent solution.

I cannot give money to everyone. I work hard for mine and if I want to buy my children Christmas presents, it is my right to do so without guilt.

I would rather buy a broom from a person who has risen and found a solution to poverty by selling their wares rather than simply holding out their hands.

Every year for Christmas, each child receives a present of charity in their names:  a meal for a homeless person, a school uniform for a child, a lifeline for a donkey, these are some charities we support.

A few months ago, when I was in South Africa, I watched a documentary of a man who climbs down into the sewers everyday, wading through the muck in hope of finding objects he can sell and raise money for his family.  You would be surprised what treasure lies within the merde – diamonds and rings, cutlery and mobile phones – and though he may be killing himself with the toxic fumes and ecoli exposure, the man is doing something positive in his life.  He is not begging. 

To those I walk by, I do feel so guilty that I cannot make all your lives better and warmer this winter.

I feel powerless to help you when there are so many.

I should never develop a disregard for human need and those less fortunate than myself.

But there are times, and forgive me, when I just feel the ‘grrr’ of demands expected from me when I am doing my best not to make demands upon others.

And I hope … that there are Samaritans out there for you.  Or Angels, angels would be better …

 

Images Bread.org and Daily mail