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Beggar Etiquette

This might be highly taboo a topic to poke at but…let’s give it a go.

Here’s the scenario: It’s afternoon, I pull up at a traffic light. Don’t worry so much about where I am. A street in Rondebosch in Cape Town or any other South African city. I press the brakes and look around. The view is as expected: red light, other cars, some dude selling newspapers, the BIG ISSUE guy, someone toting a black bag offering to de-garbage the interior of my vehicle and a woman with a baby on her back. The details might change depending on the street. Maybe there’s a guy with one leg on crutches or a kid with no shoes. What’s going through my head as I scan the scene? It ranges from a freaky (I’m not known for my Bible knowledge) recollection of a quote from the Bible, “For the poor always ye have with you” (John ch7.v8); to feeling bad cause I’m about to roll up my windows and ignore my surroundings for the seconds it takes the lights to go green again; to wanting to roll down my window and engage with the traffic light residents; to wanting to roll down my window throw some offering of pittance and roll up and bask in an all-consuming, if fleeting, feeling of “I’ve done my bit”. There are more scatterings of thought – the odd R2 might buy something for the beggar but he’ll still be there tomorrow – the problem remains; what could I do that would actually make a lasting difference?

For a period my modus operandi was to travel with food and give that. These days I am concerned for, whether I give or not, atleast being able to look whoever in the eye. I don’t have to lie (turn my palms upwards and whisper “I have no money”). I’ve always envied the stern shake of the head (dead-pan expression) my father succeeds in delivering. That’s actually honourable, no bullsh*t, no condescending smile or apology. I don’t want to have to apologise each time I approach a traffic light. Other people I know keep a healthy stash of R2 and R5 coins and give this generously. But isn’t that more about feeling better in myself than actually supporting the beggar – i’m coming from a “teach-to-fish” perspective here rather than just doling out fish.

Maybe I think too much! Ease up, right? Well my current resolution is to build relationships. And to reward work/effort. So long as the dude in the parking lot really made a difference (the drunkards rarely do) I give. I enjoy a laugh so I regularly buy the jokes and I create some rapport with the people I buy from. I think BIG ISSUE is great so I make a point of buying the magazine. More than that? There’s no time at the lights to start lecturing some woman on being proactive. And what do I know anyway, born as I have been with privilege. Anyway, the intention is not to unleash a strain of guilt because I’m educated and so on. The intention is to give some thought – will we always have the poor? Or are there things I can do, actions I can take that will slowly make a difference in our communities.

It’s a daily consideration.

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