A stranger called me as I was leaving a shopping mall. I have never seen him before but I stopped anyway. He apologised profusely for being rude but I assured him it was alright. He wanted some money to pay for his children’s school books and uniforms. I scanned him from head to toe with my eyes. Seconds later, I reached for my wallet and handed over what I thought would be enough to cover at least the need of one child. He thanked me but asked for my phone number so he could call me and pay the money back at the end of the month when he got paid. I said it was “alright” and got into my car and drove away.
As I was driving home I wondered if I committed a mistake of falling into a trap of a conman. Yes, there was every chance that the man was a professional beggar. However, his body language and something in the tone of his voice suggested he was not. Who in this world would involve his children and walk the streets to beg for money unless it was genuine? We usually dismiss beggars as vermin of society and don’t see them actually what they are. No one with any self-respect would stretch a hand and lower their dignity.
It stretches to our own childhood when our parents asked us to be independent but left a few important questions unanswered. Independence is tagged with hard work and I do not dispute that. However, no amount of work or education can prepare you for the future. The future is like a bubble and can burst anytime.
Our parents kept saying that “laziness” can lead to poverty. This is the reason why we consider beggars as parasites. People who should have worked harder in their education during their childhood. Or work harder by exploring the opportunities available to them in adulthood. But most beggars never intend to end up in the streets. They had certain ambitions and I am sure they were raised well by their parents.
It would not do any harm to spare a change when they stop you. I see many people just walk past them as if they do not exist. If they are healthy then they can work, that is the usual argument. However, we forget that it is the mental status that is more important than the physical side in any human.
But the funny thing is beggars only exist in cities and towns. You don’t find them in villages. If you wonder why, then there is a simple answer. In rural areas, the communities there look after each other. In the jungle of the cities, people have no time and act like they are in the zoo.
I remember visiting a village near Jabal Al Akhdar years ago and was amazed to find mosques there prepare foods every evening for worshippers. Farmers put up no boundaries in their lands. Neighbours help themselves with fruits and vegetables whenever they want. These are the communities which share what little they have with each other. During the weddings or deaths, they all chip in to make the occasions a success.
But in the cities like Muscat, everyone is suspicious of one another. For example, we close our gates all the time. Even the curtains of the windows stay down even on daylight. We put up surveillance cameras on our walls to detect intruders. It goes without saying that if someone is starved enough, then they can turn into criminals. If we don’t share the rial with beggars, then the only way they can get a piece of bread is to steal it.
It is not food for thought for them but food for survival.