What more can you say about charity except we never give enough? From the pulpits of the mosques to private homes and all the way to the big offices of corporate businesses, not one of them really cares about it.
Why am I writing this? Just last week, a boy not more than ten years of age, was standing in a car park selling packets of frankincense to people walking to a shopping mall. Many of us took the trouble to walk the long way around him just to avoid eye contact with him. Just a few Samaritans stopped to buy the stuff, the rest just kept walking.
I happened to notice, just two hundred metres away, the boy’s mother was standing vigil hoping to take home a few rials.
Last month, the government announced that beggars would be jailed if found guilty of begging. That probably prompted the woman to ask her son to sell a little something to justify the action.
Begging is an age-old controversy and nobody wants to be in that category. The question is, whether begging is right or wrong, how a poor family is supposed to make ends meet with little money at their disposal?
Even here in Oman, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening all the time. In between that, people just manage to put food in the mouths of their families.
Many times a month, as I wait in the queues of an ATM cash machine, I get to notice the balances of the cash left in the bank accounts of people in front me. I don’t mean to pry but the numbers on the cash machine are in bold and very bright to fail noticing them. On average, I would say the big majority of them would have a balance of between RO 200 and RO 400.
And that balance is in the middle of the month. By the time it gets towards the end of the month, the cash reserve is almost nil. Like in a boxing ring, the hardship is saved by the bell when the next salary is deposited. I don’t have the statistics, but it is a safe bet that a good number of families in Oman live a hand-to-mouth existence with nothing to spare. They live a basic life just to satisfy the necessities. Anyone to blame for that? It is very controversial to go into detail. I guess Oman is just like the rest of the countries where the divide between the rich and the poor is never talked about.
But what I saw in that parking space is not an isolated case. There are many other poor people, too afraid to be nabbed by the police for begging, take to the streets selling trivial items nobody really wants.
For me, it is a dignified way of begging. But it will not be long before someone stops them and asks them to get a trading licence. All the authorities have to do, instead of chasing them out of the streets, is to investigate them to see whether there is a genuine reason that compelled them to stand in the hot sun, humiliating themselves for just a few rials a day.
Logic says that these are the orphans whose mothers have no one to turn to but being on the streets. Or simply, the fathers do not earn enough to feed, clothe them and pay the utility bills at the same time.
They are the neglected population of the society well hidden away in the dark alleyways of the social ladder. While the government might do something about it, what about the well-paid workers who earn more than they can spend, do about it? Or the corporate business owners who splash out their money on expensive cars and yachts.