Hubbs and I watched Slumdog Millionaire last night and we loved it. If you haven’t seen it, go now. It’s a great movie. If I could believe it to be a fictional tale, it would be what the PR folks have dubbed it – the year’s best Feel Good movie. (No worries, no spoilers here.)
For me the problem is that I see every day how very based in reality the movie is, specifically in its treatment of beggars and children begging. We see beggars daily here. I don’t give money – think what you’d like about me, but I just don’t. I’m not cold or calloused about it. But I don’t want to be a factor in perpetuating the cycle. The kids and elderly begging? It’s not like my 1o lei (roughly $1) will do a part in raising their standard of living and help them eventually buy a nice suit and get a good job – not even if I gave them $100.
If I were to give anything the whole sum would go to the ‘owner’, the very one who has a mansion down the street from me. And he would continue to exploit the needy, giving them just enough to remain content, and filling them up with manipulative warm fuzzies masquerading as conditional love. I don’t want to be a part of that cycle, as much as it hurts to see it.
There’s a woman who begs outside the store where I do most of my daily shopping. She’s there every morning, and every morning I wonder if I should give her some food or loose change – perhaps she’s really poor. Perhaps she’s not a part of the cycle. I wondered every morning, until this morning. This morning as I walked out of the store she pulled 2 bags out from under her coat. One was full of fresh oranges. Oranges, so you know, are ridiculously expensive here, somewhere around $5/lb. In fact, for the price of 1 small orange I could buy enough potatoes to feed my family for a week, enough rice to feed us for a month. Oranges are for the upwardly mobile, not the destitute. Her other bag was full of money, the money she’d collected that morning. The bag was clear so I could see just how full it was, and with what type of bills. Let’s just say, by 11AM she’d collected more than enough money to feed my family of 5 for a week, and with more than just potatoes. As I rounded the corner I turned and looked back. She was secretly peeling her orange under her coat with one hand, and with the other she was putting the money someone had just given her into the bag under her coat.
I don’t know her situation. I don’t know who she gives the money to at the end of the day. I do know that she’s pretending to be something she’s not. I also know that she’s not starving, unlike some others I’ve seen here. There was a man on my way home last week digging through dumpsters. He walked with a cane and a limp, and looked to be in his 70s. He started at the dumster near the store I go to and as I walked home he wasn’t far from me – checking every dumster along the way. By the time I got inside and gathered some food for him he was gone. I’ve seen him again since then, doing the same thing.
There’s real poverty here. I stare it down every time I go outside. My eyes are wide open. I cannot turn a blind eye to it. It’s easy to close yourself off from it when it’s an ocean away. But it’s at my doorstep. It sits next to me on the bus. It stares me down when I leave the store, produce in hand. It stands next to me at the market, hoping I’ll share.
God hasn’t tasked me to judge – who’s really poor and who’s not. But He has told me to be a steward of what He gives. I’m still trying to figure out what that means, but there’s something inside me that screams out against the cycle that exploiters have created here. I cannot in good conscience support a slave owner. But my eyes are wide open every day now looking for that 70-something man. My dumster-diver with a cane. Real poverty demands a response. And I hope – and pray – that our response to it here will bring more than just a meal to someone needy. Hubbs is doing everything in his power to change the political structures that turn a blind eye to exploitation, and he’s working at starting something that will employ the jobless. That response resonates. And it stares back, with eyes wide open.