She lay on the street, hands curled around a baby too malnourished to cry, feet clawed defiantly into cobblestones brimming with past atrocities. The slight tilt of her head indicated her appeal for money, her deploring, brown eyes were trained expertly on the wealthy tourists – waiting, almost deliberately full of scorn, for a scrap of luck.
Luck? I recognized the need for it, as I strolled by the woman perched near the Spanish Steps in Rome. My mind recalled warnings from well-meaning travellers, “Don’t give money to beggars, they’ll only follow you,” and, “If you give them anything, they’ll only do it more.” Do what more? Beg on the streets while tourists amble by with gelato and stomachs full of pasta? I’m pretty sure they don’t want to be doing that.
All over the world, there’s an urgent need to eradicate the business that poverty lends itself to. Yes, it’s true that if we give, we might be supporting a tragically flawed system. One that enables pimps and thieves to take advantage of people’s misfortune.
If tourists never gave to beggars, the common scams wouldn’t continue. But, really, we’re all guilty of over-intellectualising, rather than taking action. We can choose to give or not based on these judgements – but the suffering is obvious and the beggar likely has no choice but to be a part of that system.
I gave the woman an apple and the coins I had. Her sodden eyes glittered with relief, her gnarled body moved with sudden energy to grasp the shiny red skin and her rotten teeth bit into the juicy fruit to tear its nutrition to pieces and feed it to her baby.
Relief washed over me. Relief for the fact that I walked with my eyes open, alert, seeking and allowing each moment to be as it is, so I could make the right decision in this one, based on what I saw and felt. What I saw was pain and hardship, despite the pimp who may have been waiting to scoop up the money. He, also, has his reasons and I can’t presume to understand or judge them. I have never walked in his (or her) shoes.
What I learnt, is when I shut down my judgements and thoughts, based on a privileged Western life, my intuition chooses for me…and I’m happy to let it.