Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I can't look the other way and it is heart breaking to look their way

As I promised myself, today was a great vacation day. The mere thought that everyone else is at work but me put me in a cheerful mood the moment I woke up. It is not an evil thought but each one of those who went to work today is me of everyday. It is a revengeful feeling against the "me" that still prostitutes herself from 8:00 to 5:00. The revenge however started like a honeymoon experience and ended in a painful mind conflict. For me, the first half an hour of the morning is usually the most important and most sensitive time that could decide the mood for the whole day. This is the sweet and peacefully lazy part in my hectic and busy journeys. That too passed extremely well. No shouting in the neighborhood and for some reason construction workers were on a break too. I strolled along the corniche of Ain Mrayseh light-headed and had a relaxing swim in the pool and then dizzied in the sun. So far, so good. The idea was then to sit by the sea in the company of a book. That's when, while I was still congratulating myself for the reward I got myself today, Hussein comes to me asking for 500 Lebanese Liras (a coin worth one third of a Dollar). Hussein (the first picture below) is five years old. He has an angel-like face and a hearty smile. The issue of child beggars is a torment to me since I read "Al-Sabiyou al-A'raj" (the gimp boy) by Toufic Youssef Awwad, "Le Petit Chose" by Alphonse Daudet, and Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos's "Mon Bel Oranger" (still one of my favorite books) in my childhood. I still don't know if I should help a child not get a beating at night or refrain from encouraging the practice. This would have been okay on another day but today was the day I am supposed to despise work and all of the capitalist system. So I start a chat with Hussein who tells me that he had never set foot in a school, doesn't play, and has to collect 10,000 Lebanese pounds before he can go home. Hussein was not very forthcoming at first but when his cousin Alghadeer (a Turkuman name as he explained to me) joined, Hussein became more cheerful. Alghadeer is 10 years old. He hates both his and Hussein's parents. He told me that he only loves his grandfather and his brothers in addition to Hussein. Al Ghadeer is not a beggar; he is a shoe shiner and he feels sorry for his young cousin because the latter's father forces him to the streets and beats him at night. That's why he decided that he will make a double effort to give young Hussein the money he would be short of at the end of the day and get the beating himself instead. Alghadeer's father does not approve of him working at the corniche area because there are no clients there as many as in Borj Hammoud where he drops him off everyday. But Alghadeer takes the bus everyday to the corniche to be close to Hussein. "Look at him", he said, "just look at his face. Don't you see why? he is very short and young, the age of my tiny brother. But his father is mean. Even his mother beats him up". Then comes again the story of his grandfather. "You know why I love my grandfather?" he asked. "Because one day when I was a little child - as if he is a grown up now- I threw away a huge sum of money that my grandfather had and when it was discovered my grandfather didn't beat me. He smiled to me. He is the only one I love." Hussein is now encouraged to start a conversation "I want to be a shoe shiner when I grow up," he said. "I don't want to be a beggar." Suddenly I become aware that everyone is staring at the scene of me talking to street children. I ask the kids if I can offer them some ice cream and talk on the way. They refused at first because ice cream here is expensive, they said, it is for 3,000 Liras while in Naba'a where they live they get it for 250. We didn't find an ice cream shop, so we opted for some potato chips and drinks. Surprisingly, they were so shy to accept and felt sorry for me because I had to pay a "big" sum of money (I thought that they maybe preferred if I give it to them in cash and I felt sorry for myself again). After we got the snacks, we went back to our chatting bench. This time, they started asking me questions: if I am married, if I go to school, that I am more beautiful with my sunglasses on, and they always addressed me with"madame" and they suddenly forgot that they were at work. Looking at them, I only pitied myself and not them. I pitied myself for thinking that I have put a smile on their faces (not a selfless deed) and for taking their picture (for the blog), and for my giving deed that would do them nothing, but alleviate my remorse feeling. I could have given them the money they needed to go home and sleep without the beating, but I didn't. On top of that, I enjoyed my time with them and it was Hussein who excused himself because he has work to do. They left me there on the bench absorbed in deep thoughts about the capitalist system that I help nourish.


  1. I dont think self pitty is feeling here, i mean being helpless and knowing that not everyday some "stranger" will make them feel safe even for a tiny second is eats you up inside.

    but nevertheless, maybe now he loves his grandfather/alghadeer and he likes you.