“Oh ma.” “Allah, oh khala. ” The greeting sounded almost like a groan. I had heard that sound all morning — this is what beggars say when they come to our door. By lunch time, I had given ten cups of rice to beggars. They were all ladies in drab, ripped saris, holding their sari achol out for the rice.
Poverty. Living in Bangladesh it is hard to ignore it. People around me have such different responses to it — my mother-in-law never gives to beggars who come to the door but she has helped multitudes of poor women in the village clinic by diagnosing their ailments, selling them medicine at a highly reduced rate or giving it to them. Other people I know give to almost every beggar that comes to their door and mix with people of different classes. They are praised in the neighborhood, but the rich people are scornful of such behavior. I know local Muslims who pay for poor kids to go to school and rejoice when they graduate with high grades. I know of a local university student who let an orphan boy live with him and paid his food and schooling. I know of a westerner who thought that all Bengalis ignored their kids’ health and let their babies wander around intersections to beg!! I know Muslims who hold “beggar parties” to fulfill a personal vow, where they feed any beggar that comes to their door with a huge plate of party food. Other locals refuse to give to beggars, but help their poor relatives all the time.
We used to live with my in-laws, so I didn’t give to beggars at the door out of respect to my mother-in-law. But now since living on our own, I have wanted to try it out. At first, no beggars came since our house is off the big roads. But they soon found out that I gave rice, so now our house is definitely on their radar! Yet I found my anger growing, and my compassion decreasing. The same ladies came daily. And most do not look or act sick, some are young enough to work manual jobs. I have found out that their husbands mostly have small jobs. They always demand food and money, even as I am pouring the rice into their sari. When I told a beggar lady to not come every day, she told me that rice is a gift from God and should be given to everyone.
That was the last straw for me and I then decided that I would give rice to the beggars only on Sundays. I told them, and after complaining, they left. It’s been a peacefully week — I guess they spread the word. Maybe I should buy more rice in preparation for Sunday!! I’ll let you know what happens.
The majority in this country work very hard but many seem stuck in poverty. These last months we have seen so many people make bad decisions. A man who finally got a good job refuses to work daily or on time. His boss is warning that he will fire him if it continues. Another man mistrusts banks — a his life’s savings were stolen from his house the very month that a bug got into his betel-nut crop and ruined the harvest. Amina’s brother, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, refused surgery when we offered it to him, and instead trusted in the lies of homeopathy, only to be dead within three months — leaving a wife and three kids.
Poverty — it comes from natural disasters, injustice, family strife, ignorance, laziness, sickness — to name a few reasons. The solution must be just as multifaceted.