I hit a beggar with my car door the other day. On purpose. I often go for the car door handle when approached by beggars. They can be very assuming (you have, I don’t, you must give me) and, on the odd occasion, aggressive. I wouldn’t say I’m a very physical person – heck, even hugs make me uncomfortable sometimes. This particular beggar, a girl around 18, somehow found herself outside my compound last week. Her begging companion, possibly her sister, had a baby with her and the baby ended up banging on our gate. So I went outside to see who it was. When I saw them, I went back inside to give them some bread and strawberries. When I came back out, the girl pushed her way into the compound, while I was holding Zizi, and refused to leave and was asking for clothes. I asked her to leave and then had to physically push her out. It wasn’t dark out or anything (it was mid-morning) but I still found it unnerving that someone pushed their way into my compound. Here in Addis, I am a big big believer that my home is my refuge.
The other day she came to the gate again and attempted to push her way into the compound when the woman who washes our clothes came in. I pushed the door closed on her before she could come in. Later we were parked on the street waiting for the husband when she approached the car. She asked for money and I said no. She made some insulting comment and not wanting to feel intimidated yet again, I hit her with the car door. She didn’t really look too surprised.
It’s been five years. The first week I was here I would tear up when I saw mothers with babies on the street. Now when I’m approached by beggars, I feel like a cat that gets all poofed up as a matter of intimidation.
There are, what I call, “automatic qualifiers”. I size people up. If they’re wearing decent shoes, I don’t give money. I generally don’t give to mothers with babies because I think it’s teaching the kids to beg and I doubt as to whether the babies receive any of it. I gave an orange to a woman once and the baby reached around as well, as if to say “she won’t share with me.” I give to people who are crippled and must crawl and strap old tires to themselves. I often give to older women or men who quite possibly have no one. But priests – no. Guys with club foot – no.
I did more volunteer work in Canada than I ever will do here. The amount of need is overwhelming. I totally think that’s a lame excuse but it’s true. Giving one birr here or there will not make the least amount of difference. I wish I was more kind and less cynical. But I think I’ve passed the point of no return on that one.