Sunday, September 19, 2004


goli, originally uploaded by seamonkeylifeboat.

this is goli. she hung out with us when we stopped for a coffee after walking through the bandra street fair for awhile. she and her friend were hanging out on the steps of the cafe in their school uniforms and we traded smiles on the way in. i sat outside and we had, some more smiles, and some 'hi's as andy got his cappucino. i guess because of the uniforms (all the school kids wear them, in different colors for the different schools, some dark and light blue, some even red and pink) i was a little suprised when her friend did the ubiquitous begging mime (touch belly and then mouth, tilt head to side and nod, looking very sad, nod some more, then repeat) and she asked for rupees. it's more typical to get that from half naked dirty kids carrying listless babies. it's heart breaking and confusing and i'm sure i'll rant about it soon. there are millions of people in mumbai living in extreme poverty - many come because the areas they're from are even more poor, and at least here there is a chance (and there aren't too many mass beheadings in cities as compared to villages). they might sift through garbage and sell cardboard or bottles for recycling, they might end up in the sex trade, maybe they'll find some kind of labor in construction or pulling carts of goods, lucky ones might end up as waiters, bus boys, or servants where they have a place to stay and clean food (many waiters sleep in the restaurants at night). the severely handicapped, old women, young girls with babies, and children often beg. and you want to help. you REALLY REALLY want to help. it's not a simple issue, though, or obviously i'd hand over all the money in my pocket. i may not be rich by american standards but i'm not suffering from brain damage from malnutrition, am not likely to have boiling water thrown on my face for not bearing a male child, and am pretty sure i won't be forced into the sex trade in a country with sky rocketing HIV rates any time soon. so i want to help. but there is SO much poverty here that if you give money to someone, generally 3 more people see it and swarm you and you turn into a walking ATM - how do you choose between the man with no arms or toes and the 4 1/2 tall blind old woman with no teeth and the desperate eyed girl holding a baby on her hip and 2 toddlers by the hand? besides the controversy of perpetuating a begging culture, many times these people are basically pimped out by someone who takes the rupees away anyway and you really don't want to perpetuate that. so are you helping or long-run hurting? so far andy and i have tried to help those who are obviously too handicapped to work (does that encourage maiming of children to create better beggars? i hope not), not give too much in tourist areas where a lot of the scams take place, are talking to a new friend who works with what she refers to as 'kid jails' about where to best donate larger sums of money to try to make a real difference, and are learning to evaluate each situation, not always correctly to be sure. for the most part we say no and try to stick to it because they'll follow you for blocks yanking on your arm or clothes and you really don't want to encourage that. a white face is an invitation to begging, understandably, but if i emptied my bank account and walked down the street giving it away it really wouldn't make as much difference, i think, as finding a way to help a few kids go to school through a charity. anyway, enough with the beginning rant and back to goli.
some kids seem to just beg when they see a white face because they see other people get money that way, so at first i thought she mgiht be doing that. we joked around with her, she said,' 2 rupees, please,' and when we said no she tried for 10 and made us laugh. andy asked her about school, and she spoke enough english to say yes very proudly and chant most of the ABCs. sometimes the cafe workers would come out and make a motion and she'd back off the steps for a minute and point to the ice cream vendor across the street. her friend wandered off to lie down on a wall down the street and i noticed that her uniform was clean but worn out and her hair ribbon was just a dirty scrap. i remembered reading about kids that beg in the evening so that their families can keep them in school during the day, adding a whole new layer of difficulty to knowing what is right and wrong. i don't think it was a school day, either, so they may have been her only clothes. whaddyagonnado? so i showed her my camera, she smiled and posed, i took a pic and showed her (always brings huge smiles and bright eyes), gave her a couple rupees and shook hands. she said,' good night,' and ran off as we walked back to the fair.


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