Getting to work every morning takes me past a loud and smelly Kasanchis to get a taxi to bole. There’s this growing guilt, a bit of misanthropy (It means hate for humanity) and an immense amount of annoyance that I feel as I get in line for a bole taxi and slowly progress in this confusing early bega weather that can’t decide if it wants to be hot or cold, the sun an entity alive bid on driving my thin patience to hell. In all this, there are insistent zombie like creatures, victims of circumstance and capitalism, clinking their coins as they waddle to fast people in their fast lives, necks tilted to trigger compassion and wrists shaking to ask the vague, “ስለ ሚካዬል…?” so you figure out what they mean from having heard it your whole life and throw a broken cent and wait for their gratitude. You don’t know what they do with the broken cent but you wish you could do more, you wish you could ask them what they really needed so you could save them all. But you’re hit with the knowledge that you actually can’t and probably won’t see it to the end.
Perhaps it’s that people have gotten used to seeing this everyday, the sympathy is almost completely gone. You see a woman breast feeding her child in the street and maybe you take a moment to think about your own life, your own mother, you become obligated to throw something her way. It might even be a weak smile that she doesn’t understand. A blind man trips you and you’re late for work; you feel annoyed and you feel guilt and then you feel annoyed again.
I realize this is taboo but I don’t think anyone realizes how many of them there are and I think everyone lies about the sympathy they feel towards beggars. “Yes it’s very unfortunate but that’s just life” happens to be the general mentality observed. If you’ve been walking around with a foreigner, fear would be the appropriate feeling. I have never witnessed such desperation in my life. You’re supposed to feel sorry but in the pestering that follows you, the constant repetition of noises, a reminder of the poverty and misfortune that exists in the world that somehow you’ve never had to endure. It’s like a never ending beep that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, wondering about the shame you feel asking for taxi fare when you’ve spent your allowance on cellphone cards and then wondering about other types of shame in asking a complete stranger for some spare change that you’re sure he has because look at the shirt he’s wearing, look at his phone, that fellow definitely has money to spare, but you with your misshapen limps exposed to trigger compassion ….
In the moment, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy. I feel restless and violated.
It’s not a nice idea to have in one’s head. It breaks your heart yet it makes you feel good and dirty and so evil. We don’t remember to feel gratitude for the most common things we have in our homes like indoor plumbing and water taps yet we get annoyed by the armless gangrene legged old man with no one to help him go to the toilet especially when he doesn’t even have a toilet….
Billy Holiday doesn’t help my case as she wails in my headphones.
“Them that’s got shall have
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child
that’s got his own, that’s got his own
Yes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don’t ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own,
that’s got his own…