A split second’s flash of anger, followed by breaking of eye contact, a visible swallow – of pride – and a hesitant nod.
There’s a pattern to how able-bodied, hard-working adults accept help.
And in that moment when he or she says ‘yes’ to food handout, there’s a shared self-loathing. You, the voyeur, for being privy to what they see as humiliation. They, for finding themselves in this situation.
It wasn’t for mere livelihood that these men and women travelled thousands of miles. It was for prosperity… a desire to provide their children with a life dramatically different from their own. Just like me. Just like you.
The bunch of straws they are clutching at get pulled one by one, leaving them with useless shreds in their clenched fists. You watch them struggle. Do we pack up and leave? Do we stay on and fight?
In the seconds before they renew eye contact with you they tell themselves this is temporary. This once, and never again. A bag of rice, a few vegetables, a couple of eggs. This once. Never again.
On a wing and a prayer they continue to struggle out of the the gridlock of failed promises, discriminatory laws, and above all, their invisibility.
Forced celibacy (or something like that), leaving loved ones behind, mounting debts… all of that has to count for something, it’s not easy to give up.
Then, the rice runs out, the last of the riyals go into telephone cards, promises are broken, they are lost in a system they don’t comprehend. This time around the eye contact is not broken. Yes, please, a little more food stuff.
It’s then that you go from being voyeur to deceiver. The sympathy (let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not empathy), providing bandaids for a festering wound, and moving on having spent three lattes worth of money on their worries.
You see, when the media (we) writes about exploitation and abuse, about the dead and dying, about the laws or lack of, it swathes it in a blanket of statistics. We forget about their dignity. Their desperate desire to be productive. We forget that accepting charity is emasculating (I use that word for want of a gender-neutral equivalent).
And that’s the last thing that these men and women signed up for. Charity is aplenty in the countries they come from, be it due to the guilt of feudal societies or that of Western powers (aka developmental aid).
Charity shouldn’t be what their lives depend on here. Definitely not while building the capital of the richest country in the world.
Photo courtesy: Flickr