Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Begging as Vice

Nick over at Ganesh and Ghandi posted an interesting blog the other day about his experiences of beggars in India. Levi-Strauss makes very similar comments about Indian beggars in his book Tristes Tropiques.

It concerned Levi-Strauss almost professionally one might say because, as an anthropologist, he was interested in seeing the way other people live as some kind of observer, not as the new centre of their universe. At one point, he finds himself wishing that they would stop moaning and gnashing their teeth and simply rise up and fling him from his expensive hotel room. The French revolutionary spirit!

I had similar experiences to Nick's when visiting Cairo, although perhaps not so intensely. Sometimes we could walk around for long periods without being bothered at all. One day I saw a child lying by the road with a string of bloody bandages where a foot should have been. I passed by without stopping. It's something that will always haunt me. Seeing this kind of thing makes you realise how desperate these people are. And yet life seems to continue as normal. The boy with the bloody bandages was talking with several of his little friends...

Another strange experience was to have some money begged off us by a boy, then half an hour later to meet him again, this time being hauled along by his brother who forced him to give it back. This put begging in a new light for me: as a vice that people should be persuaded to give up.

On the other hand, if somebody offers some sort of service, I will more likely dip my hand in my pocket. I have a particular soft spot for people who play the accordian in Paris. They generally receive a big fat Euro, even if they're not much good.

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