Monday, May 2, 2011

the girl who rejected my orange

One of our many train journeys was supposed to begin at 7:30AM. We arrived to the station around 7, and upon checking the status of our train at the inquiry counter, were told that it wouldn't arrive until 11:30AM. The four-hour layover was the first we had encountered on our trip, so we weren't that upset because we had figured that it was bound to happen sometime.

We later found out, of course, that our train actually HAD been on time. But by the time we realized the error--that our train had come and gone--it was too late. Luckily there really was an 11:30 train that was going to our destination, too. It's just as well, however, that we had to sit around and wait, because if our train had been on time, I never would have met the girl who rejected my orange.

Jim, Maggie, and I were sitting on the ground of Platform 3. Our bags containing all our worldly possessions were haphazardly strewn about us. The station was filled with the everyday hustle and bustle of hundreds of travelers, and we got to watch the train station world--that interesting intersection of people of every class and socioeconomic status--go by for a while. The family rushing to board a moving train. The man selling chaya, tea. The homeless woman staring vacantly into the distance, clutching an undernourished, naked baby to her chest. The woman in a burqa walking next to the woman in a skirt and heels. The young boys and girls going from person to person begging for money.

It wasn't long before one of the girls approached us. I confronted the inner battle that one faces any time one is asked for money: I want to help him/her, BUT--what is this money going to be used for? To meet legitimate needs? Or for harmful/destructive purposes, like drugs or alcohol? Am I playing a role in perpetuating this person's circumstances by making it profitable for them to beg?

Furthermore, in the case of India, it is known that children are oftentimes 'employed' (indentured? forced?) to spend the day begging for money. The money they get is given to their 'employer,' and perhaps the child is allowed to keep a few rupees. Or, if not 'employed,' the money is given to their parents, maybe for real needs, maybe not. Sadly, the bottom line is that if you give money to a're probably not actually giving money to the child.

As the little girl stood in front of me and held out her hand, saying something in Hindi, I was spared the ethical dilemma by the fact that I genuinely did not have any money on me at the time. I gave her my warmest smile and shook my head that no, I didn't have anything to give.

But wait--I did! I remembered that Maggie and I had purchased fruit earlier in the day, in an attempt to eat healthier (ha). It was the perfect solution: I could give her something that would be hers and hers alone to enjoy; I could give some sustenance, however small, to her tiny body.

I joyfully reached into my purse, took out the orange, and offered it to the girl.



She wasn't even very nice about it. She had to try real hard to stop herself from laughing, and gave me a look that said come on, is that really all you have to give me?

I found myself feeling rather disgruntled and thinking, well yes, it certainly is!

Now, I'm not saying that one should be skeptical of homeless people. There are so many needy people in the world, and I am 100% convinced that it is my obligation--your obligation--we are ALL obligated--to help them. This includes not only meeting their physical needs, but also treating them as known and valued human beings. I am reminded of the lyrics of a song by Joan Osborne: "What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way home?"

I don't for a second think that my orange would have made a huge difference in the life or well-being of that girl. But her refusal confirmed my suspicions that she was probably working for someone. It's just not fair--why doesn't she get a childhood? Why is she forced to spend hour after hour begging for money at the railway station; why does she feel that she can't take two minutes for herself to sit down and eat an orange?

The girl walked away in hopes of having better luck elsewhere. Inevitably, though, she came back (remember, we were sitting there for four hours); once again, I offered her the orange. Once again, she refused.

Again, she walked away. About an hour later, she returned. She held out her hand and for the third time asked, in Hindi, for money. For the third time, I smiled and shook my head no. For the third time, I offered her the orange.

Finally, she took it.

Mind you, she didn't look pleased. Perhaps she thought that if she continued coming around I would give her money just to leave us alone. She was persistent, but so was I.

I hope that little girl enjoyed the orange. I hope she was actually able to eat it herself and didn't have to give it to someone else. I hope she will somehow, some day, come to know something better of life.

It's interesting, when you feel like you're being generous, no matter on how small of a scale, to have your generosity refused. Although maybe what she needed, I just didn't have to give?

"Usually, our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other, and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you." -The 14th Dalai Lama

1 comment:

  1. Funny how she kept coming back...maybe deep down she wanted the orange but like you said...theyi are forced into getting money. Maybe she had to prove someone else that she was being persistent herself!(person getting her money)