Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To give or not to give…

     White privilege…that is what I have. I have it because I have white skin. That’s all. Living in a predominately black country I stand out not only because I look different, but because my white skin is analogous to having money.

     I am asked at least once for money when I’m out and about either in my village or in town. I follow the Peace Corps model “we don’t give money; we give knowledge” so I turn everyone down. It isn’t good to encourage the white-people-give-money stereotype and people need to find other means to survive on their own without begging.

     In town, young boys, young men who are typically drunkards, and on rare occasions, young girls come up to me without hesitation and ask the well-rehearsed question, ‘can you give me money?’ I walk right past them. It is tough because I know that some of them are actually hungry and need food.

     I am surprised to see begging like this in my village because the only white people who pass through the village are Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries so there are so few of us that I can’t imagine how this practice of begging is taught. It could be imparted by adults or peers. 

     Who knows? But in the town, I fully understand how this is regularly practiced. It’s as if the young boys who beg are ‘experts’ in the field. They have a line they give clearly in English as though they’ve practiced for hours on end and I’ve seen them stalk me and wait for the perfect moment to pounce on the unsuspecting-white-person-with-money-who-has-a-soft-spot-for-street-kids.

     There is an exception to this rule, though. In my village when a woman has the courage to approach me and struggle to speak English explaining she has traveled far by foot and is hungry, or a woman who does not have food to serve her family for breakfast, I don’t hesitate. I help out. Remember, there are no food stamp programs in this country; no safety net as what we’re used to in western countries.

     Kaonde women are shy by nature and they’re proud. I hold utmost respect for these women. They are hard working and do their best raising their children through very difficult times that we can’t even imagine. Rarely am I approached by women asking for help, but when I am asked I know she is at desperate measures. I am grateful I am there to give a helping hand.

     Begging is practiced in the United States. Sometimes I had given into it, and it’s all races that beg, or ask for help. I will be interested to see if my stance on giving to a person who claims who needs help will be different. Will I have a different view? Will I be more sympathetic? Will I be more keen and selective on who to give to? It will be interesting to see how I handle this situation when I come home.

     When I was raising my children there had been desperate situations I found myself in. I’m shy and proud just as the Kaonde women are. The only safety net I had was help from the government or friends. It’s the same thing as a person on the streets who have reached desperate measures to stay alive. I had lived on the streets in my car for two weeks with my son who was two years old at the time. I asked my father to help me…and he did.

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