Another grubby hand snaked out in front of me.
“Five Rand sister!” his voice rang out. “1000meticals. Enough for bread. I am so hungry missus!”
I turned away mumbling, “sorry.”
While I could have produced the change the boy begged for, I could not fix the state of the nation. There were so many here that pleaded for hand-outs. I did not have the money to feed them all. It was over-whelming to see poverty on such a level. Everywhere you turned pathetic little hands were jammed into your face. Only this morning a boy stopped in front of me in a market we were wandering through. He did not say a word, only pointing to his mouth. Perhaps he could not speak, as his mouth was a misshapen gash. Whether it was the effect of polio, which seemed to survive and thrive here, or perhaps a misadventure with a land mine, I did not know. An image of a macabre jack o’ lantern struck me, as his eyes demanded sympathy. He got the sympathy, but not in the form of money. His errant few teeth and broken lips were another example of the horrors that this country was trying to survive through. It sickened me. How could life have turned so wrong on such a scale? This deformed child screamed of a whole nation contorted by the ugliness of war, greed and misuse. How could one person, or one handful of change make a difference? It could not. Time needed to pass to help heal the wounds so prevalent everywhere. Aid organizations were there offering what they could, but at times it just seemed that they encouraged the need to beg. The people could just sit back and expect that money would be handed to them. I often felt like my white skin was akin to a beacon of riches, booming out my affluence. Just the fact of my presence there screamed of the wealth I had in comparison to the poorest of the poor amongst this shattered world. I walked with all my possessions on my back, but still I had more wealth than most of these people would ever see. My plane ticket home was equivalent to freedom, tantamount to innumerable fortunes in their world. I turned away from him and his horrors with a sadness that could not be ignored.
While the phenomenal poverty at every turn was a struggle to process, we did try to offer some small alms. A group of children were given some rice. A man that sold Miki a batik, also got our leftover rice salad. Another group of children were offered some slightly stale bread, that we improved with the presence of jam. We tended to live on a small budget ourselves, but we knew that our wealth was more than any of these poor children could hope to have. Our small kindnesses were met with broad smiles and extreme friendliness that did something to warm my chilled heart. Skirting monstrous potholes that looked to measure 6 feet deep and wide at times, I hugged myself and offered blessings again that I had the privilege to have been born where I was. Canada might as well have been on another planet, for the comparisons I could make. I took in the tattered tarps and scrap lumber that held together market stalls. I processed what I could and took strength from my travelling companions. Brett strode along with a smile on his face. His recent ailment was washed from his face and his countenance held his regular good-will again. I relaxed in the presence of his faith in the world and tried to see hope for this country that was ridding itself of landmines, war, and yesterday’s ugliness. We had to look to the future with faith that life would get better, life would go on.
A proverb struck me as we skimmed across a world not our own;
“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”.
These people had fish, but were only just learning how to fish again. I prayed the process would be fruitful for this besotted country.