Friday, May 1, 2009

Scenario #25: Please, ma'am, all I want is some bread!

I'm sitting in a café writing. The café has a large beautiful window looking out on a somewhat busy road. In fact, this establishment is more of a porch than a room in its own right.

Two girls just came in through the rickety glass door and walked up to me, currently the only patron. They both had golden dyed hair and wore dirty dresses and brown jackets. The first was very small, five years old perhaps? The second one could have been ten or twelve.

The little girl came up to me, leaned her left arm on my purse and computer case, and reached out her right hand to me, palm held up. She mumbled something very quietly, probably in Albanian so I wouldn't have understood even if she had spoken clearly. I've been told that I shouldn't engage beggars here in conversation, and that it's not rude here to ignore them. So I looked at her and shook my head no, ever so briefly, and went back to my typing.

She left, and two minutes later the older girl entered. She leaned her body over my purse and computer case and her upturned hand was practically in my face. With her left hand she gestured to her mouth while she nodded her head toward the food counter. Clearly she wanted me to buy her a muffin or some cake. How could I say no? But I did. And she insisted. And I dutifully kept staring at my screen, feeling like Scrooge's evil stepsister.

Two little boys have already been by begging since I've been sitting here, and I see a few other kids out on the street. If I start saying yes, where will that rabbit trail end?

But there was another reason I said no.

The second girl insisted and insisted, but she finally gave up. So she walked straight up to the shopkeeper and asked him for some food. He gave it to her. While she was waiting for her muffin, the younger girl came back, with a friend. They stood by the door waiting, then the three left together.

Just yesterday I sat in a meeting about organised crime here in Kosovo and child labour. These children were probably Roma (gypsy) children, and are probably under obligation to report back to their employer on their gains for the day. They are a gang of babies working for a gang of big scary dudes. I just can't find it in myself to participate in that process in any way.

But who does that to a child? Who can make a five year old and a ten year old spend their days on the streets begging? Who makes sure they are dirty and hungry? As awful as I felt denying them their simple request for some bread, it is still beyond the pales of my imagination to conceive of someone who forces them to beg and beats them and sexually abuses them... yes, there are reports - lots of them - that these things happen. How can a person live with him/herself and do these things?

What hope is there for those children, essentially no different from the two sisters dressed in matching pink outfits who just skipped by the café, with their loving parents following arm-in-arm?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I currently have a Roma student whose parents kept her out of school for 5 years so she could beg. Tragic...they're in prison now, and she's in school.

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