It’s always more complicated than it seems.
I did my research, and the community is well aware of these families that are new to me.
Family from Story #1:
It seems they don’t really have to live in a push-cart.
The house they pulled up in front of is one they’ve parked at many times before in years past. The adjacent house behind Lolo & Lola’s belongs to the now blind & feeble mother of the woman in the push-cart. Theoretically, especially in Filipino culture, you should be living with your mother, taking care of her.
To their credit, rumor has it that the house is infested with bugs that live in your fabrics like fleas and stick to your skin like ticks. I can understand choosing a push-cart over that.
At least they’re networked. They have family to help sustain them.
And I should note that they haven’t actually begged anything of me.
Family from Story #2:
The mentally-handicapped mom & child have an extensive network of relatives in our neighborhood, too, who actually send them out to beg, outside of Botocan.
They have visited my pastor’s family many times in the past asking for money. My discerning pastor’s wife, Ate Ema, instead gave them ‘bigas’ (uncooked rice) and/or ‘tinapay’ (bread). After a while, Ate Ema started challenging the woman that she really should find ‘real’ work, for the sake of the child she’s raising. Believe it or not, there are small jobs that she’s capable of, like helping collect peoples’ trash on trash day. (See former blog post: “You’re Not Going to EAT that, Are You?”)
After that, Ate Ema actually witnessed her participating in going door to door in the neighborhood along with the children, offering to take peoples’ trash to the dump-truck in exchange for a few pesos.
And the child, April, isn’t mute nor depressed. She can be seen playing & talking with other children. I guess she’s just been trained to put on her ‘game face’ when on the job, begging.
Even with Lola & Lolo, I feel I don’t know the whole story. It seems when you’re begging, you have to make it sound like you literally have nothing if the person you’re asking doesn’t give you something for their next impending meal.
When I bought rice for Lola & Lolo, and asked to eat with them, they told me at the beginning that they had zero pesos to spend on that meal. I hung out at their house while Lola cooked the rice, and then she served me a plate and said, “You first; we’ll eat later.” I insisted that I’d wait & eat with them. After a little while, Lola left & came right back with some brothy fish soup to go on the rice. It certainly wasn’t fancy — but it was something — worth more than the zero pesos she claimed to have started with.
But of course had she not been deceptive, I may not have seen anything wrong with asking them to chip in on the rice, and we could have had plain rice for dinner — which for Filipinos, it seems, is really not an option, no matter how poor you are.
Lola also has a drinking problem, and has failed at times to wash my clothes properly (as in… they still sometimes smell like sweat when she’s done) because she sometimes shows up to work drunk. My host mom has actually stopped hiring her, but has left up to me whether or not I want to continue giving her my laundry. I’m actually quite torn about it, in fact.
My pastor says he has seen kids (age 8-9) from Botocan out on the street corner outside Botocan begging. A bit later, he saw those same kids in the computer shop playing games — more than likely using the money they had just ‘earned.’
My pastor also assured me that the people I mentioned above are so well networked that they’re not going to starve if I don’t buy them rice on any given encounter.
Today when I met the mentally-handicapped mom, she asked for money to buy RC Cola (generic Coke, 35 pesos), and instead I offered her the 2 oranges I had packed this morning with her in mind. She didn’t accept them from me, but her daughter did. I assured her that oranges are healthy, and pop is not.
“Beggars can’t be choosers.” If hunger is your issue, you’ll take decent food when it’s offered, right?
This all adds a new dimension to my thoughts earlier on
Greed & gluttony
Fairness, compassion, commitment
“I was hungry & you fed me”
“Whatever you did for the [overlooked/ignored], you did for me.”
So what now? Ought I or our church still intervene?
And by what tactic (given the inherent element of deception in fronting a “beggar’s” lifestyle)?