I rarely give money to beggars.
Through their welfare system, most rich states help those with housing, health and education problems. Beside government handouts, various organisations assist the destitute. Like Outreach UK which says in its website that, “most people who beg have accommodation. Outreach workers can help those who do not access a hostel bed...”
Recent statistics by the English Metropolitan police claim at least 70 to 80 percent of beggars tested positive to Class A drugs, i.e. cocaine and heroin. Another social research document confirms that when you give money to those hanging out asking for help on street pavements, they purchase drugs and alcohol.
Conclusively then helping these individuals is for self-appeasement rather than anything else. I am a good person. God shall bless my soul, your inner voice chant happily. Do not give money to these people, government authorities and the police always advice. Offer them food. Buy them a cup of tea. Money fuels drug and alcoholic addiction.
With this in mind, one night many months ago, I cooked lunch for two friends visiting London. The couple had never tasted any Tanzanian food. I knew from experience that Ugali is not the sort of thing non-Africans usually like.
“It is tasteless...” They always say.
Therefore, I made spicy beans Mchuzi, sprinkled with coconut, alongside red fried fish and a large portion of green leafy, spinach salad. Instead of Sadza, Sima and Kaunga (as they call Ugali in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, respectively), I made Chapatti, which we East Africans have adapted from our Asian cousins.
Music was on; I had the latest record by Adele, queen of English pop. Physically she is natural and full, unlike skinny, slender singers in the commercial world.
“Hello” her latest slow, soothing, confessional ballad, roamed my living room like a lazy majestic gazelle in an afternoon Savannah. Drink in hand, I relaxed while London-born, Adele, belted and moaned:
“Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I am sorry, for everything that I have ever done
But when I call, you never seem to be home.”
Meanwhile, I waited for the door buzzer to ring. Instead of the bell, my phone wrecked the tranquil, mellow Saturday air.
Alas, my caller rumbled on. Sorry they were not coming. Someone they had known, intimately, was killed in the Paris terrorist atrocities. Yes, it was November 2015. My French friends were in shock, sorrow and grief.
To cut a lengthy, rambling story, I could not finish the meal by myself. After making futile calls to pals around the city to pop in that afternoon or even later, I decided heavens were not on my side. I ate alone.
But they were too many Chapattis.
I made a decision to share them with one of the beggars I always see near my residence. He is always seated face down, a dog, white Labrador, by his side.
I wrapped three Chapattis plus one fish and sauntered towards Roger (assumed name).
“Some food for you. Do you know Chapattis?”
“Yes of course. I am starving. Thanks so much.”
He looked like he had just seen Jesus Christ on Resurrection day. Or maybe I thought I was that. Remember what I said earlier about self-appeasement? I was pleased with myself. Tell me (self-insults aside), what would you have done with such good food? Hurl it into the dustbin?
I looked at Roger closely. He was strong and healthy.
Few weeks later, he waved at me as I zoomed past. After a few words, I could not dismiss my curiosity.
“Why do you beg? Why don’t you work?”
“It is embarrassing, admitting. But let me be frank,” he wailed. I noticed his teeth were dark brown, stained and seemed like they will all soon fall out.
Roger: “I had everything. Big house. Large family. I just got depressed. I could not keep up with the stress. My wife ...the kids. Couldn’t cope. Started taking the occasional Spliff. Got addicted. Turned to cocaine. Bills to pay. The car. Couldn’t afford, mate. As part of my therapy, I volunteered overseas. Worked with war victims in Sudan. Upon returning found my wife with another bloke. I just lost it. Sorry, mate.”
He coughed, sneezed and spat.
For weeks, months I kept reflecting.
Why do people across our planet always conclude that their problem is the worst? That they would rather die? Schools should educate us to connect things. That we are all part of one system. Luckily, I was taught that while studying at Mzumbe, back in the 1970s. That your problems might seem huge; yet, are parts of a bigger picture?
Don’t give up!
We all bleed. All under one tree. Oxygen. One sky.Mwalimu Matt Blog
-Also published in Citizen Tanzania, Friday 1 April, 2016