Recently I posted a picture on Facebook of an old Egyptian man sitting in his chair on a chilly winters day outside a pharmacy in the little Red Sea town of Dahab. Spread in front of him was a blanket, where he was trying to sell odd things – shoes, some clothes – to eke out a living during tough times in Egypt. I doubt he sells very much. He is there nearly every day, sometimes asleep in his chair. Seriously, an old man like that should be at home, warm, in front of his television or with his family. I’d hate to see my own grandfather having to struggle like that every day. Opposite him is a bakery, so I bought him a hot cup of tea and a bun. He was so delighted and could not thank me enough. The point is, it cost me Euro1 for a small act of kindness. I posted it not to get accolade for myself, but as a reminder for other, more fortunate, foreigners living in Egypt that you can make someone’s day with very little.
On my regular trips to Morocco I have noticed an increasing number of Syrian refugees begging in the streets. They all have the same sign saying in Arabic and French that they are from Syria and need help. Because they all had the same sign, I immediately became suspicious – maybe they were part of some scam, and someone was collecting their begging revenue from them? I asked around amongst the locals but nobody had heard of anything like that. It made me take a look at my thoughts…those people have been through a lot more than I can ever imagine – I should just give them something to make their life a little easier. I bought some food, sat and talked with some of them (everyone else just tosses a bit of money at them – I wanted them to feel like they are humans too, and believe talking to them helps) and gave some money.
Today I was talking to a European friend that also lives in Egypt. She said she had seen my Facebook post about the poor old Egyptian man, and she had also seen the old man sitting outside in the cold, huddling into his clothes, but it had never occurred to her to buy him a cup of tea…then she revealed what she had actually thought – he might not accept something from her. I understood her point as I have had a sandwich thrown back at me by a beggar in London before, because he wanted money to buy alcohol, not a bloody sandwich! But we are in Egypt and one of the five pillars of Islam is the giving of alms or charity to the poor and needy. It’s actually one of the things I love about Muslims, is how they help each other. And we in the West could all learn from that. Having things thrown back at you just doesn’t happen in Muslim countries.
I told her about another “incident” I had had a few years ago. I was on a trip to climb Kilimanjaro, and having had an adventurous life and also worked in the outdoor industry I had lots of outdoor clothes that I didn’t need anymore, but were still in good condition. I even had 3 Goretex jackets which were given to me, and considering I only have year-round summer, didn’t need them all. So I took a load of warm stuff with me to wear on the mountain and then give away. We had around African 30 porters for our group, none of them were that well-dressed for the conditions, and they were mostly freezing their butts off as we got higher in altitude and the temperatures dropped. I was happy to hand out my gear to those that needed it most at the end. Then I found something out. A lot of these guys take the clothes straight to the market and sell it. I was shocked and disappointed. It was not what I had intended or expected. But again, it made me take a look at myself. OK, so obviously they need the money (their wages aren’t that great) more than the gear. This is when I learnt a valuable lesson…
Which brings me to my main point about giving things. When you give something, you give it with your heart…and then forget about it. What the person does with whatever you have given them, doesn’t matter. If you give someone $5, who cares what they do with it. If you are giving it just to feel good about yourself, don’t bother. Give because you want to make someone elses day a bit brighter. Maybe they will buy something you wouldn’t expect, but they are still human, and they might want or need something different to the thing you were expecting them to buy.
NOTE: there are some scams out there, but you are usually warned about these in travel guide books and locals, eg supporting orphanages in Vietnam where children are basically rounded up for the day and put in a house where unsuspecting and generous tourists visit and donate money to what isn’t even a charity. Just beware.