27 November 2013

Beggars ● by Jess


When you get into any urban environment, begging seems to be ubiquitous. On the main street near our home, they are a permanent part of the cityscape. It's mostly women. Headscarves obscure their faces as they kneel contritely, bodies bowed. They look down, until that moment when your path crosses their line of sight. Then they look up, and you find yourself falling fast into their watery eyes, their gaze telling their tale of woe so much better than words can. You feel your hand unwillingly slip into your pocket and you suddenly feel lighter, freed from both your greed and your hard-earned cash. You then walk away a little befuddled, beginning the internal debate about how much she really "needed" it, but ultimately forget the experience until the next time around. At least, this is usually how it happens for me. 

Jon's golden heart manifests itself every time we pass one; he is always giving. I usually stand by awkwardly, battling between my desire for him to ignore them and the cold wave of guilt for wishing it. However, last week when it happened again,  I noticed something. Several meters away was a man smoking, observing Jon's exchange with almost too much interest. As he let out a slow stream of smoke, he leaned back in satisfaction, then grimaced when he noticed me watching him. His gaze shot away, then locked back in again on the woman, the way a paranoid babysitter does when she's afraid the kid she's watching might do something stupid. 

He gave me the willies and I tugged on Jon to get moving. We left, but I was never able to shake the feeling of unease. For the next few days I started watching closely. It seemed that for nearly every woman, there was a man, somewhere nearby-- either in a newsstand or puffing on a cigarette -- just watching. 

It's enough to freak a girl out! Who are these guys?! 

Yesterday, I was musing over my observations with one of the teens in our church congregation. She, rather nonchalantly replied, "Oh yeah, its like a slave trade. I just watched a documentary about it in school. A lot of eastern europeans-- mostly Romanians and Bulgarians-- come over now that they are in the EU. They can't really work until they have a year of residency so they become professional beggars. There is like this whole slave ring where these men will just drop off women and children and expect them to beg all day. Then they drive back and pick them all up and take them home. Some of them bank roll up to 100k a year."

AHHHHHHHHHH!

This is not the kind thing you want hear, especially when you pay a small fortune to live in a decent area of London. What is terrifying is that PEOPLE KNOW IT! There are men pimping out women and children as beggars in front of my grocery store. What makes me sick is that our income-- OUR POCKET CHANGE-- has subsidized this depravity. 

And what can I do about? Nothing. The police know. I've seen them giving solicitation tickets to the women. What more can they really do? I can ignore the beggars and feel sick. I can give to them and feel worse. Our council (Westminster) even sent us pamphlet imploring people to not give to the beggars. Still, they are out there every single day.

I now find my heart speeding up whenever I see one of these ladies bowed down in the freezing cold with her warden hovering nearby. I just want to punch those men in the face and snatch the babies away and say, "NO! This child deserves more than this." I even dreamt last night that I did this very thing, and dangit, it felt so good.

Now I'm sitting at this computer, baby-less, and overwhelmed with a sense of futility. There is really almost nothing I can do to fix it. 

All I can really do is just shut my eyes and walk a little faster when I pass by.

*sigh*

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