Once upon a time, in a hot, hot Ethiopian day, I sat in a minibus taxi, daydreaming or something.
Ok, ok. To the point.
I was sitting in the taxi around Bole road and one man hopped in the seat in front of me. He was disabled, for sure, but didn’t seem so miserable. He walked way too fast for him to be miserable. His face was sort of familiar, and for the most of the ride, I tried to figure out where I knew him from. He paid his fare and get off soon.
The next day, I was in the taxi again, this time going the opposite, towards Bole road when a man approached the parked taxi. He walked very slowly, with a cane in hand. One leg of his jeans was rolled up to his knee, exposing a very hurt leg which I cannot describe to you very well. I looked up and was taken back for a moment, to see the man from the day before. The man who seemed completely fine yesterday was now standing by the door of the taxi I was in—begging. That’s when I asked myself; is this whole begging thing real or just simply fake?
I came back home that day to share this weird news with my family, and realized my father wasn’t that surprised.
So I asked, “Dear father, why aren’t you surprised by this?”
He replied so calmly, “Daughter, let me share with you some of my experiences.”
(Note: Obviously, that dialog was completely made up; but I said why aren’t you surprised? And he said, huh, let me tell you what I know.) (My dad hangs around Merkato A LOT (mostly with his friends in their shops), which leads him to know A LOT of the beggars. All of these stories are 100% TRUE, which he either witnessed firsthand, or was told the story by a friend.)
Beggar No.1- Early one morning, a woman carrying a child in hand came to one of my dad’s best friend’s store, begging. He told her it was too early and that he had no cash right now. He curiously asked, “Aren’t you young and healthy? Why don’t you work somewhere?” She told him she made about 50 birr everyday begging, so why bother?
Beggar No.2- As my dad hung out at one of his friend’s shop, a woman came by almost every day asking for money. On Fridays, she dressed as a Muslim and begged by the mosque. On Sundays, she dressed as a Christian and begged by the church. One day, my dad and his friends asked her why she did that. She said, “Lemena bezede new enji, dehenet aidelem.” (“Beggars are clever, not poor.”) (Or something like that.) Dad went to the local bank one day to see that same lady withdrawing some money from her account. Her bank book read a total of 27,000 birr currently in the account.
Beggar No.3- Another regular beggar around my dad and his friends was a blind old man. He came also, almost everyday. My dad knew him very well too because he used to come to my family’s diner and get some leftover food, back in the day. After disappearing for a long time, the old came back to his friend’s shop to say goodbye. He told them, bluntly, that he had built a house somewhere in Addis for his children and that he had rented it for now. I guess he had enough money to stop begging then.
I did not make any of this up. It is all true. Also, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the story with the journalist, who went undercover to do research about beggars; living as they did, and begging. He finally decided that begging got him more money that journalism ever did, so he quit.
Now, I’m not saying that all of the beggars are fakers, but I’m sure there are some that would just prefer to cheat their way through life.
Some beggars are known more than others. The kids told on to your hands and legs until you give them something. The women with the babies just make you feel so bad about yourself. And some of them are just plain rude, who talk back to you if you say you don’t have money.
So, do you think we can ever end poverty, when the poor sometimes make more than the average person?
Judge for yourself.