Africa · Ethiopia · People

Street Beggars (Real or Fake)

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.


14 thoughts on “Street Beggars (Real or Fake)

  1. I also always face this dilemma….to whom should I give and whom should I spare. It is really sad that begging has become sort of an occupation. Thank you for sharing.

  2. this is serious social problem. Thanks for addressing it. The solutions is simple.STOP GIVING! it seems in-human, but that’s how it should be. Then if real help can be initiative with a proper care centers.

  3. You’ve got to be kidding me!!! i knew dey always made some money but not this much…wow, am jst so surprised. wel i tnk its tym to b harsh on d beggars.

  4. Thanks everyone. Actually, I give to old people mostly, but still then I feel like I shouldn’t. What could be done though?? @Eweket, Stop giving? I don’t think that would help that much. If I stop and you stop, there’s probably another person who would definitely give to them. It’s definitely become a real business, and businesses in Ethiopia usually succeed…

  5. Tied by either our religion or our Ethiopian ‘sweetness’ we should and will keep on lending a hand to the needy. You cant loose by giving. I know the statement is self contradictory but i have known that to be true for some time.
    And if one feels like s/he is a kind of person who would go out of their way to help if and only if there is a legitimate problem, then please visit the MANY orphanages, care centers for the elderly, and similar organizations.

  6. the journalist’s story is hilarious lol but on a serious note, yes it is a business, a shameful one! but if one is not ashamed by it and not bothered by the physical (eg. sexual abuse) and environmental (eg. long hr sun exposure) “challenges”, then be it. after all, its a free world!

  7. Well let me tell you what I witnessed once. It was on a very cold winter, and people were gathered around. Biting thier lips, for a man who had died on the streets of cold. And the Mazegaja bete (City Hall) I guess was there to pick up his body along with the police, as he had no relative. And guess what he was a beggar, lived on the streets, and had 30,000 birr that they found in his clothes!
    And yes begging has become a business for almost all, and we all need to change our mentality towards giving people money, just cause they’re limping, or seem disabled. For me disability is not inability!!
    And FYI, I’ve read one research paper a guy did and guess how much they earn in average??? 160 birr per day in average! Now that’s quit a lot of money!

    1. Yes, thank you for the comment. I absolutely agree with your statement, “disability is not inability!” Haven’t we seen people on T.V. who have no hands and they write, eat and do all kinds of things with their feet? Those are some amazing people. Some people in Ethiopia just lack creativity and they just don’t like to do anything…

  8. recently I happen to be around olympia and a man was lying down surrounded by so many people . He was sweating, barely communicating and his hands were trembling. He was pointing to insulin syringe and insulin bottle. So one of the woman takes the syringe and was getting ready to inject him. I am a physician and told her not to give him the insulin. His condition would get worse if he was given the drug. I told him to get some food since his symptoms were consistent with low blood sugar. After this so many of the people left, i went into a cafe and asked for a leftover food. while they were trying to get me some food, I went back to the man he was surprisingly O.K with a look of disappointment in his face. I realized that he was trying to get some money out of people. Unknowingly I foiled his attempt. I am no longer sure if I would go the extra Mile I went for such people

  9. for me, I only give to disabled old people only, I really don’t care if it was a mother with children or even a young disabled person. But an advice, don’t give them money near a mosque and if you are christian probably the same thing happens near churches. I learned this the hard way, I gave money to an old man after the friday prayer, and guess what, people specially women and small kids were running after me, and they don’t leave you alone, they surround you and run after you, I had to run to get away from them. I don’t live in addis and I guess they have a way of telling that, just by looking at you, even when I am walking on bole street with my cousins, the little kids they ask me and not my cousins, but really something has to be done.
    the lady with 27,000 is it after or before tax? 🙂

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