Tuesday, July 26, 2011

begging off

This afternoon I was on my way to have lunch with Todd of life in el corazon when I turned a corner and saw an amazing sight.

A statute.  Of Christopher Columbus.  In a public place.

Well, partly public.  He is stuck far enough back in the bushes that he looks as if he has just emerged from an al fresco bathroom break.

Two things struck me as odd about the statue.  Well, actually three.

The first is that it was there at all.  I was under the impression the thought police had done their best to sully the good in Old Chris’s life.  Even one of my friends, who is usually a scoffer at the PC crowd, considers Columbus to be one of the world’s worst politicians.  But sometimes we honor men for their sense of adventure (and no one can gainsay Columbus that virtue) while keeping their failings in the balance.

The second and third are alike.  What is it with the young visage?  Columbus was 41 when he set sail.  The face on the statute looks as if a blade has never touched it. 

And that hand.  At first I thought I was receiving the Roman salute the Nazis nabbed out of history.  But then I noticed Columbus’s hand is turned up.

Perhaps it is Romeo requesting spare change for his unexpected trip to Mantua.

That sent me down one of my little thought rambles.

One aspect of Mexican life has presented me with a conundrum I have not yet successfully resolved for myself.  Begging.

I discussed it in the beggar woman.  Melaque has it share of beggars.  Four or five who hang out in the usual spots where people have change.  The bank.  The grocery store.

They are always well-dressed.  Reflecting their belief that begging is an honored pursuit.  Most are elderly.  The younger ones usually suffer some obvious (and often terrible) physical affliction.  But they are universally polite and appreciative.

When I first moved to Mexico, I would usually avert my eyes as I walked by.  And I knew why.  My Christian principles instruct me to soften my heart and give to the needy.  But then comes the embarrassing concerns about how much.

While Islagringo and I were on our trip through Yucatan, we sat down in the central park in Valladolid.  A crippled man was operating a hand-cranked wheel chair going from group to group asking for alms.  Every group of Mexicans he approached gave him something.

Islagringo told me one of his Mexican friends reaches into his pocket and gives the first coin he touches when beggars ask him for money.  It is an ingenious method.  No worry about what is enough.  An almost unconsciousness gesture of selflessness.

I thought of Islagringo’s advice two separate times today.  San Miguel has more beggars on its streets than does Melaque.  Mainly older Indian women.

On my way back to the house from lunch, I saw a woman sitting outside Harry’s Bar.  Old.  Obviously in deep poverty.  With hands that were almost unrecognizable from the ravages of rheumatism.

I started to reach for my pocket and realized I had managed to encumber myself.  I had my backpack in one hand, and my camera and a bag filled with my leftover enchiladas in the other hand.  I had to set everything down simply to find a coin. 

It then took me a good minute to pick up everything and get it back in order.  I started muttering to myself that I should have left my meal behind.  It was just more weight for climbing the hill to the casita.


Two blocks on I almost ran into an elderly woman dressed in common street clothes as she came out of a shop.  I apologized.  She let me pass.

When I turned to thank her, she asked: “Food?”  (The following was in Spanish.  But I will spare all of us and translate.)

I responded: “Yes.  My breakfast.”

She responded: “For me?”

I just smiled and started walking on.  Then it hit me.  She was hungry.  And there I was walking off with a bag of food I was ready to discard earlier.

I stopped and asked her if she liked enchiladas.  In response, I got a smile.  And, as I passed the bag along to her, a blessing.

I still struggle with this issue.  And I am not certain I have a good answer.

But I know what I did today was the right thing.

Nothing could have been a better example of American excess being put to an appropriate use. 


Nita Laughlin said...

I'm with you. Where I live there is a black man ( a veteran) who goes all over town collecting cans to sell.. He never asks anyone for anything. But a number of us help him with meals, saving cans for him, or just giving him money . He is so appreciative it is heart-breaking.

Retire_in_Nayarit said...

Just Comment



Thanks so much for this wonderfully written article on how
amazing retiring in Mexico can be. It’s such a great place to go that offers
quality of life and quality health care as well. Take a look at www.retireinnayarit.com, where I blog
about retirement in Mexico and the Riviera Nayarit. Check it out and feel free
to leave me your comments. Best wishes





Retire_in_Nayarit said...

Just Comment



Thanks so much for this wonderfully written article on how
amazing retiring in Mexico can be. It’s such a great place to go that offers
quality of life and quality health care as well. Take a look at www.retireinnayarit.com, where I blog
about retirement in Mexico and the Riviera Nayarit. Check it out and feel free
to leave me your comments. Best wishes





Steve Cotton said...

This is one of those situations where I just free form my life.

Chrissy said...

You did the right thing. God smiles.

Steve Cotton said...

And that is the rub in our faith isn't it?  The softening process is for me.  To reflect the love that God has shown me -- rather than trying to earn something from God.  I almost did not post this because these tales can sound more often like the latter than the former.

Felipe Zapata said...

I restrict handouts almost exclusively to women based on the fact they get the short end of the Mexican stick in most instances. I almost always give either five pesos or ten, depending on the situation. Sometimes less, usually because I have neither a five- nor a ten-peso coin in my pocket. Compared to some places, Pátzcuaro does not have many beggars. I've always been surprised at the number in downtown Querétaro.

Theresa Diaz de Gray said...

"Nothing could have been a better example of American excess being put to an appropriate use".  Isn't that rather Biblical in spirit? I remember something about beggars and the left overs from a feast.
Sometimes I give my six peso bus fare and walk home. Sometimes I give whatever small coin I have. It all depends on how I feel, but I know that can't give to everyone. I stopped trying to figure out who to give to, my neighbor told me "It's not my place to figure out who is deserving of charity, my part is to give. It's up to God to decide who is deserving. "


Theresa Diaz de Gray said...

Steve, I was trying to post as Theresa in Merida, not Theresa Diaz de Gray would you please delete that previous comment and this one.

Steve Cotton said...

In Melaque the beggars are about half men and half women.  That is one thing that has struck me as being odd about San Miguel.  The beggars are almost exclusively older women.

Charles said...

I remember my grandmother (one of the truest Christian persons I have known) instilling in me at a very young age that those of us who are fortunate to have enough have an obligation to help those less fortunate...and not just financially.  Often times I will offer to buy them something to eat at a nearby place rather than just give them pesos...that way I will be sure my donation is used as I intended rather than spent on a cheap bottle of Oso Negro!

Steve Cotton said...

When I was in Salem, I would often do that by inviting the person to have lunch with me or to share my dinner with the homeless men who lived in the park near my house. Sparing the time is often more important that the food itself. This is just another reason why I need to learn better Spanish. To have conversations like that here.

Beck said...

A good friend on Isla Mujeres would often leave the leftovers from his dinner on the wall of an abandoned building across the street every night.  He knew the workers from off-island sleeping there would like the food.  One time we were on the beach having a shrimp feast and a local beach vendor stopped by.  A Mexican friend offered him the leftovers, and he eagerly sat down and ate.  At first, I felt bad about watching a man eat our leftovers from our plates, but then I realized he was hungry and greatly appreciated it.  Feel good about it!

NWexican said...

Hmmm interesting, I was about to post a "tale" and changed my mind for exactly the reason you wrote in the response above. Iron does sharpen iron and thank you for that.

Cheri said...

I've been visiting Mexico since 1973, and one of the hardest things for me to accept was beggars.  We're just not used to that here in the U.S.  I do remember hobos occasionally coming to the back door in the 50's, and although we were poor, we always had enough to share.  Those guys were so grateful and courteous.  Over the years my spirituality deepened gradually, and I became aware that the opportunity to help is, in itself, a blessing from God.  So, it costs nothing to share.  I do like the idea of grabbing the first coin you touch, so the deliberation as to "how much" is eliminated.

Kim G said...

If F and I have leftovers in a restaurant, he always takes them and finds some poor soul who can benefit from them.  Frankly, as a Gringo, this would have never occurred to me. But the recipients are always thankful for the food.

I'm sorry that so many live in such dire straits, but it's nice to be able to help in a very small way.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we feel sorry for those ancient Mexican homeless women. Where are their families?

Barb said...

Thank you for this post, Steve. I struggle with how to deal with beggars, too. Your post, and some of the comments, have shown me ways in how I can be helpful.

Steve Cotton said...

Only good can come of generosity.

Steve Cotton said...

It is the writer's dilemma.

Steve Cotton said...

And I like the fact that it is now an automatic reflex.

Steve Cotton said...

Attending a Salvation Army church really opened my eyes to the number of opportunities we encounter every day. And not just the poor. Sometimes a kind word to the grumpy neighbor may be the only nice thing that has happened to him that day.

Steve Cotton said...

One things I really appreciate about blogs and commenters is the things I learn. And i expect to keep on sharing as long as I blog.

Lludwick2568 said...

1 John 3:17 MSGIf you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

Steve Cotton said...

Good to hear from you again.

John Calypso said...

Always good to care about one's fellow (wo)man. We have particular beggars we sponsor more than others. A couple that live in our Hood that we see on many of the streets in the area. He has a club foot; she is saddled in a wheel chair. They have two young children - we always stop and give them a coin. Also we never pass a dismembered beggar - it just seems so obvious - their need and inability.

As you suggest the good feelings of helping others is reward in itself. I think those opportunities are a great blessing.

Mcotton said...

Kim asked where are the families of these elderly women beggers.  Answer: They have slipped across the border  to find work. When they have earned a pay check they send it back to their families, to their, widowed mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, etc.

Babsofsanmiguel said...

About 12 years ago here in San Miguel while traveling with a group of women I didn't know prior to arriving here, an elderly woman approached us for a donation.
None of the women paid attention to her.  Our driver for the day went to his van, got change and gave it to her.  I asked Julian later about it and he said, "We always give to the elderly.  Their toil and lives have given us better lives today.  But, he continued, we do not give to the children, they need to learn to work". 
I've never forgotten that and purposely keep coins at the "ready" position in my pocket so as I walk down the street I can very discretely give them money.

As far as Christopher Columbus goes, they honor him on his birthday with bouquets of flowers piled up at the base of his statue.  Their reasoning I don't know.

And lastly, "para llevar" food after a meal and I always give it to someone on the street.  It's a good thing...........

Steve Cotton said...

I never thought of giving away my leftovers.  But it makes sense.  I did that in The States.  No wonder the woman had no compunction about asking me for it.

Very nice story about giving change to the women beggars.  The only bad encounter I have had in San Miguel was a middle aged man who was obvioulsy drunk and quite beligerrent in his demand for money.

Steve Cotton said...

And too often, if the grandmother is poor enough to beg, the rest of the family is just as poor.

Steve Cotton said...

Some of the physical disfigurements here are heart-wrenching.  And those I never pass by.