Saturday, December 1, 2007

Poor Me

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Poor Them

Many of the entries are breezy, but this one might not be:

On Brigade Road this afternoon, I burrowed into Pat's side and turned my back on an approaching beggar. Pat put her arms around me and protected me.

The woman was tiny, with matted hair and hyper-alert eyes, and she was carrying a monkey, who was holding a baby-monkey. I was afraid of the monkeys. What if they scratched me? Or bit me?

Pat went into the grocery store a few minutes later and I waited for her on the sidewalk, so we wouldn't have to check our Blossom Books shopping bags. The monkey guardian made her way back up the street. I crossed the sidewalk and stood on the store's steps, out of monkey-arms' reach.

The baby was so, so little. Only its head peeked out from its parent's chest and the parent clung to the woman's small shoulder and tiny waist.

Earlier, a Far Bolder Encounter

Pat and I were killing time, since we arrived before our friends and before the bookstore was open, and so we headed down Church Street to Brigade Road, single-file, since the sidewalk was unfinished.

Soon, walking toward us were two women, wearing, atop their heads, wooden thrones with the image of Ganesh in the center of each of them. We were fascinated and stared at the little chairs as they approached.

Suddenly, the one in front cracked a bull-whip on the sidewalk right in front of me and thrust out her hand for me to give her money.

I couldn't believe that she was trying to intimidate me with the whip-cracking. I was furious. "No! No!" I said very loudly.

They didn't try it again with Pat, but quickly, imitated me, "No! No!" as they walked past. Adrenalin surged in me.

I turned around and yelled at them, "I could hit you!"

They actually seemed afraid, whether or not they understood what I said per se, and they moved away more quickly.

Loving and Struggling With My Location

The Indian friends that Pat and I have had and have made here, the fiction, the food, the flora, the Hindi pop-music all have delighted me. The routine reminders of my privilege have disturbed me.

A non-Indian colleague said recently, "I don't like to see the poverty." What a sincere statement, I thought -- much more authentic than many I've heard, that is, it bothered her to see it. Where she came from, the poverty was there, but she wasn't confronted by it so visibly and so vividly.

Volunteering One's Soul vs. One's Brain

I have spent my time here, rationalizing that by helping a segment of the population advance in its leadership, my efforts somehow have positively helped the economy and the society's future.

And then a local colleague told me that she's active in, which helps the society much more directly than my rationalization of what I've been doing here.

Other than the website, having been named "Crusade India," and the word, "Crusade" having been off-putting, given my Jewish heritage and identity, why did I not want to get involved with any similar organization at least?

Why didn't I want to in the United States either? Why, ever since I've made a corporate salary, have I wanted only to write a check in response to others' struggles, if I didn't know them personally?

That was it: "...if I didn't know them personally...." The poor, anywhere, were just another historically, and still, underrepresented group.

Prior to our arrival in India, Pat had been volunteering every Thursday at a soup kitchen and had made friends with a number of the other volunteers, some of whom might have had money-struggles of their own. One of them was a bathroom attendant.

In my case, I knew money-struggles personally, particularly after my father died when I was 17, and during college, though apparently, not on the scale of the people, who have begged here or in New York City. The difference between them and me has been my much higher level of education or my relative mental health and I have been so grateful for both.

I've had U.S. acquaintances say to me, "I could never take an assignment in India. I find the poverty so sad."

If poverty so saddened them, then why weren't they working for the Peace Corps? Rather, I think they actually meant what my colleague said sincerely, "...I don't like to see the poverty."

I did warn you that this might not be among my breezier postings.


Anonymous said...

Monkey baby and elephant god beggars. The stuff that fabulous photos and potential horror films are made of. Wow.

Noone likes to see poverty. That's why Americans spend so much time watching television, I think. Every time I interact with a cashier or clerk, I'm looking eye to eye with, if not abject, homeless, scabies on the legs poverty, I'm looking at a pretty thin line. Have you read Nickled and Dimed? A writer goes to live the lives of a Wal-Mart worker, a chain company maid and a chain restaurant waitress in small towns in America. Damn revealing how we keep people just over the border of third world poverty over here.

Sorry we got cut off on the phone last night. Would like to hear more about your adventures...

Happy Chanukah!

Sarah Siegel said...

Happy Chanukah to you, too!

There's plenty of poverty on TV, too, but we can pretend it's just on TV....

Reality is stranger and even more sad, sometimes, than fiction; see Pat's recent videoclip of the "Child Dancer" (

David & Gerard said...

Happy Chanukah to Sarah and Pat, to Kathy and her family, to Sarah's mom and the rest of the family, and to anyone else celebrating this week!

D & G

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks, you guys!