I am walking to the office. It is a cool morning after days of weather in the high 30’s. And last night we had electricity all night. It is beautiful in a way that is probably only beautiful if you have lived in Asia or the Middle East: the stench of open drains and raw sewerage, clear air, smell of dust and burning wood, fat tailed sheep trail in front of me, green leaves sharp on the trees.
A man approaches me. His foot is bent up, like a tick. The skin stretches from mid shin directly to his toes. A burn from childhood I guess. He asks me for money.
I am wearing $200 boots from Australia, a pair of $5 pants from the clothing bazaar in Cambodia, a $1 shirt from the second hand bazaar down the road, $200 sunglasses (gift from Mum), a $230 watch that replaced the one I had stolen some weeks ago (link), and in my pocket is an ipod (cartoon) worth several hundred dollars. There is several thousand dollars in my wallet, for wages mostly.
‘Pul beti. Pul. Na darum’. Money. Give me money. I have none.
‘Bayad dashta bashi. Bedune pul zendagi na meshawad’. You must have some money. How are you living?
‘Naaa, ech. Beti.’ No, no money. Give me some some.
‘Pul khwad basha’. There is money.
What I mean is, what I am trying to say to him is, you don’t look poor. You are in reasonable health. So, you have a bad foot. So does half the country. You are not badly malnourished.
It is a assessment I make in 10 seconds. He has made it to adulthood (but how would I know if he hadn’t?), he is not starving (I think), he is not substantially worse off that the other people who ask me for money every day, and not as destitute or desperate as the women who beg pathetically from the roadside. He hasn’t mentioned his children (though there must be some. What about them? Will they make it to adulthood?) But I am still feeling a bit guilty about the boy who asked me for money the other day, who I refused. That boy was sweating, though it was early. He said he had been at the hospital, that he needed 10 Afs to get home. 10 Afs. 20 cents.
I slap my pockets. ipod, wallet. ‘Wallah, Afghani nadarum. Faqat saddi. Wa ira nametumet.’ O God, I have not Afs. Only $100 notes. And I am not giving you that.
‘Salamat bashen. Naten. Khuda hafiz’. Be at peace. Of course you can’t give me $100. Be with God.
He slaps me on the shoulder in a fatherly way and limps away. I walk on.