I am at the French Bakery. It is in Karte Chahar, literally just around the corner from where Gayle was shot. I have been here several times in the last weeks. Each time I think about Gayle a little less. It is tempting to think that security has improved because nothing has happened for 10 days. But all that means is: nothing has happened. There is no real improvement. Our feeling of increased safety is absolutely illusory.  It is important to remember that.

At the bakery, as I pull in, a girl spots me and runs to the car. ‘Meester. 10 rupees. Meester.’
I shrug her off and go inside. We need bread, other things. Things that we need. We need them. I have been told that I need them, and so here I am to meet that need. But. But. But what do we really need? Do I really need the can of lychees that I buy? or the fruit tarts for the kid’s lunches? or the buns? the walnut bread?

On the way back to the car, the girl, with the unerring accuracy of the terminally poor, spots me again, and comes running. I give her 10 Afs. Wordlessly, she takes it and turns away.

I have just spent more than 20 times that amount on food she will likely never eat.


I thought about this as I drove home. She will never eat a fruit tart, nor lychees with cream.

Does that mean anything? Is is wrong? Really wrong, or just conceptually wrong? Is it evil that I spent so much and gave so little? Is it evil, or selfish or a bit mean, or nothing? What is a better response to the poverty of the world? And poverty – what is that? Poverty is just a word, a concept, a list of issues and places on paper, places most people want to stay away from. Poverty is a noble cause, a terrible blight, a shocking reality. But rarely is it people.

Poor people are real. I met one, gave her next to nothing and drove on. I drove on to my lychees and walnut bread.

It means nothing and it means everything. Poverty is the sum of a lot of big things, but it is also the sum of a lot of little decisions that I make every day. And because we all make such decisions, poverty has long ago become a permanent fixture on the unreachable horizon, a cause we strive to but never seriously expect to reach.

I think that girl has a right to better than that.


8 thoughts on “Bread,cake

  1. I know what you mean. But I have no answers.

    Thought something similar today, as I stood with a friend in front of the 10,000 Villages store asking people to sign Christmas cards to send to prisoners of conscience identified by Amnesty International.

    It was a very cold day, I was shivering…but when I got too cold, I went inside the store where the sales staff let us have hot coffee. Fair trade, of course. Everything in the store is fair trade…

    The stories of the political prisoners…one more horrid than another…
    “Send a Christmas card to a prisoner of conscience?” I asked each shopper who went by. Some looked genuinely curious. Some actually stopped to sign a card and address an envelope…others–especially when I made the mistake of saying “political prisoner” instead of “prisoner of conscience”– looked at me askance, said “no, thank you,” and walked on. No one wants to get mixed up in politics.

    The real hustle-and-bustle was on the other side of the shopping center: Barnes & Noble, Modell’s Sporting Goods…stuff and stuff.

    And at the end of the day, I went into 10,000 Villages and bought Christmas presents. Are my purchases more humane, more caring because they come from a fair trade shop, I ask myself…before I go home to enjoy an abundant dinner with my family?

    We do what little we can, I guess. But somehow I feel that you’re doing a lot more than I am.

    May the blessings of the Light of the World be upon you.

  2. Thanks Liberata. I don’t know, I’m not on a guilt trip, but somehow the fact that what I had bought for my wife to make sandwiches and deserts with, and the fact that that girl would likely never comprehend, let alone eat such things struck me in a new way. I like to think I am part of the solution here, but I am certainly part of the problem too.

  3. I’d have just given her the lychees, better off without them I reckon.

    Phil, hope you don’t mind if I reprint some of your blog in the Augusta Mission Newspaper?

  4. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Mt26:11)

    I don’t think he was endorsing the fact that there are so many people forced to live at the bottom of the heap. But maybe he was just stating that try as we might, we will never eradicate poverty. Doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility to do everything we can, though.

  5. I took a class on poverty during the summer session and I just couldn’t get my head around the “theories” used to study poverty and the goal (or impossibilty) of eradicating world hunger. They were mostly centered on economics. It just did not set well with my heart. I think that we have a spiritual/cognitive impact when we enter into dialog with ourselves as you described in your post. Each time this occurs and we speak about it with other people something changes within our brains and within God’s spiritual kingdom. It may seem small on an individual basis, but it can make a difference in the future. May you feel the flutter of Angel wings as God continues to keep His protective eye upon His beloved Sparrows!

  6. Phil

    You are putting into words something that many of us who live in developing countries (I live in Ethiopia) feel every day too.

    Poverty is not inevitable or “always with us”. In the 19th Century, following the writings of people like Dickens, many richer societies decided that they would not longer live with poverty and they did something about it. We haven’t yet reached that point globally: but we will.

    In the meantime, you are doing what you can, and you are speaking out about it. Walk tall.


  7. Pingback: Owen abroad » Blog Archive » Bread and Cake

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