I Saw A Beggar on the Streets of Auckland

Monday, August 5, 2013
I have not grown up so sheltered from the realities of the world that I have never seen a beggar before. But I did see one in the suburbs of Auckland on Saturday and he asked me for money. It's not like I haven't seen the homeless either, in Wellington or Auckland. I know they are there. They've been there for years. But there is a difference between the homeless and a beggar.

I had been spending the day at a BlogCamp and we were given an hour for lunch. It wasn't much time for me to run down the stairs and out onto the street passing a few shops and cafes before I rounded the corner to visit with some dear friends of ours who only lived a few houses away.

As I came down the stairs and turned the corner, I nearly tripped over a man - quite a young man too, I'd say in his 30's or 40's, sitting up against the brick building with a little bowl in front of his crossed legs.

                                                photo credit: Jessicastjohn via photopin        

"Please Ma'am. Have you got anything for me?"

I slowed down my run and looked at him. I looked him in the eyes. He had creases across the top of his forehead and dark brown, tired-looking eyes.
"I'm sorry. I can't help you. I don't have anything on me."

I really didn't. I don't carry cash anymore, and I think I was kind of in shock that this was happening in Auckland.

This short encounter brought back many memories for me. In my younger days I spent quite a bit of time in South East Asia, and beggars were just a part of everyday life. We were always being told, "don't give them money." There were reasons for this in Asia, and one day I found out why.

We were in Indonesia - in a city near the top of the island of Sulawesi. In some of the villages up there white skin had never been seen before, so we were noticed instantly, wherever we went. I was with some friends and we had just stepped out of the car when an old woman came up to us and asked for money. We gave the usual denial and tried to walk away, but she was persistent and started hitting me on my shoulder, so in an attempt to calm her down, I stopped to hear what she wanted to say, which was another request for money, getting more and more violent. Over and over, shouting in my ear, and all the while punching me in my upper arm. "You give me money!" Then suddenly she was joined by all these other women and a few men, all shouting at us and trying to hit us or grab onto our clothes. A moment's hesitation, a moment of mercy, and we were surrounded.

We did manage to get away, but I've never forgotten it, and it was a huge lesson for me. The experienced travellers don't give you this advice about beggars to be mean.

But to see beggars in Indonesia, or Thailand or Malaysia is one thing. You expect it. But to see one in Auckland was surprising. For me, anyway. I know that everyone's circumstance is different, but in a country like New Zealand, where we have one of the best and most generous social welfare systems (in  my opinion), I really don't understand why someone has to sit on a suburban street and ask for money from people passing by. It's sad. I wondered what that man's story was? What had happened in his life that had brought him so low that begging became his only option? He's been haunting me since I came home.

When I returned from my visit with my friends, he had gone. Just a short 30 minutes later and the man had disappeared.

What would you have done?

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vegemitevix said...

I must admit I got used to the beggars in the UK and in Europe but was likewise shocked when I encountered them here, at home. Sad reality of how hard some people are doing it I fear.

Betty Luckhurst said...

I give money to those that ask if I have it--it's not my place to judge what they do with it as some do.

I did have an interesting experience in Topeka, KS, when I lived there. At a busy intersection, I would usually see a man standing on the concrete island between lanes with a sign, silently asking for money. I guess a lot of Kansans respond well to this sign because I noticed that different men (of different ages and races) would be holding the same sign at the same place on different days.
Rumor had it that there was a lot of money to be had from the generosity of others instead of working, especially on that corner.

Simoney said...

Wow. Rachel - a thought provoking post. I remember getting "suckered" in my a beggar in london who was carrying a very sick-looking child. i was heartbroken for the child, but learnt later that there were a number of professional beggars who were using children to gain sympathy; I felt SICK. But apart from the "professional" beggars who really are trying to pull the wool, I would be like you I think. Disturbed. Wondering. I think if I could help I would. It's new zealand after all. I don't think we've gotten to the point of pro beggars.
(but I rarely carry cash either)
thanks for a great post - and LOVELY to meet you at Blog Camp too...
(gorgeous blog BTW - following you on Bloglovin) x

Lissie said...

I can imagine how you would have been shocked Rachel and I am sure you would have given a little if you had it. When in Paddington Railway Stn a young mother with a tiny baby in a pram stopped me and asked if I would give her money for somewhere to stay until her "benefit" came through. I'm sure I would have given something but did not have any cash. Often think about that young mother.Keep up the blogging - always enjoyable!

He Is Forever Faithful said...

I hated myself for finding it so easy to not even see them after living in south africa for a year. After the initial shock and several weeks of beggers being 'the usual', my mind just decided to block them out. I still do double takes when I see them here in New Zealand though... Strange how our mind switches in different environments as to what;s acceptable and what's not...

Julia said...

I don't usually have any cash on me either but even if I did my finance are so tight I doubt I'd be in a position to make a lot of difference.

Poppy Q said...

They have increased tenfold in Wellington, and some days it seems that there is someone outside every fifth shops.

I do feel sorry for them, but giving money just encourages them to continue.

Julie Q

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