Hard feelings

“Madaaame” says the little girl with a plaintive voice. With one hand she is carrying her little brother and the other is stretched toward me. Her scruffy face is heart-breaking. Everything about her is dishelved: her hair, her clothes… She is young, maybe seven. I ignore her and continue eating my croissant in the morning sun. “Madaaame” she says again, asking for money or food. I feel guilty of this gigantic gap between her and me. In these moments I hate myself, I hate this country, and her. I would like her to disappear so I could eat my croissant in peace without feeling guilty.

This subject is a sensitive issue that I find particularly difficult to approach. In Europe we tend to forget how unfair the world is; that people are dying from hunger while we throw away a sandwich that we find a bit too old.  We know the world is not fair, but we don’t feel it. Here in Madagascar you feel it at every street corner; when you see a young woman lying in the middle of the street with cars trying to avoid her (is she dead?), when at night you pass by a shelter made of plastic and you hear some voices inside, when you see people searching for food in the same trash belt where other defecate. The problem is, I would like the world to be a fair place, and it is not, and if it is not, I would like to be at least myself a fair person, but sometimes I don’t know how.

So how to deal with this little girl and her brother? Should I give her some food or money so she goes away and I can feel like her saviour? I don’t believe so.  This for several reasons. It would encourage a begging and victimization behaviour. People who feel as a victim don’t search for solution, they often expect that the solution comes to them. Thereby I have seen in many villages how kids see vazahas (blank foreigners) as walking money/candy/pens givers. They become pushy, rude and take it for granted that a vazaha brings presents. I think that it if one would like to give money, it is better to give it to an association who could invest it in long terms. The same is true for pens I think. It is better to give them to a schoolteacher who could then give them to the kids.

“Madame!”, her voice sounds a bit angry this time. Despite my reasoning, my feeling toward this kid and all the others is still mixed. I hate looking away. I hate the fact that I find her annoying while she tries to survive. My behaviour does not match at all with the person I would like to be (fair and kind) and I don’t like that at all. However it is good to be directly confronted with this. At home it is too easy to forget, look away or not even think about these issues. So today again, I shovel the rest of the croissant in my mouth and walk away, as most of us do in Europe, in the morning sun.