The Hard Questions

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I literally jump back. “Good God,” I think, “those are BODIES!!” It’s 11pm and I’ve just arrived home from work. I sleepily stumble into my building complex, entering the parking garage on my way to the stairs. I see what I presume to be bags, maybe trash even – I’m honestly not paying much attention. Movement!! I realize two people are sleeping on the garage floor of my building, covered with sheets. Is this the guard I see every morning, smiling with his young son often nestled between his knees, who sheepishly waves hello and goodbye to me as I pass? The bodies are stirring, and I don’t want to wake them. So I rush up the stairs, tip-toeing all the way up.

I have a sick knot in my stomach; this is not right. People should not be sleeping on the garage floor. So what should be done? Some people would say that this man is making money; at least he has a job. And if you merely just found a place for him and his son to sleep, what is that really solving long-term? There are thousands of others like them. Working in luxury buildings. Sleeping on nearby floors.

And that’s when it hits me. Parallel worlds of rich and poor clearly exist in all cities. But they’re much more hidden and separate in Western ones. New York, obviously, has its share of homeless and low-income residents. But most people don’t literally step over them once they’re home – maybe they pass them on the nearby street corner or give quarters to them on the subway. But home is home. A solace and refuge. Not a place where you have to confront the hypocrisies of your own life on a daily basis. Somewhere out there, you know there are people starving and people sleeping on concrete floors. But they’re hidden from immediate view.

In my first couple of weeks in Hyderabad, the hard questions keep coming. How “nice” of a place should I be living in? Should I live near work or should I live someplace farther that’s quieter and more comfortable? I think about Jon’s blog and absolutely agree – there’s something perverse about living in such a way as to claim “I’ve lived with the poor” – as if we could ever really understand what their lives are like.

Then there are the beggars on my way to and from work, reaching their hands into my auto-rickshaw. What do I do? Like in NY, I give them my food if I have any. But I don’t give them money. Generally. Because that’s not sustainable and is just encouraging begging. But what if it’s a child? My heart says one thing, but my brain says another: giving money is just reinforcing the fact that they’re begging in the first place – and not in school. But he’s just a child! What if it’s a woman, and that woman is carrying a baby in her arms? Then what? I’m here to work at a maternity hospital, and my work with LifeSpring is incredibly meaningful. But what about outside of work? How much should I be giving? – of my money, of my time, of my energy? How much is enough?

And so I’m learning that the hard questions begin now. These are the same questions I thought I had already worked through in my head. But now I’m away from the ivory towers of academia and the nestled safe-haven that the Fellows created with Jacqueline, Deepti, and Jesse in the Berkshires.

This is India, where everything is in your face and nothing is hidden from sight.

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One Response to “The Hard Questions”

  1. Jawad Says:

    Hey Tricia,

    Great post! Indeed you are right that these are hard questions in the field. However, I find that such issues may actually be distractions–if that doesnt sound terrible. I believe that you have made a choice to make a contribution in whatever little way you can–you are not trying to save the world–but simply use the skills you have acquired in a productive manner. And so…staying focused is the most important element, while using such encounters as sources of motivation to continue to drive you.

    On another note–having lived in Pakistan, as ‘almost’ a Pakistani for several years…I read something totally different from those experiences. I have seen men with fake deformed limbs begging, women cashing coins of 800 rupees in one day from a gas station attendant, I have heard of many organized circles of beggars, etc. In Islam, saying ‘no’ to anyone asking is not acceptable–since you never know who is sincere or not–so I simply say, ‘Please forgive me for not giving’.

    I may be wrong, but that is what keeps me going.

    Jawad

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