I walked past a little old Spanish man with white fluffy hair on his head, his back a little stooped, as he was holding a little black leather money wallet open. It was so discreet, that I didn’t even realise at first that he was begging. He was gently rocking back and forth with a look of desperation on his face, but he was obviously trying so hard to maintain his dignity.
I almost let out a sob. He looked exactly like my dad.
I couldn’t imagine living in a world where my family were reduced to beg on the streets, because they simply couldn’t make enough money to feed themselves. I thought about this little old man. And if he was anything like my old man, he was not begging for himself. He was begging for his children, or most likely his grandchildren.
It was the last straw for me. I have seen far too many people on the streets around Europe. But in particular, Spain. Spain’s economy is just hopeless at the moment. A place with so much beauty, culture, passion and sights, and yet there are too many people living in poverty, because they can’t earn enough.
In Spain, youth unemployment is at 56%. Their economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism. And right now, I am in the major cities. Barcelona and Madrid at least have opportunity; remote country towns have little to no hope.
We are incredibly lucky and spoiled in Australia. When we complain that our service is not fast enough, our wifi is not strong enough, our handbag is not pretty enough, or our car is not powerful enough, we are just displaying spoiled capitalist attitudes that reinforce unforgivable discrepancies in society. We are basically saying aloud, “I like being middle class and owning a lot more than all you suckers out there who can’t afford to eat.” It has literally made me sick. As I’ve walked past these people on the streets, I’ve been wondering what to do. What is the best approach with such a number of beggars? Do I give money to every one of them? Am I rich enough to be giving one euro to all 25 – 30 beggars I see each day? Am I stupid to be giving to them? Because the attitude back home is that we shouldn’t give money to those “drugged up scum rats who aren’t doing a damn thing to help themselves.”
In some places, we see poor people being creative with their money-making. This has seriously inspired me. I have seen artists do amazing things with chalk, pottery and spraypaint. Groups of boys have learnt to dance in unison and have put on some extraordinary shows that have made me think now that is talent! I have been totally in awe of some of the skills and gifts that have been put on display, if only to gain a little bit of cash. It also brings such life and happiness to a city.
It also sparked a thought in me – if I ever ran out of money travelling, I could potentially make some clever money!
I guess the sad part of all of this, is that there are some people who have been so beaten down by life, so depressed, that they can’t offer any talents, except a hand to the crowds. Some are so beaten that they can’t even lift their hands anymore.
The power of chronic depression is something that had always bothered me – the number one human affliction – and I’ve always wanted to find a solution. And it’s not a problem unique to those living in dire conditions.
How do we bring more happiness in people’s lives? How do we break the cycle?
I suppose if I was going to try to make a difference in the world, I would want to bring happiness and hope – internally – to people in need. Money doesn’t bring happiness. It is handy – but what we need to change are our attitudes.
If only it was so easy for all these people whose every dream has been shattered through poverty, loss and desperation.
When I look outside my perfect little cafe as I sip on my soy iced coffee and listen to one of my thousands of purchased songs on my iPhone with my $90 Sennheiser headphones in my ears as I tap away on my iPad, I see a woman on the other side of the street with her hands outstretched to the crowd. I wonder if she did great things in her life. I wonder what her story is. I wish I could speak Spanish.
Whenever I give money to someone in need, I never throw it at them and walk away in an uncomfortable hurry. I always give them a lingering, knowing, heartwarming smile, looking directly into their eyes. Their smile in return is the most beautiful thing in the world.
I’m not afraid to waste my breath on happiness.
About the Author: Rose Mascaro has a Bachelor in Creative Writing and Literature, and has been an English Teacher for 10 years. Last year she travelled the world on a trip of a lifetime, and now wants to commit her time to writing about the greater issues that are hidden from mainstream society. As she teaches her high-school students: Language = Power.
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