Saturday, February 9, 2008

Pardon My Begging

A friend just wrote to me that she has been reluctant to go to India because she couldn't handle the poverty. Well, the poverty will be there whether you go or not. It’s a question of do you want to deal with your feelings of guilt, outrage, helplessness, confusion, despair and wonder?

I can’t get the image of a little girl pressed against the car window. She was gesturing to us to give her something to eat. Then she put her hands together in namaste on her forehead and pressed them against the window. And there were those dirty, little brown fingers pushed against the glass. And we didn’t have any rupees. We didn’t have anything. She wasn’t angry, she was smiling and inviting. I wanted to give her something. I wanted to put her in the car, take her back to hotel and give her a bath.

Then the light changed and we went another mile and there was another group of kids. This time Wes dug around and found a few McVitie’s biscuits in the bottom of his pack. A little boy was pounding on his window, not as sweet as my little girl. The light changed. Wes rolled down the window and gave him the biscuits. He looked at the biscuits and threw them back into the car.

I swear to God here was my first thought: Beggars can’t be choosers.

Wes turned to me and said, "I think he wanted money."

A few days later I’m back in Seattle getting crown work done. It’s a two hour job so I asked for the nitrous oxide. The assistant put the mask on my face and I said, “Oh, I don’t remember nitrous having an odor.”

“It doesn’t. That’s our peach-scented mask!”

Little brown fingers pressed against the glass.

After a minute it became clear the mask was too big. “I’ll give you the pediatric mask,” the assistant said. “It’s grape-scented.” Then she opened up a tube of lip balm and said, “This is your lip balm, it’s yours to take home, but I’ll be applying it on your lips because your mouth is going to get stretched out.”

Little brown fingers pressed against the glass.

I just heard last night that Mitt Romney spent 40 million dollars on his campaign. I pay three dollars a can for dog food. The dentist gives me a grape-scented nitrous mask and my own lip balm.

Here’s the thing about going to India and seeing all the poverty: you don't come home with answers, but it makes you question.

Little brown fingers pressed against the glass.


Kelli said...

I have never been to India, but constantly as we bring *things* into our lives, I question the bigger picture.

There's an internet test created by the UK where you put in your yearly salary. Most people in the US and UK come out to be the wealthy 1-3% of the world.

We have no idea how much we have.

Great post, Debra. And welcome back.

kathy b. said...

Fabulous post, Debra.
It's been 20 years since David and I were in India and every time I make a large purchase (including my groceries), I think of those kids who tailed us through Bombay... the fingerless beggar outside the hospital chapel in Miraj,to whom we gave a rupee every day because we didn't know what else to do... the man who seems to be living in his car under the 65th street I-5 overpass... Guests from India go into shock at the QFC: "Why do you have so many of everything?" I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. Will we find the answers, do you think?

Cathy H. said...

Here's my "Little brown fingers pressed against the glass" story. I was going out to dinner with my friend who always seems to find something to complain about her life. We were riding in her $50,000 Range Rover and she pointed out a rock chip in the windshield and was complaining that it was going to cost a fortune to replace. I noticed these squiggly lines on the windshield and asked what they were. She said, "It's a rain-sensing windshield."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"Well, when the windshield senses raindrops, the wipers turn on automatically. That's why it's going to cost so much to replace."
How lazy can we be that we need to avoid having to reach up and turn on a switch when we see a raindrop?!
Little brown fingers pressed against the window.

jeannine said...

Great blog. And also, who is your dentist? Sounds wonderful!