Times of Oman
Dec 01, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 06:27 AM GMT
On the poverty line
January 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Saleh Al Shaibany

The old man, his wife and teenaged daughter arrived again. I could see them sitting on my garden chairs talking to my twelve-year-old daughter. They are regular visitors of my house. They use my place as a transit route on their way home to get a glass of water, some money and milk. They have been doing it for years since their girl was just under 10.

 I always wonder, in the last 10 years, where they live and how far they walk, until my wife saw them sitting outside their house, just two kilometres from us. We also wonder if they are really poor or just professional beggars. It is hard to classify people of their status. If you have your own house but not enough to eat I guess you could pass as living behind the poverty line.

 The problem is that curiosity, if it goes unchecked, knows no bounds. When my wife showed me their house, I wanted to stop and knock their door to see what they have inside the dilapidated place. What furniture they have or whether they have a television, sleep on a bed or not. Even if I had enough courage to put my knuckles on their door, what justification would I have to do so? Since they never wanted to come inside my house, why should I force myself in theirs? A week later, though I never planned it, I just stopped opposite their house but from the other side of the road and took a good look.

There was a large, thorny tree and the family was sitting on a mat under the shade. Next to the tree was a smelly rubbish bin overflowing with waste, while sheep, goats and chicken were feeding around them. The funny thing was that, in that line of houses, there were half a dozen smart residences.

 As my grandmother used to say, you could only smell the food of the rich people when you live near wealthy families. They were that close but not in the same income bracket. I drove away and wondered, at the spiralling property prices of today, how much money would the old man get if he sells his house? It is like living on top of a gold heap but you dare not sell it to improve your life. I think the house was kind of insurance policy that prevented them from falling further behind the poverty line.

Since they appear to have only one child, I guess they would like to leave something behind for her. On second thought, it did not appear that the girl ever went to school. She seems to tag along with her parents on these begging expeditions. Surely, being poor does not hinder your better judgement like educating your children?

That same evening, a beggar that we had not seen in a couple of years, decided to open the door and walked in the house uninvited. He was reeking with alcohol and struggled to stand upright. How would you react in those situations in front of your twelve-year-old daughter? He was young and obviously strong enough to work but instead chose to take the easy way out to earn a living to finance his drinking habit. I suppressed my anger and gently asked him out.

You would normally not encourage such lifestyle. But perhaps years of practice of mentally twisting the arms of his potential benefactors always work well for him. He touched his stomach and complained that he had not eaten the whole day. I allowed him the benefit of the doubt and he happily walked away with enough money to get him a sandwich. Perhaps, in such situations, we act more on satisfying our own principles, rather than on compassion.

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