Beggars and the Poor

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Rain Dog
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Beggars and the Poor

Post by Rain Dog »

I just posted this on another forum in a reply to a discussion on the topic. Would like to post here as well. Just an experiential piece.

Manila:

If you have ever been you would know that the level of begging, scamming,and petty street crime make Phnom Penh look absolutely tame by comparison. Thus, when I go out on the streets I am quickly into "High awareness --- Don't Mess with me -- I don't want to talk to you" mode. It is simply self defense.

I consider myself a serious photographer, although more of an enthusiast than a professional. I decided to go to down to the Baywalk area and shoot a Manila Bay sunset. Baywalk makes Riverside look like TK avenue in comparison, but the sunsets there are beautiful to shoot.

While I am waiting for the sunset, I sit down and observe the surroundings around me. A family up about 50 meters from me has observed me and they send their boy (around 8 years old) down to ask me for a hand out. I feel annoyed (like I always do when people approach me for money) and I smile and joke a bit but try to brush him off. No problem -- but he playfully points at my camera and jumps up on to one of the broken statues and starts posing. So I take a few shots and show him the images on the screen. He seems absolutely delighted and wants more, so I take 10 to 20 more shots.

By this time I am feeling more than a little self-conscious being an almost 50 year old man having so much interaction with a child I do not know, and I see the parents observing us, so I decide to walk up the 50 meters to talk to them and show them the photos on my camera screen (of course assessing the safety of the situation first).

So I approach and it turns out the Papa is a driver (i forget the exact term) of a bicycle powered Tuk Tuk just big enough to hold two passengers (sort of like a pedicab in PP but bigger and covered).

I show the photos and we make some small talk. But only the man has limited English (the wife and boy do not have any). They have a small (and apparently well taken care of white puppy) that the boy is now playing with. They both appear to be very old judging from their weathered faces--- old enough to be grand parents in fact but appear fit and strong. The boy want photos taken with his puppy, so I oblige. Suddenly the old woman scoops up the puppy and wants her photo taken with it. One is not enough. She wants more.

The sunset is now coming so I go do my shoot. I decide to head back as it is now getting dark and it has occurred to me that walking around Baywalk after dark with $5,000+ of gear in my backpack is not a very good idea. As I walk back, the boy waves frantically for me to come over. Papa now wants his picture taken so I Indulge and do a family portrait session as the rays of the sunset fade away.

I mention it is dark and I need to get going. I ask papa if he has email and I can send him some of the photos. He smiles and says "We are poor - we not have e-mail". I ask how far he has to travel to go home and he just smiles. I make my way but want to capture one last shot of the "vehicle" he was driving. I see Papa laying out a blanket on the concrete next to his vehicle and Mama, boy, and dog climbing inside. It finally dawns on me they do not have to travel at all to sleep in their "home".

I am not really the sympathetic type when it comes to handouts, but I sleep very restlessly that night. During our entire interaction they never asked for money and I never gave any. I wake up the next morning feeling a bit unsettled.

I wonder why they were so interested in being photographed, and it occurred to be they must feel totally invisible in their place in this world. Two adults, a child and a dog scratching a living out of a pedicab -- the man hustling trips at 10pesos ($0.25) a journey during daylight hours.

I go to a local print shop and print out a bunch of 5x7s of some of the better shots I had taken of them the previous day. That evening I find them there again, and say hello and pass them the photos. Suddenly mama takes the photos and passes the dog for me to hold. Chaos breaks out -- the boy grabs the photos of him and runs off to show them to his playmates. Mama is holding up the photos of herself and staring at them as if she has never seen herself before. Then I see Papa has climbed inside the Pedicab and is trying to affix the family portrait to the internal surface of the Pedicab, much in the way that one would hang a family portrait on their living room wall.

I am left standing there feeling stupid holding their puppy. Finally they remember me, and I pass Mama back her dog. Papa emerges from the pedicab and looks like he actually has tears in his eyes (rare considering how macho Filipino culture is). The boy is off in the distance excitedly showing his photos to a gang of ten or so street children.

Now the moment is awkward. I want to reach into my wallet, but it feels totally inappropriate now -- the dumb american tourist reaching into his wallet to solve every problem.

I am touched by the humanity of the moment but have no Idea what to say or do now. I don't want to hear "thank you" and I don't. I point at the woman's photo and give a "thumbs up" -- looks good! Everyone laughs and I say "I hope I see you again" and go on my way.
Last edited by Rain Dog on Fri Jun 06, 2014 5:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Taxi, we'd rather walk. Huddle a doorway with the rain dogs
The Rum pours strong and thin. Beat out the dustman with the Rain Dogs;
OrangeDragon
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by OrangeDragon »

What you did was a great thing, and probably gave them more pride than a handout would have for sure. Some money would have afforded them some short term comfort and happiness, but so did your photographs... and the photographs will last.
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StroppyChops
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by StroppyChops »

Respect.
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Jacobincambodia
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by Jacobincambodia »

What you did is a perfect way to respond to that type of situation. Giving money only perpetuates a cycle is that never-ending when uneducated tourists visit a poor country. You used your skills to project kindness and impart some much needed pride. Those kids will cherish those photos as long as they last. Awesome job! You are definitely safe in doing something like that here as well!
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Bitte_Kein_Lexus
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by Bitte_Kein_Lexus »

Nice post. I've also taken a few shots of random people in villages and given them prints afterwards when I went back that way. But I have many more pictures I'd want to print out and give if I were to ever go there again. Mostly in small villages and places like that. Or people I wouldn't be able to track down. Often kids and/or their families. Sometimes random people or elderly people. They ways light up when they see the prints. It's one of those simple human gestures than can bring people closer together. Sounds corny but everyone feels good in a situation like that. Both giver and receiver feel great. Anyways, nice post and good on you for giving them the pics.
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phuketrichard
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by phuketrichard »

well written;

I often return to where i have shot the day before and pass out photos I did it a lot with the dump at Steng Mencheay and throughout Nepal
In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely. HST
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Cowshed Cowboy
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by Cowshed Cowboy »

Really enjoyed that Rain Dog. :thumb:
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Rain Dog
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Re: Beggars and the Poor

Post by Rain Dog »

Thanks all for the positive comments.
Taxi, we'd rather walk. Huddle a doorway with the rain dogs
The Rum pours strong and thin. Beat out the dustman with the Rain Dogs;
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