Sorry, neither of us are able to help the other

sad young boy
sad boy's head
Except from poster by Waleed Shihab. Courtesy the Palestine Poster Project Archives.

When I walk over from my university to the bus station to head back home, I often run into young kids who come to me, begging for money. When they give up on that, they start to nag me to buy them some sandwiches. I usually cannot help them because I already confront a critical situation in my own finances. It does truly and deeply hurt me to be unable to do anything for them.

I see their hopes, their wonderful spirits and their love of life in their eyes. I look away, trying to convince myself they have a better life than I know they do, and I see the hand-me-down, very thin clothes on their thin bodies. I wonder how they tackle the coldness at night. What will be stronger, their immunity or the winter? Sometimes I feel very cold, even while wearing heavy clothes, and I will sit in front of the heater when it gets that cold. These kids have no heater.

As time passed, I built a good friendship with one of them. He had innocent, intoxicating eyes. His hair was soft dark brown, a little bit long for a male kid in our society. I guess he hadn’t enough money for the barber. Somehow, he felt familiar, like a brother or even a son, although I am not a mother. He felt so close, and I thought of him a lot. I knew I had to defuse my curiosity about him through taking our friendship to a deeper level and ask him about his family. I was afraid he hadn’t one, but thanks to God he had.

I learn about my friend

He is 12 years old, a student in his seventh year at school, yet he isn’t passionate about study. He says, “It takes me nowhere. It makes no money at all. I think it’s a waste of time, and I actually missed a year cause of that so I could sell biscuits and provide for my family.”

The youth has three sisters who, fortunately, married men from better financial backgrounds than their father’s, but not really good enough. They have daughters and sons now, and they are also struggling, yet not as much as the kid’s own family. He also has eight brothers. One of them wants desperately to get engaged but cannot. He and his older brother wake at dawn to go out and sell coffee and biscuits.

Sometimes, when money isn’t enough and people are reluctant to buy, he and his brothers beg. He thinks it’s shameful and even sinful, but he has no other choice. Despite his young age and unsophisticated, impoverished background, he’s aware that a lot of blame and guilt should be on people in the governments. He does not use that as an excuse, so he thinks of begging as the very last resort when he and his brothers run out of money and hope. They only manage to get what varies between five and ten dollars. That’s barely enough to feed such a big family.

I tend hastily to blame the parents for having “too many” children, but what right do I have to assign blame? Everyone longs for a family. It’s a basic need, and thus people marry without realizing the harsh challenges that may face them someday. Furthermore, I know they could not afford any medical way to prevent pregnancy.

My young friend says, “My mother loves children. She loves me. In winter, she prefers that I stay home and face hunger with them, rather than face the cold outside alone.” He believes that is a clear sign of true, deep love. He wishes he was rich, but he really doesn’t want much. He just wants a happy family where he can see both of his parents safe, secure, warm and healthy. He empathizes with his father, who suffers from severe strokes.

With a heavy breath, he tells me he is fed up, and he’d by lying if he said he’s comfortable or even slightly satisfied. He thinks he’s seen so much of torture for a child. I hear him and know that within this innocent-spirited kid is a very depressed but responsible old man. He is twice as wise as I am. I still learn a lot from him.

I ask him what he does when he wants to lift himself up. He says that he often hides one or two shekels to go to a computer game shop and hang out. He also loves throwing his weary body into the sea, letting himself float there, imagining that he is a ship or a fish. When it rains in winter, he collects the drops in his cupped palms until they form a tiny lake, and then splashes it over his face.

We connect

Suddenly, he looks at me and says, “You look familiar to me. You look like my neighbor, Heba.” He adds, “You are now more of a sister than a friend for me.” His words give my heart a quick flutter. I smile back and say, “I think of you as my little brother too.” He points at another boy and says, “That one usually helps me. He feeds me because he’s like me. The rich don’t because they don’t know what it means to be like us.”

I don’t know if he believes I am rich or poor, but I appreciate his connection to me. Our conversation gave me much to think about. I mean, if Gaza weren’t under a blockade and Palestine weren’t colonized, then the majority of Palestinians wouldn’t be suffering as much, which makes me wonder if we Gazans deserve what’s happening to us. As Shahd, I have my own pain, different than his, yet in one way or another, I am like him, unable to help. We are both Gazanas, and we are also locals. That means we have nothing to do with the politics that determine our destiny. The kids’ parents are both unemployed and uneducated. Like the kid, I blame governments for that.

My friend does not know I have written this story. I don’t know if he could even read it. He’s not good at school, as he is absent most days and doesn’t have enough time to study. There is nobody to mentor him, so he works and stays home to take care of his whole family. I hope my story will influence readers to sympathize with such children and to provide some tangible help.

Finally, I want God to know I am very sad about my friend and a lot of other things. I’m sad people die and sad there’s death. I am sad people starve and sad there’s hunger. I’m sad this is our world, but I accept the will and wisdom in all of this. I know I’m incomplete and weak-minded in front of the almighty God. I cannot grasp the wisdom behind the cruelty in this world, yet I believe in God’s existence and mercy.

 


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