Eight. Indulge me for a moment and think of what the number 8 means to you.
Were you blessed with your first bike when you turned 8? Have you been in love for 8 months? Is 8’o clock the dreadful hour your workday begins? The number 8 had no significance in my life, until last week.
$8 was all I needed to get home.
After parking my car, I realized my wallet was 82 miles away and I was penniless. It was 9 am and 8 hours later I would need to drive back home. But without a paid ticket, exiting from that callously secured parking lot wasn’t an option. My car was in prison and I needed bail money. Pride twisted my tongue and weakened my guts. I couldn’t ask for $8. Utterly desperate and unable to rid myself of dignity, I spent 8 hours praying for a miracle. I prayed someone would read my mind and give me $8. Where’s Mel Gibson when you really need him?
It was getting late and I decided to visit my imprisoned car. I drove up to the gate but nothing happened. I felt poor and helpless. My eyes wandered around in desperation. On the dashboard of the machine there was a ticket waiting to be snatched. Maybe this was the miracle? I inserted the ticket but the gate didn’t open. Instead of the usual “Please pay $8” the screen said: “Please pay $3”. He met me half way and now it was my turn to act. All I had to do was ask for $3.
I went to the library and in one breath I blurted, “Hi, I am a Masters student and I am really sorry for asking you, but I really need to get home, and all I need is $3, and here’s my mp3…”
The librarian interrupted me and said, “Oh, no worries here you go. You don’t have to explain. Keep your mp3 player it’s only $3!”
“No please keep it! Let me sign something at least, and I’ll return it,” I asserted.
“No, no. You keep your stuff and if it makes you comfortable sure, you can return the money, here—you can write it here.”
I drove home that night with intense unrest. Is this what poverty feels like? Like a cloak of humiliation shackling humans from doing the very basic things in life? Is this what it takes for poverty-inflicted persons to ask for money? If so, why do we deem those who gather the courage to ask unworthy of our money?
Maybe you think everyones ‘got to work for their money’: what’s sacrificing dignity as a price for a few bucks to feed a hungry body? So what if we say no to people who ask? It’s not our responsibility to quench their thirst or hunger.
But try forgetting your wallet at home one day. Try asking strangers for money. And then try recalling the times you shooed away children pulling on your shirt begging for 5 Riyals. Remember when you pompously ignored the pleas of the frail mother begging for your attention. Then think instead how you successfully played a part in creating a society where human beings are conditioned to ask for one of the most difficult things in life, simply to survive.
Maybe then you will realize it’s your responsibility to answer the needs of people as much as it’s the government’s responsibility to put its money where its mouth is. More than 30,000 hungry children flood the streets of Sana’a . 42% of the Yemeni population lives below the poverty line . Over 1 million beggars were on the streets during Ramadan . Where were we? Fasting to feel the hunger of the poor.