I was headed into Tesco (local supermarket) and there was this young man sitting outside asking for spare change, I asked him if he needed anything from the store and he said he didn’t but that he was in need of money. I knew I only had a five pound note in my wallet and there was no ATM nearby so I gave it to him. He said thank you and I said it was the least I could do and told him to take care of himself as I walked away.
As I’m walking away I hear “What’s your name?” I walk back introduce myself, he says his name is Aaron and shakes my hand. I squat down next to him and ask him what he is doing out here. He lost his mother years ago and was living with his father, they didn’t get along and his father, from his accounts, isn’t the easiest to deal with…after many complaints from their neighbours they get evicted for whatever reason and he has no where to turn to.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s an orphanage in a village or a homeless person in a city…the look in all their eyes is the same. They don’t care who you are or what you look like, they just need someone and in many African cultures there is this sense of Ubuntu which is roughly the essence of humanity towards others…a togetherness. Nelson Mandela was once asked what it means and he gave the example of a person travelling through a country, stopping somewhere and not having to worry about food or water because the people will give it to him no questions asked.
There is no such concept in the Western world, it’s very much every man for himself and that breaks my heart because that means people’s hearts and minds are plagued with believing that they are better than the next person, not realising you have no say in your predestination.
I remember having moved to Malawi when I was about 8 and we had family friends that worked for organisations that focused on HIV/AIDS. So these organisations had organised a ‘fun-day’ of activities, music and festivities, by lake Malawi, for what seemed like hundreds of kids who had lost their parents to AIDS and majority were infected with HIV themselves. I remember crates of glass bottled Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite being passed around, such joyous faces, and I didn’t get it. I just continued playing with these kids, because even though there was no language that we shared, we were children…all the same. I remember that evening chatting away over dinner, mentioning something and my dad having to explain to me that some of these kids had never tasted Fanta or Coca-Cola. That not everyone has what I had, or were going to have the same experiences I would…that even though we may not walk the same line, look alike, talk the same…we’re still the same on the inside and that is how I should see people, by who they are at the very core of them.
You and I could both be Aaron in some years from now or even tomorrow. Yes we may not be able to ever imagine it, but we could. And when we’re sitting on the cold cement outside a Tesco, or trying to find cover from the rain in the doorway of some fancy office building, we’ll have the likes of us on this very day, healthy, well-fed, educated, all walking past us with their noses in the air and a sense of disgust towards us.
You may not have change to spare, but even kind words, a smile to acknowledge their existence can change someone’s spirit. Don’t be so dead inside. No-one is asking you to do anything besides showing a little compassion. We’re all in this together, remember that next time.