Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Poverty of Nations

Poverty is always a sobering sight. In India, poor people on the road are a common enough sight and naturally the western press is so full of poverty in the 3rd world country.

In contrast, the only poor people we see or hear about, here, are the SDFs (Sans domicile fixé). But most of these are winos or drug addicts or hobos. Many seem quite content to live on the road or wayside and in the metros even. One guy we meet all over the place, travels by train and carried a backpack with a fat cat balancing on it and an equally fat Labrador at his heels. Not the India kind of poverty. So imagine my surprise when I encountered it here, in France.

The branch of Red Cross in our town is open only on Tuesday afternoons. A and I went around 2pm with some of our clothes and my big black coat (my post of Sunday, February 01, 2004), most of which were in mint conditions. We have just outgrown them (girth wise). A big crowd was already there, behind the big iron doors, waiting patiently in a line. Couldn’t figure out if they were donors or donees. We hesitated a bit and then some one asked me if he could help. I recognised him…have seen him several times…a blind man. I told him I had some clothes to donate and where could I keep them. He told me that there should be a carton somewhere there. Sure enough there was one. The crowd obediently parted while we dumped our clothes into the box. They didn’t immediately crowd over the box. We left and then I remembered that I had to ask if they took utensils as well and so returned. They had all crowded around the box and were looking at our clothes. There was a long queue up the stairs to the office. They let me go through to ask a rather grumpy lady in the office upstairs, if I could give my utensils. No I couldn’t. I walked back. Our clothes were being minutely examined by various people.

These other kind of poor people, who live on donations of others', I met for the first time. And to my surprise, these were not unfamiliar faces. I have met them on several occasions … walked past them, or on a bus.

Naïve of me to think there would be no poor people out here…but I could be forgiven for thinking so…It is a land of plenty…, with a good social support structure or atleast it seems so, compared to India!

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