It’s 3am and I’ve just gotten back from a pub crawl in Riga with a large group of 20 something-year olds staying at my hostel. I’m sitting here alone in my room thinking about all of the people who were out drinking tonight. Presumably all from middle class families, maybe not all of us have had the easiest lives, but we’re all young and able-bodied and have enough money to feed ourselves.
“I’m so fortunate and I shouldn’t take that for granted”
“At least I have a roof over my head”
These are phrases that are so much easier to say than they are to actually understand and appreciate. But, more importantly, we need to understand how people on the other spectrum live— the ones who don’t have a home to live in.
And then of course you’ll find people in small villages on the streets (or in the sea) selling whatever they can to survive. Maybe they do have a home, but I can’t imagine it’s much considering what they’re doing out on the streets.
In some countries they lie to make money. Women wear headscarves that they don't normally wear, hold their young children in their arms, and eye passersby with a look of despair. They cry out that they have no money and need yours. At the end of the day, they take off the scarf and chat with their friends who run the hotel next door. Maybe they aren’t really homeless, maybe their husbands make enough money for them to eat every day. But, if this is what they are choosing to spend their days doing, then maybe, just maybe, they really are in need of money to keep a roof over their heads.
And you’ll find men sitting on the streets all day not saying a word. No begging, no hassling, no selling. Just waiting. They’re just waiting for somebody to pass by and say “hey I want to buy that wicker broom for 50 krona”. And maybe he will have enough to buy dinner. Sometimes it's impossible for me to walk by a person like this and forget their face. To this day, I still think of some of those folks.
Or maybe it’s the lovely man who has escaped an impoverished land for a country with greater opportunities. But unfortunately for him, he's landed in one of the countries in the EU that in recent years has become known for it's economic instability. Maybe he does have another source of money, but at the same time, I'd bet you anything that whatever he makes from playing those smooth blues melodies on the streets of Athens is a necessary supplement to it.
We often walk by these people and think that there is something wrong with them; that they did something bad to end up here. But in reality, it can happen to anybody. These people have stories just like you and I, and in fact they are often the most interesting stories. Whether you think you could never relate to the woman on the boat selling scarfs, the ice cream man, or the guys working at the tea house in a small town-- we can learn so much from people who we think are so different. Because in the end, we're all connected.
And the next time you waltz by them without a thought, just stop and think. Think about how much that 50 cents, 1 euro, 1 dollar, or whatever it is that you have to spare, could make a difference to them. And think about how badly you really need to save that small change. Maybe 1 euro won’t change their lives, but if every person who passed by them, or even every other, it WOULD change their lives.