Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 8 Issue 69 | May 15, 2009 |

  Cover Story
  Special Feature
  Writing the Wrong
  Photo Feature
  Straight Talk
  Musings - A   Self-  effacing,   Brave Man
  Neighbours-Blood in   the Red Corridor
  Neighbours-Living   with the Taliban
  Star Diary
  Book Review
  Post Script

   SWM Home


In search of a Poor Person

Zeenat Khan

'Dream is a fascinating phenomena... Famous Austrian psychologist. Sigmund Freud wrote volumes trying to unlock the mystery of dreams. Freud's discovery was that "the dream is the means by which the unconscious can be explored." 'Interpretations of a dream vary. A dream is a series of mental images and emotions that occur during our sleep. Dreams are often described as a "communication of body, mind and spirit." Dreams are influenced by various factors in our lives. As a result, a series of images occur during sleep. It is the process of the functioning of our subconscious mind. We often wish one another sweet dreams before falling asleep.

In a recent dream episode my late sister comes to me and asks to deliver a 'sadka' (alms) to someone in need. This is an easy enough task to perform, right? Not really, if you're in the suburban Washington area. Since I had the dream, it started to rain continuously for three days. I was feeling a sense of urgency to fulfill my sister's request. As soon as the sun came up, I went looking for someone in need of some money. I drove towards the commercial sections of the town where I had seen on occasions a person near the road side with an "I am homeless" sign. I was praying that he/ she would be there. But after cruising through the entire area, I saw no sign of anyone in need of help from others. My determination to find someone soon felt like a waste of time. I was disheartened and was thinking of a time in Dhaka with my ten-year-old daughter. I was with her in a family car and the driver was taking us to a shop in Gulshan. It was a very humid day and the air conditioner wasn't working. All the windows were down. At every stoplight, there were beggars who swarmed from all sides of the car, and they were so many! It felt like I was attacked by a mob. They held out their hands and would even try to touch me. I had no idea that I would be up against something like this. I lived in Dhaka the formative years of my life. Never had I seen such a scene. Then again, my return was after fifteen years, and things were different in the city from the time when I was a part of it. For one thing, I noticed the threefold increase in population. It is not an unusual scene in a big city that we will see poor people asking for help. But they do not stand there silently with a sign for help; they literally mob you and demand that you have no right to ignore them. You have what they don't have. It makes sense that they demand. A hungry stomach is an impossible thing to ignore. It makes people do things that they normally wouldn't dream of doing! One has to forgo any human dignity in order to have some food in their stomach. This is not a debate of "Haves vs Have-nots." This is basic survival. So, even though I wasn't prepared to give out money to all those who needed it on that summer afternoon in 1993, I did help with what I had on me. We need Bill Gates to meet that kind of demand. My daughter is all grown up now, but she has often told me how that afternoon has stuck in her memory. Every now and then here in the States if a needy person comes and stands next to her car while she is waiting for the green light and extends his hands, she will empty her wallet for that person.

My mind was feeling heavy and I was thinking why on earth my sister would come to me in my dream asking me to find a poor person here in America. After driving for about forty-five minutes, there was no sign of a single needy human being in sight. It felt like an impossible task to accomplish. America is facing a recession of the highest magnitude. There are over five million people who are currently unemployed. The Government is coming up with all kinds of plans to remedy the situation. The new President took oath of office vowing to change the condition of the economy. But now we hear that it will get worse, before it gets better. Middle class families who once owned nice homes and lost it to banks because of failed payments, are now staying in government assisted shelters and shacking up with family members who are still holding down jobs with a roof over their heads. Their lives and the lives of their children have changed forever. Public morale is at an all time low. Only visible signs of this recession that I can see here in our area is that people are not spending as much. The ones who are not affected at all, are showing empathy by not doing extravagant things that will attract attention. For once in their lives they are exercising humility. My husband and I were in a local Walmart store yesterday getting all the monthly household supplies. It is a discounted mega store where people load up their shopping carts with items that they can do without. The lines on the checkout counter are always very long. Yesterday, I noticed that each person had no more than three or four items in their carts. And I noticed that we also got only the things that we needed. No one is stocking up. This was the only time I really realised that this country is facing a recession. Seeing the plight on TV and reading about it in the newspapers is not necessarily an eye opener. But people here are facing this hard time with courage and dignity, and by thinking of a plan that is best suited for that individual family. Everyone is hopeful of a better day tomorrow. I seriously doubt that even if the situation gets much worse, a lot of people will be out on the street soliciting. They will find a way to avoid it. Those few who have given up hope are the only ones who will be roaming the commercial districts with a help sign, and quietly wait for the light to change to walk close to your car. They do not say anything, only extend the Styrofoam cup if you start to roll down the window. Never have I heard anyone speak except mumble something after they get a few coins.

To get back to my search of a needy person, I was about to turn back vowing to return on Saturday, or drive to the inner city where there are homeless people passed out from alcohol drinking by the road side. I was unmindful for a few moments and didn't see a person with a cardboard sign that said "Out of Work" approach my car when the light signal started to turn red. It was surreal. I quietly put the window down and handed him the money that I had in the glove compartment. He took the money, and looked at it in disbelief! He then said, "God bless you" and "you have a happy Mother's day." The light changed and I just looked at him and saw there were tears in his eyes that he was trying very hard to hold. My heart ached at that and I felt I was tearing up too.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009