Published: May 14th 2012May 3rd 2012
Just moments before, I had been contemplating a pedicure; did I want a pedicure before or after I bought the delightful orange leather travel bag I had been eyeing off the previous night?
As I walked past the fast food store behind my family contemplating my dilemma, a small boy stood in front of me. I had subconsciously noticed he was ignored by everyone else and I took a step towards being just as dismissive.
After arriving in Egypt a mere 4 nights earlier I was already accustomed to seeing past the unsavoury locals, the men pushing their cheap junk in your face, the dirty children with scum under their finger nails, holding out their hands in hope to receive money; in just 4 days I had already perfected the stride and stare ahead, a successful means to avoid those who pursued to be noticed.
Perhaps it was because he was so small, perhaps because he was on his own, or perhaps it was because I saw the look of rejection from the corner of my eye before I had even side stepped his small frame.
I paused and took him in, his face was filthy, as were the clothes that sat of his body, on his feet were a pair of well-worn sandals which I could see the dry and craked skin surrounding his heels and toes. His eyes were a deep brown, in the corner of one eye sat a fly, his nose was crusted, and the black curls on top of his head were full of dust.
He nodded. I looked into the fast food restaurant and back at the boy. I turned and opened the door for him with a quick call to my family to wait.
As I strode into the store a few diners called to the boy and then me;
Hey, what are you going in here? Hey, some kid is following you.
All of a sudden I was defensive.
I know, he is with me.
Already he was with me and I placed a protective arm around his shoulders.
Chicken burger please.
Walking back towards the hotel I noticed the boy was either following me or walking in the same direction, I was pleased. I stopped to buy him water and we continued on our journey.
We chatted as much as possible with the language barrier and from the broken sentences I learned he lived with his mother, not his father and that he went to school. I was dubious of the last fact seeing as it was a Thursday early afternoon when one would presume all small children are in school.
We parted ways at my hotel; already I had a warm attachment to the child. The family decided to wander past the falafel stand and as we crossed the road I noticed the boy approach 3 men who were notorious for hounding tourist to take taxi rides on their horse and carriages, one of the men leaned over and took the bag from his clutch.
I felt anger and disgust like never before.
I flung my bag towards my sister and marched towards the three men, my mother’s cries of warning falling on deaf ears.
Hey! Hey! What are you doing?
I felt no fear as I grabbed the food from the man’s hands.
It’s not yours, is he your son? No. Is this your brother? No, Yes.
I eyed the men suspiciously, there were all clean and well presented, why would this dirty boy offer the food? He had mentioned he was going to share the food with his brother, but I doubted the story.
I am going to take him for lunch; we will sit around the corner until he is finished.
The men laughed at me, I looked down at his smiling and uncertain face, and asked if he would like to have lunch with me, He nodded and the older men laughed.
Lucky boy! Have fun! Look after him!
I was furious at their mockery and held out my hand, he reached up and I clasped his grubby fingers in my own, I pulled him across the street, most likely too roughly and walked around the corner out of site of the men.
Are you sure you want to have lunch with me, is this ok?
He nodded, smiling.
My own family followed suit and soon I was sitting with the boy in the shade watching him eat his burger, slowly and carefully. With the assistance of a translator I learned that he was homeless, his father had abandoned him, his many sisters and mother, who had then sent him to work with a friend in Luxor. He job was to beg and then to pass the money to the older men. Sometimes he was able to go home, but majority of the nights he slept on the street. There was no school.
I was heartbroken.
I was unable to persuade my family to help me sneak him into the hotel, I wanted to bath him, clothe him, take him to the pool, feed him. I was in Luxor for 2 days and I wanted him. What then, my mother asked gently. I was at a loss. I felt helpless; I felt I was a failed human being where I was unable to help a child in need.
Was I meant to turn my back and go back to my hotel, lie in my air-conditioned room and return to my thoughts of when to buy a bag? A damn bag…..and here was a boy who only wanted a fucking chicken burger.
I felt ashamed of myself as I offered to meet him the next day to again take him for lunch, an offer which was made to make myself feel better.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS WORLD? What is wrong with this country, what is wrong with people, that we can watch a child beg and ignore his pleas with the justification that he is a beggar/ gives the money to someone else/ won’t do him any good. What will do him good? Ignoring him won’t.
I have always tried to look at the world in a positive light, and today I was let down, by the general population and mostly myself.
He is only seven years old, his name is Mohammad.