Do You Look Poverty Straight in The Eye? Or Do You Avert Your Eyes?

When walking home, there is a dirty and desolate-looking man coming your way. He is limping. His right foot is covered by a plastic bag. A dirty plastic bag that has been trudged through mud. His clothes may have been of varied colours once, when they were still dignified, now they are all the colour of dirt, of dust, of poverty, of homelessness. They are the same colour as the sack that is weighing him down. The sack he carries over his shoulder. This sack that likely contains his life’s possessions. Everything he owns, is on his back. The clothing he wears and the sack he bears.

Do you see him coming and start slowly inching towards the other end of the pavement? As slowly as is courteously possible lest someone ‘respectable’ is watching, taking note of your lack of charity. As fast as is feasible for you to be clear of all that is on his person as well as that which he inadvertently carries around him. When a shower becomes a luxury, the stench of the human body makes a home in and around itself. Whiffs of living. Not pleasant.

When you see him coming, do you cross the road in anticipation of the stench you know has made a home around him?
Do you perhaps change your path completely? Decide to take a longer route. A route that will spare you the discomfort of having to come face to face with poverty. With need.

You avert your eyes and preserve the bubble in which you live. The bubble of comfort. The bubble where, of course, need is satisfied by provision. What is to need and not have? A thing of fantasy. Something you read about in books, on the comfort of your balcony as you sip some wine, soak in some sun, on a Sunday afternoon.

Something that you see in a movie, powerfully depicted. You praise the writers, directors and actors that have done something so noble as to shine a spotlight on poverty. Utter pooverty. When the movie is over, you decide to ditch the remnants of the caramel popcorn you bought on the floor of the cinema. The 3-D cinema where you caught the premiere of the movie that so powerfully depicts poverty.

You catch it in 3-D but refuse to acknowledge it when your paths cross in reality.

You praise the movie to no end among your peers, you do not tire of telling anyone and everyone who will listen the endless bounds to which understanding poverty has changed you. It has changed your life forever. You shall never take your privileges for granted. Yet as you walk home and walk past that homeless man, you avert your eyes.

You avert your eyes.

You hold your breathe.

You, whose tongue has nearly forgotten how to call God by name, are now compelled to form the thoughts, ‘Oh God, please don’t let this crazy man come for me!’

You walk past and sigh, relief.

Your bubble is restored.

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