Not wanting to admit

Not wanting to admit

Not wanting to admit…

The story of Gabriel’s message of sight………..

When ones work is in the field working as an aid worker, humanitarian, missionary or journalist in far flung poor locations of the world or urban ghettos or at times of natural disaster or war, the scenes of deprivation the worker views can be horrendous. And, they can be those that cause long-term sorrow and posttraumatic stress. But, the scenes of need are also what motivate the worker to ‘roll up her sleeves’ and give her best to make change.

However, every field worker must find the ways to remain healthy, clear thinking and able to enter and leave and enter the work situation with the energy to face the challenges in aid and development, disaster, relief and recovery.  It is not easy to do this. And, it takes time to find the way to preservation of self.

This said, I know that to be able to travel and work in difficult areas with marginalized communities I have had to learn how to protect myself from long days of depression, or from anxiety caused by extended 24/7 working days. I know that when I am relieved of my duties I must return to a home that is more a home of western culture and comfort  than that of the local  host village where one may have started ones career in a peace corp village hut.

Today, as an experienced humanitarian and social entrepreneur who has gained the respect for my working deeds of past in hard locations, I know I must shift between field assignments in local environments and residences to a home base that is comfortable. That’s a must to my own sustainability and survival. Mental and physical. Therefore, I choose homes in affluent environments with the same western comforts that I might have in Hong Kong, San Francisco, or London.  I seek out and find a beautiful health club to swim daily at.  I find a driver who can escort me safely around town at night. And, I get to know my European and American neighbors as well as the local professionals that can afford the same lifestyle. I do not choose to live isolated in village conditions because I know I must preserve my own wellbeing. This allows me to more easily travel to emerging and developing environments and back to industrialized nations facing less culture shock. My choice today is to disassociate on my return to Makati from the memories of the harsh environment I am helping (as best as I can) to the comfort and security of my good bed and lovely home, with the ornaments of my life, my animals, and when possible my family around me. This is how I have survived +30 years of work in some very challenging environments.

And, this is where the story of not wanting to admit begins….

Something wonderful, something mystical, and something that has become one of my stories of my life in the Philippines happened last year in what was my comfortable Makati neighborhood…

The story is about reflection. Its about accepting that the ills of the world are around us all the time and can not be avoided. Its about showing kindness even when wanting to retreat back home to the comfort of ones own home walls.

When I am in Manila I stay in Makati. The flat were I stay is located on probably one of the best streets in the country because it is lined with trees, maintained office buildings, and door fronts opened by security guards and concerges.   Flowers and trees are trimmed, storefronts are styled, and coffee shops and restaurants have lovely outdoor street side sitting. There are no cracks in the road, no garbage on the street, or no street children pestering walkers.  The street seldom if ever floods, and people can walk and talk and mingle with each other safely.  I feel safe and at ease on this street in this neighborhood…….

And, on weekend mornings I love the walk to the outdoor market where I buy organic food for the week, see friends, eat Indonesia or Chinese, and buy home art and items for gifts…..  My walk to the market a short distance from my flat. But three years ago this walk became something of a hassle, a definite annoyance, and a situation which made me angry. I choose my flat because it was the one place I did not have to face poverty. Or so I thought.

For many weeks on Sunday I passed a begging man. And, in Makati’s Greenbelt Area begging is illegal, police round up the beggars and street children and chase them out of the area. It’s the central business district. The township leadership wants the streets clean of rubbish and of the poor. To most people, it’s the richest and most sterile environment in the nation;  it could be part of any urban center in any industrialized nation. Beggars begone….

When I passed this beggar instead of being kind to the man showing a smile or saying hello, I found myself feeling angry that he was invading my space. I took on this particular flat on this particular street to avoid having to interact with poverty and beggars when I was in Makati. This location was to be my place of normalcy, of rest away from work, away from hardship, away from the poor. It was supposed to be a place where I could dress well enough to wear nice clothes and jewelry (something I don’t do in the field) and a place where I can feel like the professional more affluent woman. But, somehow each and every time I ran into this mans begging hand I felt just pure anger and resentment because he was infringing his life needs on the moments I needed rest away from this reality. I felt guilty each and every time I encountered him.

To resolve this problem I decided to take alternative routes to avoid the beggar at all costs. I did this each and every weekend I was in Makati on leave from the field. And, for about 1.5 years I managed to never meet the man again.  I had my peace. I had my sanity. And, I could rest my mind from my work world of  poverty alleviation.

Well, the world is full of tricks that make one face themselves at unexpected times.  And, this time the trick was played on me.  On my October 2013 birthday, I ran straight into the beggar at a place I never saw him sit at. It was not his usual spot.  And, it was not a weekend.  It was a weekday when police are normally patrolling. The beggar was at the corner of the junction near the country’s most famous 5 star mall. He nearly tripped me with his hand and foot leaning out for help.  I was walking too fast, with too much on my mind, with the goal to catch the crossing light so I could beat the signal changed. When I almost tripped, I caught myself and instead of laughing at myself for racing too fast, as soon as I realized the beggar was in my space, I instantaneously became annoyed.  Without expressing “excuse me sir with a kind tone”  I fled past him with a flustered glance of annoyance and no words.

But, as I stepped ahead I heard faintly…

“Mam I am hungry….

I have not eaten for three days….

Please feed me”

 

By the time I digested the meaning of his words, I was in the middle of the street crossing. He was not asking for money he was asking to be fed. As I realized this I heard a voice in my head……

“GABRIEL SON OF GOD”

 

I froze dead in my tracks. I could not move on. I would not be consciously able to celebrate my own birthday and eat a nice dinner if I did not apologize to this man and offer him food.

Turning around, I saw the beggar for the first time….

And realized he was going blind…..

I  went back to him and said…

“Sir, did you say to me you are hungry?”

He said…

Mam, I have not eaten in three days, can you feed me?”

As I faced him for the first time really looking at him, I realized with a sense of more anquish and shame that this beggar was not old but was very young. And, that his eyes had cataracts rendering him nearly blind. He could not see me.

Because I had never ever really looked at him. I felt so ashamed to admit this to myself. How could I have walked by trying to avoid him in the past? I knew then that I had missed the chance to help him get services. I know this is not my usual behavior when in the field so why should it be different when I am in the city….. especially when the man is my neighbor.

All people deserve the basics. I work for the benefit of the poorer and less able. And Gabriel was right in my back yard with so much need that my stomach ached with pain. What is worse is I felt embarrassed until today to admit this to anyone or write this story out in my blog.

As I walked with him across the boulevard, I said. ……

Sir what is your name? I would like to call you by your name…

He said:

Man, I am Gabriel!

At that moment I knew he was a message from God. He was a living angel. And, I understood immediately that I had to reflect on my behavior of avoidance and anger and why I felt I could not be kind.

Poverty exists and will always exist right next door. It’s not going away.  Sadly, the sight of the poor is here to stay. But, as I have always known, just my smile might make a difference 1:1 in someone else’s sight.  Gabriel is now my friend and I feed him every time I see him, and am working to find him a surgeon to remove his cataracts.

 

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