By Tia Ray:
I no longer see poor people. I have become almost accustomed to the sight of the starving and the homeless.
Like most of my fellow citizens, I too have become almost inured to the common sight of the many poor, starving and homeless on the periphery of my street, my city, and my life.
Last Thursday, though, I saw an image that I thought would haunt me forever.
All that separated us was the car window. It could have been a mirror. She was my age and had the same black hair and sharp features. Except, while I had a pair of headphones stuck on my ears, she had a baby dangling against her body. Eyes yellow, lips parched, and hands knocking on my window and then going to her mouth in a feeding gesture repeatedly – something about the sight got to me. Perhaps it was the thought that she is probably a teen mother with an unknown fate. Perhaps it was the fact she was asking me to help feed her and her baby.
I don’t know what it was but it made me cry, filled me with anxiety, despair and guilt.
I thought the image would never go away. But it did. I got over it in a day. I was filled with a new, more relevant anxiety – about my Economics exam. I despaired at not having spent enough time studying statistics. It made me cry to think that I may not do well. Then I was anxious about not having a blue dress for the theme-party later that evening.
What did not leave me though was the feeling of guilt. As I enjoyed post-exam parties, this niggling, bad feeling wouldn’t go away.
Why wasn’t the guilt going away? Am I responsible for this? Should I feel bad for being privileged?
I am not trying to say, “look at me, I’m so sensitive.” In fact, I think I am beginning to believe the opposite. I have been brought up to believe that good people care and perhaps that is why I feel I must. I have also been brought up in a world where the education system and lifestyle of those who have privileges numb us to the despair of everyone else. I have my own angst; I don’t want to deal with others’.
Maybe if I didn’t have to see the inequality and the pathetic condition of so many around me, I could be happier. I try to look away. But I guess there is no running away.
Every time I am faced with the sight of the little boy outside my local market asking for money for food, I make plans – I will give him food; I will buy him books; I will petition someone to do something; I will ask my parents to adopt him.
But I do nothing.
I don’t know where to begin. And I see no end in sight.
So, for now, I am pushing away this feeling and focusing on acquiring some skills and an education. Maybe, someday, I will be able to use them to gain personal happiness as well as make a difference to those less privileged.
I don’t want to carry this guilt like a trophy of achievement. It is debilitating.
Meanwhile, can some adults around me who may have managed to resolve this, please give me some advice?