Pestilential Beggary, Pictures of Poverty and Plenty Palava in the European Union
I must have stopped by on the wrong side of Brussels on my latest trip to the Capital of the European Union (EU). Having finished my purpose of visit in the city, I had more time to sightsee. The train to Dortmund was scheduled for mid-afternoon. I had actually noticed two or three beggars on my first trip two weeks ago, but I had not thought it was indeed this purulent until this recent trip. Besides, I did not stay this long when I came two weeks ago. I saw with one of the beggars two children who were most certainly under the age of ten years. They accompanied the adult beggar. I believe the woman beggar must be their mother. I was scandalized when I saw this, but for the fact that I stood the chance of loosing my train if I stayed too long to observe what exactly went on on my first trip, I pushed the thought aside. I told myself it must be that I was only being too sensitive as usual. I thought the incidence with the children who were being used as a bait to coerce compassion of unsuspecting passers-by in order to extract alms from them, might be a one-off occurrence; I had thought this impossible in the EU. My second trip proved this line of thought absolutely wrong. A shocker was what I got when I passed through the city center of Brussels. Without the singlest sense of exaggeration, one would not be wrong to assert that parts of various main stations in Brussels are being taken over by beggars of different kinds, sorts and formations.
Even if I do not share that opinion which seems to support the unavoidability, or rather the permanent existence of the socially downtrodden in any society, I will be sincere enough to realize that some menace cannot be curbed outrightly in any given society. I will be quick to add notwithstanding that I believe this is achievable. What I however found appalling and terribly disturbing is the trend I noticed in Brussels: I was shaken beyond measure to see women in group of twos and threes, sometimes larger, with harem of children, sometimes babies and infants, begging for money from passers-by. This was an assault on my humanity. I was angered beyond words. Understandably, anybody could go begging for whatever reason. As passer-by, one is not compulsed to give alms. Unacceptable is the unfortunate fact however, that children, babies and infants are now being exploited for this shameful act. And come to think of it: This is happening right in the capital of the EU, one of the world’s richest and safest part to live in.
These beggars have a face. Their appearance gave them away very quickly. They belong largely to Roma and Sinti group of Eastern Europe origin. Beyond this group of people I saw some handful with distinguishable North African and Arabian outlook. When one is befallen with too many disasters, one is hit with the sad realization that one disaster could be better bourne than the other. In this light, particularly disturbing was a woman I saw with a baby in her arms. The child was most certainly less than four months old. She sat in the lukewarm, barely friendly weather on the road-side looking up to me for alms. I hardly could wait to even look at her. I walked away as fast as I could. I was shaken to the bones. If I stayed too long I was sure I was going to throw-up. I could not believe my eyes. I had shortly seen a beggar-woman who pushed her daughter towards a man for money. The man promptly turned her away. I crossed the road and moved towards the woman. I almost spoke to her when I thought otherwise. Telling her it was unacceptable and shameful to use children as bait for alms will certainly fall on deaf ears. In fact, I was already much too angered I knew I could not find the right words to tell her this.
Being confronted with such bizarre inhumanity nearly made me loose my mind! I was forced to ask if I was still in the EU of the 21st century. Come to think of it: Brussels is not only the capital of the EU, it houses some very important decision-making bodies in the EU. Another shocker: The G-7 will gather here very soon for a meeting of world-leading industrial countries. What a stark compromise of EU values.
Beyond the pestilence of beggars, the pictures I was opportune to see on the streets of Brussels, particularly those parts which I visited, are pitiable. I saw able-bodied young men and women who loitered the streets and road-sides. One might want to posit that there presence on the road-sides was only a coincidence. I would be careful to think it off as a coincidence. Their various postures strongly supported the supposition that these are jobless young adults and middle-aged people.
Another troubling truth which one cannot but mention is the fact that many of these people, beyond being engaged for menial and strictly unskilled labour like cleaning, cutting of grasses, beautification of garden under strict instruction of a skilled fellow just to mention a few, are most times unemployable. For some, their outlook gave them too quickly away for drug- and street-crack-dealers, whom they rightly are. I saw some few, whose addiction to drugs, cracks and alcohol need not be doubted for a second. One even dosed at interval, waking up only to fall back on his neck into sleep. He was African. I pity Mother Africa for yet another lost son in a far-away strange land. There was another African brother whose attire clearly confirmed he was out of his mind. I saw him some houses away from the point I had seen the other brother. My sadness only got bigger, really.
Then, there were the dilapidated houses and those which beg for urgent renovation. I sat at a round-about, which was planned to be recreative in purpose. I could not but laugh at the poor and hurried work wasted on this patch of land. The idea of a green round-about is good, only that the realization was clearly a waste in that the beauty that ought be brought to the fore was clearly not present.
At a point, I thought I was out of Europe. From a shop, right on the road, a seller blasted music from a lowly mounted loudspeaker. I imagined what chaotic and barbaric atmosphere we would create if everyone would play just as loud as he played. This was not the Europe of any sojourner’s dream. This was a confused and displaced humanity in exhibition.
At that round-about I just mentioned were seated many people, but one woman particularly struck out. Her overwear, made of material very close to that of a pullover, was indiscriminately holed and tattered. Around her were children whose garments were much better than hers but for a boy whose jeans-trouser is washed out and too old. Like mother-hen, the women shouted out at intervals to wandering children to stay clear of passing trams, cars, buses and pedestrians and not to stray too far from the rest.
While I looked on with astonishment, a woman, who also was not less-angered by this new-trend of beggars-syndicate, turned away a child, whose mother had pushed towards her to beg for money. She turned to the woman, and spoke some words I did not hear. I guessed she warned her, because I could see her raise a finger towards the beggarwoman. Then she looked towards me, and said in French: “School is free! Everything is free! Even me without paper, my children goes to school! I work! I get money! These people are terrible! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Before then, I had not even reasoned along that line. My anger had actually been one-sided. I was angered that a city condoles children being used exploitatively. The frustration in the voice of the protesting woman brought to the fore what I had hitherto not taken into context. These adult-beggars are blackmailers, who not only exploit the children via street-begging for personal gain, but also cashed in financial benefits on these children from various social offices and institutions. Worse still, they do not send the children to school.
That frustration in the voice of the protesting woman confirmed on the one side what a resilient spirit is. She would rather earn her living and lead a dignifying life. I respect her greatly for this. And can only wish many would borrow a leaf from her. On the other side, she successfully summed up what shameful malpractices are being engaged in by residents, especially foreigners, in various cities across the EU.
As a matter of fact, social security and benefits are planed to be a temporary relief and safety-net, financially, for families who might not be able to weather life-terrain successfully without state support, while they willingly and actively/seriously attempt to secure for themselves a life free of state support. It is thus expected that this kind of resolution be taken only into consideration as a last and emergency resort when all other options had been exhausted. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands, most times foreigners, who see in this a permanent window through which they believe they can finance themselves for a life-time. The saying that poverty is a disease could not be truer than in the case of these people, who exploit not only the system, but also their children for money as evident in extreme cases visibly represented on the streets of Brussels in those Roma, Sinti and (North) African faces.
I mentioned this experience while I talked to one of my course participants. She only smiled. She was not surprised by this revelation. She went on to tell me of more terrible practices people engage in to dupe the system. Here is an example: A pregnant woman left her husband in Spain, came to Germany, paid thousands of Euro to have a Germany-resident father for the unborn child. The reason: She heard Germany pays three thousand Euro to parents of newly born babies! So she wanted to get her share of the “German booty”. Meanwhile, her true husband and father of the unborn child is resident in Spain with Spanish citizenship. She intended to claim benefits in Spain as well after the birth of the said child.
The Roma and Sinti are only a tip of the iceberg, exemplary of financial desperation and perpetuation of a mentality largely traceable/connected to poverty, which these migrants had lived-in for too long. Unfortunately, they forgot to dump this mindset back in their various countries of origin. It is also traceable to illiteracy. Actually, a critical investigation of the root causes will most likely not leave out cultural consideration. There are cultures which neither clearly support nor denounce exploitation. The celebration of sudden (undeserved/unexplainable) wealth acquired solely in the name of good-luck and possession of a “good star” is a good example in this regard. People with such cultural inclination will definitely throw caution to the wind when it seemed they stand a very good chance to catch in big on the system. This is a very plausible explanation to situations described by my course participant.
I was told there are those who wear tattered clothes and worn-out shoes for a purpose. I had not realised this when I saw these women in tattered clothes back in Brussels. When the course participant pointed this out to me, I was shocked beyond measure. The probability is very high that they put on these tattered materials in order to weep up sentiments from those they meet in offices or anywhere they go. This is not very far from the truth, if not the absolute truth.
A newspaper report published a similar line of thought. Recently, a young migrant of Palestine descent in Denmark published a collection of poems in which he talked down, and that rightly so, on the practices of hypocrisy and exploitation among his people resident in that part of Europe. Here was a sincere young man who talked about the shameless and sheer exploitation of the social benefit system. The people referenced in his poems are so desperately in search of money they care less even about their health. All they see is the monetary benefit! They turn their wives into childbearing-machine. The trick is: The more children they have, the higher the monetary benefit cashed in on these children. They divorced their wives to marry new ones, while the so-called divorced wives still live under the same roof with the said estranged husband so they can get more children! Undoubtedly, these men, and probably the women too, do not bloody-care about these children. All they are interested in is the social benefit accruable from the enterprise, i.e. “profitably gaming” the system at any expense. What a life to live.
I could go on and on, but I choose to spare readers of this endless palava. The list of social benefit crimes, stories of exploitation and other malpractices of many sojourners and residents in this part of the world are endless.
I will round up with a quick return to Brussels. My train eventually arrived in Brussels Nord as scheduled. I moved to the platform and boarded. I was greatly relieved I was leaving Brussels behind, but not the burden to unburden the sadness. I had seen too much sadness for a day. I brought out my laptop, press the swtich-on button, opened a word-document and began jotting down thoughts to tell the world not only what I had seen in the capital of Europe, but by extension what is also obtainable in cities and countries across the EU. This, I believe, is well summed up in the title of this piece: Pestilential Beggary, Pictures of Poverty and Plenty Palava in the European Union.