Let me break it down for you. If you want to get a sense of just how challenging the situation is here in the ‘stan, consider this:
I’ve traveled to several countries around the world, and seen poverty in many cultures.
As I travel, one of the things I enjoy doing is sharing my blessing with children. I like to see their smiling faces … it makes me feel good, even if all I’ve done is give them a pen or a piece of candy.
Although it makes me feel good, I think I’m perpetuating a problem. Let me explain …
When I saw poor kids in India, they would greet me as I walk down the street by saying: “Namaste, Saab G.” (They would be polite by offering a greeting before asking me for money by asking: “One Rupee, please?”)
In Cameroon, as I walked down the street, impoverished children would try to strike up a conversation with me before hitting me up for the goods. “Hello, sir. How can I help you?” (They would offer to carry my bags for some change.)
In downtown Denver, the panhandlers are unique. They make signs that try to get my attention, or they perform some street trick to make me smile, persuading me to part with my change. Sometimes they’ll tell a lie. (“I need some money to catch the bus.”) But, still, they are creative in finding a way to bring up the subject casually.
The point is, most people realize that getting me to give them something takes some effort.
But, when I walk down the street in Afghanistan, do you know what children in the ‘stan initially say to me?
Not: “Salaam Alaykum, can I have a pen?”
Not: “Hello, sir. Can I help you carry your bag?”
Not: “Sir, can you help me with some food, please?”
“Gimme” is often the first word to come out of their mouth. The gesture is reinforced by an outstretched hand.
Not: “Gimme a pen,” or “Gimme some money,” but just “Gimme.”
Why just “Gimme,” you ask? It’s simple … They don’t want to limit their options.
They don’t know what it is I have in my pockets … A pen, money, candy, a piece of paper, or an empty gum wrapper. But whatever it is, they want it. And the way they ask for it is to run to me as quickly as they can (hoping to beat all of the other children to me,) stick out their hand and say: “Gimme!”
Understanding that Afghanistan is the fourth poorest country in the world, you must understand that most of the things Afghan people get are things that are GIVEN to them. For decades now, the world (not just the United States,) has believed that one of the best ways to help the ‘stan is to GIVE them things.
It makes sense … the people of Afghanistan have nothing, let’s give them something, right?
I’m not so sure.
If the result of constant giving is a generation of children who believe that their first interaction with non-Afghans should start with the word “Gimme,” maybe we should re-think some things.
Still, I continue to want to give. It’s difficult to be in the presence of those who have nothing, and defiantly give nothing. Besides, I’m secretly hoping that the child who enjoys my candy now may one day spare me when plotting his IED attacks later.
Naive of me, I know. But I gotta try. I need all the help I can get!