Today I finally cracked and gave in. Throughout our nearly 7 weeks in India we haven’t given to beggars. It’s been hard as we have wanted to give to people but everyone said not to and to be honest it’s hard when there are so many – adults, adults with disabilities and children – asking for money. We have decided instead that we would rather support charities and NGOs that try and do something about the situation. In Delhi, the hard exterior I put on was truly tested by the small children coming up to the car window, tapping on it, pleading with large eyes, saying “please ma’am”. I had to just look the other way as otherwise I could not look at them without my heart bleeding, and my purse following suit. Telling ourselves that we are on a budget and not wealthy simply doesn’t work because basically we are so wealthy compared to these children. But still we have stood by our decision not to give to individuals. Until today in Mumbai that is.
As those of you who know us know, the issue of children is a thorny subject for me and Patrick. Indeed, the wounds that we have mentioned we need to heal on this trip have children, or rather the difficulty we have experienced in trying to become parents, at their core. The last two years of our lives have centred around our attempts to become parents and adopt a child, a process which has been harrowing and difficult beyond what words can express.
I always knew that coming to India would bring up loads of emotions for me when we saw street kids and children with no parents. A complicating factor in our journey to adopt has been Patrick’s ethnicity, and our wish (and adoption practice) that accordingly our child would be white/Asian. For the last two years we have been under a number of assessment processes, during which time we have had to prove that we are good enough to adopt. I have made a number of decisions to change my work situation so that I was in a better place to be a mum. I’ve spent hours and hours visualising me and Pat as parents – how it would feel to finally have that little olive or brown hand in mine, how it will feel to hug them, soothe them and laugh with them. We have so much to give a child or children – practically as well as emotionally – and we are both still determined that we will be parents. But it’s hard when you want something so so much that seems so easy for many people. It’s really hard when that thing you want more than anything is not based on your decisions, but on others, and all you can do is stay patient. And it’s super hard when you know that there are so many children who need parents now and you just have to wait for people to judge whether you are good enough to be one of them. (The good news though is that we have been approved to adopt thankfully!) But going through this, with all the best will in the world, it’s the hardest thing of all to see children neglected, abused, or just living a life which they shouldn’t know as children, and not to feel very judgemental about the adults (or situations) that have let this happen to them. That’s why I can’t look at the begging street children’s faces. If I did I would be lost. Today I was.
Over the last few years we have spent a lot of time looking at and observing kids around us – finding out about how developed they are at different ages as we thought about what age child we would want to adopt. India has been no different. And I have to say that actually the kids we have seen with their families or by their homes have looked so much happier than kids back home. No-one uses a pushchair; children are either carried or are walking very early. Their motor skills are far far ahead of children of the same age in the UK. The children run around with huge smiles on their faces and they seem to have so much more freedom and expression than back home. It is truly heart warming and a delight to see, and I think we can learn a lot from it.
Just couldn’t say no….
Today, though, was a totally different story. We had been sightseeing in Mumbai and me and Pat were waiting for a friend outside a supermarket. I had a see-through plastic bag full of fruit which I was just dangling. Then I felt a nudge on my shin and I looked down. Below me was a child who was no more than a baby. Her hair had not grown fully and she (I think) had the build of a 6 month old. She must have been older as she could walk. But not speak. Honestly, she looked like a walking baby. She nudged me again, holding out her hand to beg. We could not see a parent near-by.
I did my usual. I said no and I looked away. But looking at the ground was not an option as she stood no more than a foot off the ground. She didn’t move, just kept nudging with her hand and looking up at me. It was almost as if she knew I wouldn’t be able to walk away. I said no. Her hand still stayed held out. I couldn’t tear my eyes away as this baby stood there waiting, expectantly.
I wasn’t ever going to give money but then she started to nudge the fruit in my bag. So I gave in and took a banana out of my bag and lent down and gave it to her, saying “this is for you”. I can’t tell you how hard it was not to just pick her up. She dropped the banana, her small hand unable to take it from me. Then she managed to pick it up off the floor with both hands, and waddled away without a word or cry. Then we saw her mum sitting on the floor about 50 yards away also begging. Her mum took the banana and looked up and gave me a smile and nod as a thank you.
I just hope the baby-child got to eat some of the banana. I know though that it was just all in a day’s work for her; she is far too young to remember one stranger responding. But then she is far too young to walk, or to know how to beg on her own. But I won’t forget. I think I gave her a little piece of my heart with that piece of fruit.
Coming soon ….. Goodbye India, and how you weaved your magic in the end.