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Self-exploitation

Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy. 
 
Buddhists call it enlightenment and describe it in terms of repeatedly beating yourself against a wall until, dazed and bloody, you turn go the other way. Psychologists only slightly less violently describe it in terms like absorption, saturation, and explosion. Literary types like to label it inspiration and credit their muse, while more religiously it’s known as an epiphany. For most of us, it’s finally getting it.

I read on several travel sites that you shouldn’t give money to child beggars, but I could not make sense of that. Wouldn’t children be more deserving of assistance? A few blocks to along Sisowath Quay was enough to make me appreciate the guidebooks’ insight. The child-beggars just bothered me. I didn’t know why or how. I just knew they did.

Child beggars

My insight came as I was making use of the wireless internet in Café Fresco. The café is on the corner lacking a nice view of the river, but providing plenty of passersby for visual consumption. I was thoughtfully gazing past my computer and out the window when a boy forcibly arrested my attention. He was poorly dressed but happily jumping around on the sidewalk while his mother talked nearby. He was enjoying his view of the café customers. He met my gaze and reciprocated my smile. It was the same happy interaction I’ve had with countless other kids on this trip. The wave was what killed it. It tipped Mom of about his happy interaction with a foreigner and quickly intervened. She inverted his hand and helped him into his practiced supplicant posture. The smile faded, the happiness evaporated and he was again the disturbing beggar boy.

Call me naïve, but forced depression just rubs me the wrong way. As does exploitation. His mother’s exploitation of her son’s helplessness. Her exploitation of my magnanimity toward her son. I’d have gladly played with him, taught him some English, bought him a meal and generally had a grand ol’ time of it. But I resented being lied to. She didn’t money to feed him. He wasn’t sad, poor and needy. He was still uneducated enough to be content with his low-income life. His mother was working hard to change that.

Perhaps that’s part of how we need to act as children to enter the Kingdom.
 
(04 Feb 08 | Phnom Penh) 

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