Beggars, Bums and the Barely Living

There are plenty of options available to you when it comes to donating a few pesos to the down and out in Mexico City. Don’t like the look of the one you’re passing now? No problem, just keep walking. The next one is just round the corner. If that far. Generally I give my spare pesos to the very elderly who are clearly infirm, or those who are blatantly physically handicapped. The otherwise healthy looking men and women who surround themselves on a street corner with a tribe of kids, each armed with a cup for receiving cash, ordering them to block my path as I approach….they get nothing.

There are too many people here who toil all hours trying to sell peso sweets to earn their meagre living for me to accept these guys couldn’t try and do something a bit more constructive that sit there as living examples of why contraception should not only be free, but mandatory. I know, I’m harsh. But when you walk past it numerous times everyday….

There is another type of beggar I might sometimes give money too. Rarely, but now and again I do. The Pest Beggar. The one who starts following you up the street, all friendly, giving you a sob story. I don’t give them pesos because I believe a word of their story. The reality, more often than not, is that they need a fix of their narcotic of choice. Which was never included in their story. I give them the pesos in the sincere hope that they’ll stop following me and go away.

Most of the time they do just that. A couple of days ago I made the mistake of giving a few pesos to a supremely pesky pest near my home. I hadn’t seen him before, and assumed he was ‘passing through’. Sadly, he appears to like the area and has been following me up the street ever since. With no joy. He was lucky to have caught me in a good and generous mood first time round. I saw him earlier today receiving a kick up the ass from one gent, who clearly didn’t like being pestered.

This is all build up to my main point though. I have noticed in the last couple of months, in the areas I frequent, a lot more beggars at work. And a lot more proactive than is normal. The sub prime mortgage crisis and credit crunch is showing, perhaps. Ironic, because these guys are sub-sub prime and credit-less crunch type of people at the best of times. As a white chap, looking mightily like a gringo to those not in the know, I am and always have been a prime target for beggars. A dozen Mexicans can walk past one and get nothing more than a gentle shake of a cup in their general direction.

As soon as I approach they always become more vocal and more vigorous in their cup shaking. At least that. Often I’m asked for dollars. It irks me. I ask they why they think I have dollars. I tell them that they are far more American than I am. Can they use any pounds sterling? Tough, I spent the last of that four years ago. I’ve only got pesos. It’s amazing how many can answer me in English. It’s not always used in the most polite fashion. I doubt they get the English dry wit I give back. And anyway, I threw away all my spare pesos.

I’m getting hard in my old age. And hardened by the constant stream of beggars blocking my path and generally making a nuisance of themselves. That’s not to say I can’t spot a genuinely needy case, and whilst I don’t sip into my pockets every time, I do when I have time, change and the right temperament. Are beggars on the increase everywhere in Mexico? Or am I just unlucky? It has to be said that the experience of one person over a few weeks is not the soundest basis for a scientific conclusion.

Bums

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  • Wow, did somebody literally kick the pesky beggar?

    I’ve seen the more fortunate show a real lack of empathy towards the less [1], but never actual violence.

    [1] A remarkable example was after taking delivery of a living room set, a neighbour complained that the deliverers didn’t help bring the items upstairs. “Son pagados por flete,” she said, “qué flojos.” This coming from somebody who, I’m reasonably sure, has never worked a day in her life.

    • The beggar was particularly pesky. I think he was either trying to pick up something the guy owned, or was seriously invading his personal space.

      It happens. I nearly came to blows with a beggar once. I had bought a big bag of nopales, and had put them on the ground whilst I kicked a football about. A guy had been following me asking for some money or food, but I had no money, and a big bag of greasy nopales isn’t something you open and share. He was also filthy, so (call me a snob if you want!) I didn’t really want him dipping his mits into my dinner!

      He hovered about and then went over to my bag as soon as I was 10 metres away and was making gestures and asking if he could look in the bag. I told him no, pretty clearly, and walked back over to my bag. He opened it anyway and took out the nopales and started trying to open the bag….I got there and had to physically take it off him.

      I’m sure he was hungry, but my generosity has it’s limits. If I’d given him any of it, I’d have had to give him all of it, then walk 5 minutes home for more money, 15 minutes back to the mercado, and 20 minutes back home. I didn’t have the time or patience.

  • good post. than’s why I come here, to read about someone’s life in Mexico.
    thanks for the snapshot.

    Begging on the street….very little of it in the EastEnd (little Mexico) of Houston.

    • Glad I’m interesting at least one person here! It’s a sad fact of life in Mexico City, but a fact nonetheless. There’s no ignoring it, and no matter how hardened you get, you still notice it. A lot.

  • That is one thing I don’t miss about South Africa. The beggars at every single traffic light. They approach cars and pester the drivers, sometimes “washing” the windows with filthy water and demanding money. The scariest was the one who took a spark plug to my window and tried to steal my bag.

    • Old women do attract empathy. As do attractive young fillies, but there are far less of them to donate to. I guess I’ll have to continue doling out to the guys and gals on the metro who are missing arms and legs.

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