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How (Not) To Solve Poverty

Feeling a little bit entitled and a lot guilty, Timmy Mowafi attempts to be charitable.

Illustration by Bouklao.

I always count my blessings. After I am done arguing with the chef for making molekheya with batates forn, shouting down the phone to the driver for being late, or ruing the fact that I have to walk up a flight of stairs because the button in the lift to my office is broken, I take an existential step back, breathe, think of the alternative and let a blissful sense of gratitude roll through my whole being. I got legs, ambition and and two smart phones. Whenever I do complain about any sort of material problem, one of my dad’s most famous sayings rings in my ears: “I will send you to Nigeria! Then you will see real life!” To this day I am still not sure why he always uses Nigeria as an example, I feel like there are plenty of other depleted nations which would further exemplify his point with regards to quality of life; Djibouti for instance. Why does my father never want to send me to Dijoubiti? Surely Nigeria, a country with a GDP of 2.6 Billion, isn’t the worst place in the world is it? One day, when I have enough money, I will go to Nigeria and send a postcard to my dad from a 5-star beach resort in Lagos.

Anyway, what I have in gratitude I lose in financial fortitude. I’m not a material person by any means, but I will occasionally fixate on first world paraphernalia and blow all my cash on one subject, like a 3,000 LE pair of quilted Maison Martin Margiela drop-crotch pants, or a flight to Nigeria just to prove a point. I often become weary about giving out cash to beggars on the street, paranoid that the money might end up in the hands of Fagan, or feloul in this case, and not benefit the health of the child voluntarily cleaning my car’s window with a dirty cloth. But I’ve recently been feeling a sense of guilt from not giving enough to charity so I was determined to rectify the situation at the next opportunity.

This chance came when I was walking down the corniche to my hairdresser. An old barefoot man was sat on a tire leaning against a black marble building. His face and galabeya were so filthy he was almost camouflaged against the wall, his eyes dead, blank and excruciatingly sad; his beard and hair muddy overgrown and tangled; a castaway in the city.

I walked straight passed him. Then, I feel my wallet bulging in the pocket of my 3,000 LE pair of sweatpants. That sense of guilt pinged me right in the solar plexus. This man needs a haircut much more than I do.

I take out the 50 LE I had in my wallet and walked back to the hobo, with an unearned sense of satisfaction and altruism. I literally couldn’t wait to see the smile on his face, and hear the desperate “rabena yewafa2ak” that would wipe out my guilt.

I stand over him with the note but he just stares on, missing my presence.

Etfadal...

He slowly turns his head up and towards me as I anticipate his undying gratitude. His face contorts, his eyes bulge and come back to life with a fiery burst of energy. He leans towards me and reaches out his arm. Wait, he’s not happy - he’s furious.

“EHHHHH! FE EHHHH? 3AYEZ EH MENY!!!”

Stunned and speechless, I stood stuck to my spot like an idiot, my arm still out-stretched with the money.

“BETEDNY FELOOS LEH?! ASDAK EHH?!”

This is not what is supposed to happen. I retort in the voice of an innocent little boy…

Ehh, ehhh, umm ya3ni, 3ashan takol ya3ni?

“LA2, YA 3AM LA2. ANA MEYDAY2AK? ENTA 3AYEZNY ATGHAYAR?!! WENTA MALAK! EMSHY, EMSHY!" He continues his aggressive attack at me flinging at the air between himself and I frantically with his arm. I’ve never been made to feel so condescending in my life. I contemplate leaving the 50 LE on the floor but the hobo looks like he’s about to smack me, I have no idea what to say so I walk off back down the way I was going with the money and a bewildered look on my face to get a haircut. I tip the hairdresser 20 LE. He’s ecstatic. "Rabena wefa2ak”.

To this day, I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Maybe he’s like Johnny in the film Naked; homeless by choice, a vagabond philosopher unwilling to be tied down by modern day society; maybe he was just bat shit crazy, maybe he was Nigerian; I don’t know. Next time I see a homeless person do I give them money or not? I guess there’s still no solution to poverty…


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