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Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Life Worth Living

I was handed bags of rice packets and told to go out and scour the streets to distribute in Rattanakosin, Bangkok. An area where the poor buy or sell second-hand items, items so broken that one'll be appalled that they are even for sale/ will be purchased. 
Anything broken imaginable for sale

The rice packets were bought from the local vendor for the street people in the neighbourhood. I peeked in the rice packets to check out what i'm distributing; jasmine rice with stringy bits of pork or jasmine rice with a tad more generous serve of vegetables.

With each hand carrying 10 packets, we begin our distribution route.

The Street Sex Workers
A lady in her 70s sat on a bench with her belongings packed neatly around. She dressed reasonably well for a street person, lightly made-up with sunglasses perched on her head. She was jovial, alert and bright for her age. She immediately struck a conversation with my friend as she is a regular squatter in this area and they've got acquainted as he does his regular distribution rounds. She fussed over our rice packets before deciding she won't have any. "What is her story?" I asked as we walked away from her.
"She is too far away from home with children overseas. She is a sex worker for some reason we can't quite figure."
Two teenagers, faces painted with cheap make-up, sat cross legged by the road. They were within arm's reach to each other, but they were not friends.
"Have you eaten?" they looked away as we attempted to chat them up. It was late afternoon, we were in their way of attracting "business". They were both introverted and quiet, avoiding eye contact. When we repeated our question and gestured we want to give them a rice packet, one girl gingerly accepted. The other followed suit. As i stretched out my rice packet, she reached forward gingerly. She lifted her chin, and her eyes finally met mine. Eyes big, wide and a little wet, as if a silent plea.
Her look was haunting.
The next few sex workers we meet on the street divider, by the pollution of whizzing cars, are of a more mature age. They were readily accepted our handouts but weren't too forthcoming in interaction. One chubby lady with gaudy make-up in a cheery bright yellow dress,  asked politely for an extra cake while she put aside the rice packet for later. She clearly enjoyed the rare treat.
A scrawny dark skinned woman, both cheeks powdered with talcum, body covered in plasters saw us distributing food and approached us while lugging her folded cardboard box. When she reached us, she laid out her cardboard box and sat.
"I'm dying," she said as she dug into her rice packet.
Taken aback at her candor, she shared with us she is dying from HIV and her entire body is in pain. She covers herself with plasters as she do not want to pass the disease on.

Another told us some women are sex workers because
"They've been raped by men they know."
The Unemployed
A man sits on the grass, fixing broken radios. Engrossed in figuring out the broken radio, he didn't hear us asking if he wanted food.
When he finally heard us, he asked if he could take 2 packets as he has a family to feed back home. 
Filled with gratitude, he thanked us profusely before going back to being engrossed with fixing the broken pieces laid out in front of him. A dejected soul who has lost his job, ashamed to tell his family he lost his job.
Most people sat facing the street, even if just to pass time but he faced the bush, his back upon the street. We knelt, and asked how is he. He proudly reminisced the days he was a foreman, told us his glorious days with a toothy grin.
An older man, passed on his wise words. That he as a pauper, has health that riches cannot buy. 
The Abandoned
Many of the street people have family troubles. Unable to return home, or unaccepted by their family, they each have a story to tell.

She is divorced from her husband, forcing her on the streets. All she wishes is that her children will be able to live in harmony with their new step mum. She tells us, she only has one more year to live on the streets. Her eyes filled with hope, her daughter will graduate from university then, get a job and will rent an apartment to be reunited.
They formed a community, watching out for each other. When we distributed food, some asked for extras for their friends and "neighbours". Those sleeping, we pulled a "Santa". 

Whatever they could find, they used to make shelter. Public barricades, broken bedsheets. 
My heart broke with each human story heard. My eyes wept, as i peep into their "home" (or the lack of a home). My spirit humbled by their contentment despite not having much. 

They kept stray dogs as pets. They find ways to feed their dogs, if not themselves first. My heart bled, knowing these dogs give non-judgmental companionship in return for their unconditional love. Which the street people are capable of giving, despite not having a house made of walls and beams. 
A home is built with love. 
It reminded me how poverty isn't a choice. 
We don't get to choose how we are born, but we are given a choice how we live. 
We, who are able, need to give. Distributing food in the past 2 months did not and will not eradicate poverty, but i was there to give a touch, to give a ear, to give time. I urge us to lead a life worth living. 

They all have names.
"Those who have nothing, loved much. Those who've nothing, touched much." Luke 7:36 
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