Stories from Afar & Up Close

Poor Lebanese

It struck me, my first time in Lebanon in 2005, how little poverty I saw. No beggars, no people scouring the garbage, hardly any street-vendors, panhandlers, little kids trying to sell gum or polish shoes. Maybe I was blinded by the bling of the upper class, or maybe it was indeed hardly there. I remember asking my friend about it. After all, she often complained about Lebanon being ‘not even’ a third-world country. Her answer was that Lebanese people were too proud: nobody would let anybody in their family get so poor that they had to display it for the rest of society to see. Bedouins would go around begging, she said, but Lebanese people would always make sure that no one could accuse them of not taking care of even their most remote family-members. But over the course of the past few years, life has not become easier in Lebanon. War, political crisis, and simply being part of a world in which the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer – whatever be the cause, the result is increasing suffering for many Lebanese people. Following the definition of the World Bank, an astounding 28.5% of the Lebanese live below the poverty line. That’s about one million people, in a country of around four million.

I now do see beggars. I see people digging in the garbage for cans and bottles, but also for food-items that are still edible. I see more and more children trying to sell roses on busy roads late at night. I see people riding around their (grand)parents in wheelchairs to collect money from passers-by. I see the old woman who knocked on my door, today, after walking 8 flights of stairs, to ask if I have anything for her to clean. I see a van-driver whose minibus breaks down and can only be repaired if he buys the required part, which costs $400 – news which sends him into a screaming panic… crying, completely desperate, the driver hit his front screen so hard it broke. He broke the glass with his bare hands.

Poverty, I think, is one of the most debilitating conditions a person can live in. Real, deep poverty, the one where you have to choose between using the bed-net as a fishnet to be able to eat, or as a mosquito-net not to get malaria. The one where you have to choose between giving your children to eat, or eating the food yourself so you will have enough energy to go out and try to find work. The one that makes you break your windshield in desperation because you know you will never be able to afford the necessary car-part, which means your single source of income (and that of all those who depend on you) just disappeared.

Today is Blog Action Day, and on many, many blogs, people will write about poverty. I hope some of it will translate into small or big actions to finally get everyone up to an acceptable standard of living. If you’d like and you have $25 or more to lend to someone for a while (and get them back later!), join me in micro-financing a loan through Kiva. And if you have another idea to get rid of poverty, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!