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And I thought I was broke

19 February 2008

I doubt that the poverty level is any more prevalent here in Prague than in any other major international city, but this week I have encountered a fair share of beggars around town.  Since I work directly in the heart of Prague, there is visibly a high population of homeless, I suppose since it is a nice place to find tourists loaded with money to spend.

I hate to admit that I have turned cold to these people who congregate around a cement bench with their bags, booze, bread and boisterous attitudes.  Those who ask every passerby for some spare change.  I simply get hit up all the time and don’t have enough Korunas to share with everyone—which I truly do wish I did.

I have encountered all types of beggars:  Tiny, old women who grab my arm and bring tears to their eyes asking for “deset koruni.”  A young boy who stops to ask me if I would like to buy his broken lighter from him. A man who came into a café going from table to table with hands out asking for change.  And, almost every time I make my way through the passages connecting Václavské náměstí to Staroměstské náměstí, I see the ultimate plea for money.  Men, down on their knees, forehead to the cold, dirty ground, arms outstretched, hands cupped.  Motionless.  Nonverbally BEGGING for your money.

And, while seeing each and every one of these people breaks my heart, I had an all new encounter tonight that was even more heart wrenching.  As I was jogging around my neighborhood around 5pm, near rush hour time, I came up on a street that has tram lines and a fair amount of vehicular traffic.  All of the sudden I noticed this man stumble and fall into the road.  I was about a block away and ran up to help him.  As I got closer, I noticed he was disheveled, dirty, drunk and quite possibly homeless.

For a split second I thought of leaving him be, fearing what this 230 pound man might do or say to me if I touched him.  Despite what he looked like, or how dirty he was, or how destitute he may be, he was human.  And, he was a human who needed help.

As my split second hesitation ended, I went to this man who was on his back lying across the tram tracks impeding traffic.  I kneeled down and tried to assist him to a seated position asking him in my best broken Czech if he was ok.  Clearly, he wasn’t as he fell back down.  He was completely dead weight and impossible for me to move on my own.  A 5’4” Vietnamese man came out from his store to help me and as we both grabbed under his arms we tried to pull him from the street all the while people walked by as if this was completely normal.

As if a man in his 60’s suddenly falling over into the middle of the road, unable to sit up, let alone walk, was something they see everyday and didn’t warrant even a second glance lest an offer to help this store owner and jogger desperately trying to clear this man from the approaching tram.

I was shaking.  I had tears welling up in my eyes.  We couldn’t get this man to his feet and neither I nor the store owner could communicate with him, or each other for that matter.  But, all the man kept saying was “I am sorry.  Thank you,” in Czech over and over again and I realized that if he doesn’t have money or a home and just happens to be in a real shitty spot, he still has a heart.

It reminded me of the day I was walking home and saw a man lying over the hood of a car and continued to walk by thinking that it was just another one of the weird things these strange homeless people do.  I still don’t know if he was alive or not, and I still hate that I didn’t stop to check on him simply because others were walking by without notice as well.  I do know that I will take more care to try to do something in these situations because every so often, some people just need a little help.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 20 February 2008 3:34 am

    wow, not even sure what to say to that. It’s hard seeing people like that every day; it really wears on you, and eventually it’s hard not to become numb to it.

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