The Invisible People II

A Roma woman with her dog in a street of Rome.

Image via Wikipedia

Hi guys, some of you may remember the post that I wrote last year :- The Invisible People

After having had that experience and having written about it I made a conscious effort to change my ways by doing simple things like:

1.   Being polite and kind to beggars

2.  Talking to impoverished roadside vendors

3.  Being civil and polite to homeless people

4.  Basically trying to acknowledging any and all people I come across no matter their state and disposition.

Now to enlighten some of the global readers who are not accustomed to some of the terms and names we have in South Africa – we have a particular brand of homeless people we refer to as ‘bergies’.  These people are unlike other homeless people.  Most of them are of Khoi-San origin, i.e. some of the original tribes who lived in the coastal cape region.  Some of their trademarks include general dishevelled appearance,  drunken loitering and yelling of loud rude obscenities to passersby.  They are also known to occasionally bathe and wash their clothes in the local dams and rivers or whatever source of water they can find.  During the day they womble about the streets, beg and sit around in the shade. At night you can find them sleeping or passed out on a sidewalk, in a park, on a bench or in a doorway.  Most bergies generally have a favourite park or area or street corner that they hang out at. Every community here generally sports a local bergie or four that are recognised by appearance if not by name.  Capetonians avoid them because of their rude, smelly and drunken disposition. It isn’t really considered safe to talk to them as some of the male bergies are involved in muggings.  It is customary to cross the street and walk on the opposite side when you see one that looks particularly drunk or dangerous.

That said after I wrote the last article I made a point of also acknowledging these people.  One woman in particular stuck out to me.  In general I saw her leaning against gates or drinking on street corners.  Once she was begging in the vicinity and I took pity on her and gave her some food and clothes and a few rand to buy whatever she wanted to buy with. After that whenever she saw me she started saying ‘Hello my friend!’.  This woman has lived in the same neighbourhood as me but under vastly different circumstances for nearly 10 years.  In any case one day I asked her what her name was and she said that her name was Maggie.  I made a point of remembering her name as I would remember the name of a neighbour.  A few days ago I was walking past her and before she could greet me with her customary ‘Hello my friend!’ I smiled and yelled – ‘Hello Maggie! How are you?’  She was entirely taken aback.  After  a moment to recover she smiled the broadest most beautiful smile, in those few seconds it was as if her entire spirit lifted and her whole attitude changed, as if my recognition of her somehow made her feel like more of a person.  In that moment I was the one taken aback by the effect my simple greeting had on her.  ‘You can see me!” she declared.  Her words reminded me immediately of what I had written. I smiled and said, “Yes Maggie, I can see you.”

This was such a small encounter but I think it was a great experience for both of us.  Seeing her happiness at the fact that I had remembered her name and greeted her first made me feel happy too.  It really is the small things in life that make our souls beam.




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