Foreign travellers are often struck by the poverty they run up against in developing countries. Even those travelling on a shoestring know that they are comparatively wealthy simply because they have the funds to be out-and-about on the other side of the world. I was so moved by the poverty I saw in the foothills of Nepal that as soon as I got home I sponsored children in that country through an international foster parent plan, something I continue to do to his day.
Charitable giving—almsgiving—is a common practice in some countries and is based upon religious teachings. For Buddhists, for instance, the giving of alms is the beginning of one’s journey to Nirvana. For Muslims, the giving of alms is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam.
I tend to give money to holy men, to women with babies, to those without limbs. I usually put aside a certain amount to give each day and when I run out that’s it until the next day. I questioned this practice when young children in ragged clothes and with outstretched hands ran up to my rickshaw on an incredibly busy street in India (perhaps forced to do so by exploitive adults as in the movie Slumdog Millionaire).
Street vendors are hard for me to resist, particularly children. They’ll follow you, chanting “good price, good price”. I usually buy one small item from many—gum, a rose, a drawing, sunglasses, a basket, a doll—and waddle back to Canada.
I have a sturdy pair of leather shoes that I wear when travelling so am a perfect target for shoe-shine boys who prowl tourist spots in every corner of the world looking for something they can shine. Sometimes I can be talked into getting my shoes polished two or even three times in a day. I don’t complain when the cheap polish turns my shoes a reddish colour instead of brown but I do draw the line on getting my running shoes polished.
There are other small ways we can make someone’s day a little brighter when we are on the road. We can be generous with tips (and the chamber maid will do fancy things with your towel to thank you), offer money for photos (an ethical dilemma for some), make sure the driver has a bed to sleep in instead of the car. We can also make a contribution to soup kitchens, orphanages and other worthy charitable institutions.
Some travellers are very put off by begging and by demanding vendors. They get themselves worked up about it, thinking that everyone is just trying to rip them off. Not a pleasant lens through which to see the world.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2011
What are your guidelines for giving money on the road?