Kaduna: An Afternoon With The Street Beggars’ Spokesperson
By Happiness Titus @happy_zirra, Nigeria
If you have read Aminata’s “The Beggars’ Strike,” then this might not sound surprising to you. Except that the story that I am about to tell you is not fictitious at all.
It was a sunny afternoon in the town of Kaduna. I was walking along the central market, to be specific, when I saw very old looking women in worn-out clothes seating on the ground by the side of a Mosque, begging.
The environment in which these old women were seating together with their children or grandchildren was disturbing. The place was very filthy.
I can’t really recall what propelled me towards them – the sight of tired looking women or the hot sun. But I wanted to know their story – the reason why they felt the need to sit under the scorching sun.
While mapping out a strategy to strike up a conversation, I noticed a bus driver standing by his vehicle. I walked up to him and asked if I could freely talk with the women. He said “a’a”. In Hausa, that means “no”. He directed me to a man who looks not a day older that 40. He was dressed in a brown kaftan, healthy looking. The driver pointed out that he was the spokesman of the beggars within that community. Aha! Beggars have a spokesman! I am not sure I did a good job hiding how surprised I was to hear that.
As if by luck or accidental telepathy, the identified spokesman walked towards us. I greeted him and explained my purpose for stopping. He responded kindly and said in Hausa “Ina da tambaya guda” meaning, “I have a question to ask”. I encouraged him to ask his question. He said, “ke, daga wanda kungiya ne?” Meaning “what organization are you from”. I answered him saying I wasn’t sent by any organization. I am a journalist… He was not convinced and went on to say “kungiyoyi da yawa sukan zo, kamar haka,mu basu lokaci,kuma mu yar’da suyi wotuna. Bayan haka, bamu kara ganin su domin sun sami abin da suke so da mu,sabo da haka,bamu yar’da kuma ama bari in kira wani da ya fi ni”. This means, “Many organizations do visit us just like this. We give them our time and allow them to take pictures, after which they never come back mainly because they have gotten what they want from us. Because of that, we don’t allow it anymore but let me call someone who is bigger than me”.
He immediately called on a dark looking man on crutches. After the introduction, the man agreed to an interview but would not allow me to talk with any of the women without giving him a token. He said “in ki gane abin da ke ciki,shikena. Ki bamu abin da ke namu kawai, sai ki je ki yi abin da kike so” meaning “if you understand what I am saying fine. You should just give us what is ours, then go ahead and do what you intend”.
Am I suppose to pay these men for wanting to tell their story? I patiently explained how I was not paid to come and write or take pictures for any organization. But he insisted that I give alms to empathize with them.
A much older man who introduced himself as Lawal Hassan joined us. We all exchanged pleasantries. He went on to introduce himself as the chairman, Kaduna State Kutara (physically challenged) Association. Lawal seems more informed, calm and welcoming. The man with crutches then left, saying he needed to go to the Bank. Lawal’s words trailed after him. He said, “kada ki damu da shi, kudi yake nima” meaning “Do not mind him, money is what he is after”.
Lawal talked about how useful stories from the grassroots are. He said “da idona na cewo ama na sami taimako ta haka, har nayi aure da yara. Yanzu ni’ne chairman na kutarai Kaduna state gabadaya,na yi taifa’taifa wurarai da dama” meaning, “Initially I had eyes problems but with stories such as this, I secured help. I was able to get married with children. Now I am the chairman of [the physically challenged people] in Kaduna state as a whole, and have traveled to different places.” He went on to explain that there are different associations in the state, such as the association of cripples, association of the blind and association of the deaf. The women I saw earlier belong to one of these associations. He then asked that I speak with the women directly to hear their own views, as he went into the mosque.
He went on to explain that there are different associations in the state, such as the association of cripples, association of the blind and association of the deaf. The women I saw earlier belong to one of these associations. He then asked that I speak with the women directly to hear their own views. Then he went into the Mosque.
Mama Makarfi, one of the old women seating on the ground, thought that I was there to give them “sadaka”, which is same as arms giving. After exchanging greetings in Hausa, I asked why she was out on the street. She responded in Hausa saying, “My daughter, mama is sick and there is no one to assist me. My only hope [husband] is late [dead]. It is just my grandchild and I. Her mother died when she was two years old. I am the breadwinner. If I can get help, I will thank God”.
Rabiyatu, the mama’s grandchild, is a teenage girl. She sat close to her grandmother during the interview. Just like the other children begging on the street, Rabiyatu is out of school. She earns a living be begging and doing petty jobs.
What kind of help can the government, non-profit organisations and companies through an active corporate social responsibility offer to this group?
There is definitely a huge need here!