The face of poverty


Last night I walked the Greenwich pier. I encountered a lady who still roams the streets asking for change 2years on with her epic Great Dane that I've seen sit on train seats, drink beer but especially put its puppy dog eyes to good use. Previously (in 2012) I offered to buy her food but she aptly rejected it. I once said to her, in 2012, that if she was really struggling she'd get rid of her dog, save money on dog food & take care of herself. Fast forward to now, January 2015 & said woman is roaming the streets still. Now rightly or wrongly all I can think of is this...what made you choose to still be here, living this life you chose. Let me tell you a story. 


It was June 2012, a 20 something year old walked to streets of Greenwich in her neat attire making her way to work, frequently she would see people begging on the street, this wasn't unusual to her. As she approached the turnstiles she desperately feared the red signal that meant she couldn't go to work today- not unless she found some cash somewhere. The begging tin looked like gold. As she picked her 50pence out of her pocket she thought about how to break it to her agency that she couldn't make it to work today. 

'Ring, ring!!!!' No answer. She left a message advising that she couldn't go to work as she couldn't afford the train or bus fare and that she was deeply sorry. 

Minutes later, 'Why aren't you working today? We have you booked in and all?'

'I can't afford the fare, I'm owed too much and I owe too much now. I'm sorry, I would if I could but I can't. It's so stupid, I need to work but I can't afford to get there to help myself out. I'm so frustrated!' 

'Its ok, take care, try not to stress'.

The 20 something year old couldn't believe her ears, try not to stress? She'd been eating bread with no flavouring for 5weeks straight. No vegetables, no meat, to pay her way to work and pay the bills. She'd been looking for second jobs as much as possible but they ate into her main job's hours and didn't pay nearly as much. Dark thoughts crossed her mind, tips jars were gold mines of wealth and flavour (anything other than bread) was craved. Not wanting to worry her family she tried to do it on her own, she became increasingly ill until she confided in her family and asked for assistance.

 It was her choice not to seek help earlier, she wanted to make 'the dream' work but her heart had changed. Greenwich had changed and 'the dream' didn't exist anymore, it wasn't about having fun and living permanently in the UK like she once thought, it was about survival. With her head buried she gave up 'the dream', enjoyed one last hurrah that was already paid for and returned to her family. The food at home was plentiful, company great but her heart was full of sorrow and failure, until time passed, she forgave herself and realised that her greatest act of courage wasn't of survival but of asking for help and becoming truly humbled.


This here is my story of the last month or so of living in Greenwich in 2012, it was a complicated mess. I cannot blame an agency solely for what happened as I chose to make some clearly silly choices myself, I travelled with little and I budgeted poorly but my God did I learn. 


Two years on what strikes me is how different life can be with change- and accepting it when it comes. Sometimes that means asking for help and taking a hard look at ourselves so our next decisions don't revolve around the same motions, mistakes and misguided hopes. I share this very personal and emotional story (minus many details) so that those who do travel do it so with justice and planning and those who perhaps don't might simply look at people in a different light- without assumption. No one would have known I was struggling by looking at me. It's important that we remember as we wander the streets and witness new cultures that many beggars in society we may choose to ignore but not all may be sitting at our feet. Give graciously and expect nothing in return, you might be surprised how the favour is returned someday. 

This post is from the archives that my readers LOVED so I have brought it out for you, I trust my new readers/followers will love it just the same. Have a superb day xo

Never assume that poverty looks like a beggar on the street. You cannot tell someone's story simply by looking at them. 

Never assume that poverty looks like a beggar on the street. You cannot tell someone's story simply by looking at them. 

Julia TraskComment