Friday, May 20, 2011


Sarajevo is not overrun with panhandlers. On sunny days, you may encounter aggressive beggars in the areas of town frequented by tourists. There are occasionally a few performers (with varying degrees of talent) busking on the main pedestrian thoroughfare. And there are often head-scarved women standing or sitting silently, head bowed, hand outstretched, near mosques.

The most surprising type to me, though, is the neighborhood beggar. Our neighborhood has our own beggar. She has a particular spot where she sits on the main street running through our residential neighborhood, summer and winter, sun and snow.

When we first moved here, I was confused by her presence. I wasn't even sure if she was begging or just sitting there to enjoy the sun. So I watched my neighbors. Many of them stop and chat with her as they hand her money or loaves of bread. Sometimes they slow down as they drive past to call out greetings and hand her coins. I wondered if she lives here in the neighborhood, but I've seen her walking toward our neighborhood before her morning shift, so I think she lives somewhere else.

Emboldened by the example of my neighbors, I give her money sometimes and stop to exchange pleasantries. She has a very strong accent and almost no teeth, so I find it very hard to understand her, but I think she's blessing me and my children (she loves Eleanor!) and telling me I'm a good mother.

I love the kindness and gentleness with which everyone treats her, the dignity and respect they give her. After all, she's just sitting there doing her job.

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