“I want to go home”

some may remember a post I wrote about wanting to host a refugee, only it turned out to be way too complicated. A comment from someone was that as I am open, then something right will come along, or something to that effect. I like to think it will. However I am finding that being open can be as much of a hindrance as a help.

Soon after I had written my last post, I saw a young man on the street with a simple sign, in English, saying he wanted to go home. I asked him about it, and he said he needed the airfare to get back home, I forget though where home was. I gave him Fr 10 and moved on, as I needed to catch a train, but the thought of that young man stayed with me. Was he really trying to get home? Could I help him more to do so? A couple of days later I returned to the same spot to see if he was still there, but he was not.

Then on Friday when I was going for my train, a young man approached me at our little local station with a photo of his kids and asking for money. I had none on me, but invited him to talk on the train. He told me he was from Moldavia, had been working or trying to work in Switzerland for four months now, but it was hard, and he wanted to go home. I thought of the other man, and saw that I could help maybe this one. So I told him that when we arrived at the city we could see about a plane ticket, and I would pay it. At this he became emotional, and started muttering to himself, then disappeared leaving his bag, and then returned again. He said he dared not fly, because he had outstanding fines from the train company as he had been caught 3 times travelling the trains without a ticket. I said that it was unlikely he would be stopped for that. I looked up Moldavia on my phone and showed him to ask him if that was where he was from and he said yes.

At the station however, he told me that he had to be honest with me, and that he was not from Moldavia, but from Romania. He had not wanted to say Romania before because people from there have a bad name for begging. I asked him if he was part of the organised begging teams from Romania that are in Switzerland and he denied it. But then he said he could not leave yet, even though that is what he wanted, because he needed to pay a middleman 300 euros. This man was very bad, and he had to pay him. He also said he had been to an organisation in Bern which could help him get home, but it would take 3 weeks. I asked him the name of it, and he could not remember.

So at this point, I felt my goodwill disappearing. I thought of the stories of the homeless who do not want to be given food, but only want the money. I thought of the stories I have heard of people asking for money for train tickets, but then not wanting you to actually buy a ticket for them. I thought of the coincidence that 2 young men were begging with similar stories. I asked him what he really wanted, and he was evasive. So I  told him that I was not giving him 300 euros for a middleman, and if he did not want a flight then there was nothing I could do. I did go to the cash point and give him some cash. Maybe I should not have done, maybe it was right. I do not know. Maybe he was telling me the truth about the bad man. It is possible, but it is also possible that he was lying still. The frauds mean that we cannot tell who is genuine. However I had given him enough cash that he would be able to save a little of it to pay the bad man if that was really what he needed, or to get through another day if nobody else would help.

I saw him again on the train today, walking through my carriage, looking as sad as the other day, but he did not see me, and I did not call his name. I want to remain open to those who need help, but I also have to be careful that I am not overly open and risk being taken unfair advantage of.

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4 thoughts on ““I want to go home”

  1. It is a mad world out there! I understand you feeling the need to help someone but who to trust? These guys sound to me like being part of a gang of beggars. That doesn’t mean the bad guy doesn’t exist, he probably does. Keep your heart open, there are many genuine people out that will appreciate it.

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  2. While you may not have donated money to the cause you were hoping to support, it sounds like you made a really interesting connection that most of us don’t take the time to make. Whether giving money is the right thing to do or not, most people begging on the street are there for a reason. For some it’s addiction, for others it’s mental health issues, for some people it’s for lack of better options, and for some it’s a career choice. What we need to remember, however, is that begging is not easy work. People who beg are socially shunned, often spend hours sitting, standing, or walking out in all types of weather, and are likely putting in as long of days, for less pay, then most employees are. People who beg are not lazy, they’re entrepreneurs investing, and risking their social status for their livelihood. Maybe the best thing we can do for people asking for money, is hear their story even if it is a fabricated one, and let them feel human for a little while.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am not sure I agree about the bit that beggers are entrepreneurs, but for sure it cannot be easy. Especially now the temperatures have dropped.

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      • Definitely not all of them, but in a sense “organized pan handling” is a form of business whether we agree with it or not. Yes it’s deception and a scam, but there are many much nastier, and much more damaging ways to scam a person. I still think you should feel good about your attempt to help.

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