I will never forget that 100 rupees bill that was almost thrown to my face. He was the manager of a travel agency in Kathmandu, and I was a young foreign woman trying to raise as much money as I could for a sick child’s operation. It was Kamala’s youngest son who had been very sick for years, now in the United States with his father, undergoing a painfull operation. Far away from his home and far away from his mother.
This was a painful reality we had kept for ourselves. I had kept for myself. I did not know any better. I could not talk about it, I knew people could only listen and take that much need … and that much pain in. And I strongly believed in God. We were not there alone.
But I did write a case, I printed it, and I started knocking on all high class hotels doors in Kathmandu, and on tourist agencies doors alltogether. I figured the money were there, and they might be willing to help. Somewhere around 15,000 US dollars to pay for the operation and for Kamala’s flight ticket to the US. I must have knocked on the wrong doors. Or I must have not knocked hard enough. I got promises. I got an honest man telling me he would not give me any money, because some time ago he had decided to start his own organization and had his own children to care for. And I got a 100 rupees bill thrown to my face.
It was the first time I had understood how humiliating can be to be at people’s mercy. How must it feel for the people in real need begging for money at street corners. How many of their stories are true? We will never know. How many of those people have no other option, than writing down their sad story on a piece of cardboard, and walk on into the bustle of a city, with the real hope someone would actually stop to listen, not doubt, not judge, and simply decide to give something? I rarely read those cardboard stories when I come accross them on the streets or subways or busses; I rarely stop to watch and listen. The dissapointment I must leave behind.
So I took the 100 rupees bill, looked the man in the eyes and thanked him for what he could give. I told him I would still leave him a copy of my piece of A4 paper, asked him to please think about whether he could do more. And that I would come back.
And I did, a few days after. He came from his backside office, the manager of the travel agecy. Smiled at me this time, kind of asked me from his look to take a sit. He was no longer contemptous. He told me what he could do, was not charge us the agency commission for the flight ticket; and that he might help with a few thousands rupees more. It was a small victory, but at the time I was quite desperate and I did not see it that way. I thanked him again, but walked so dissapointed out of the door once more. I needed thousand dollars, not thousand rupees.
What was I trying to do?