The first time I saw a Badjao beggar [click to read about it], an old woman, I became excited and wanted to talk to her, but I missed my opportunity. I promised God that the next time this happened, I would not hesitate to talk to the Badjao beggar. A few days later, on the same street, two kids jump on the jeepney. They are Badjao and asking for money. I remembered my promise and a little war started inside me… then I missed my chance again.
For a third time, again on the same street, a Badjao beggar jumped on the jeepney with the same envelope “Ako ay Badjao”. Again, I hesitated, but then I made eye-contact with her and tried talking to her in English. Possibly she understood well what I was saying, but she made no indication that she understood English at all. Then, even though it felt awkward, I tried giving the girl a snack bar that I bought for the very purpose of giving to beggars. She shook her head and said “Pera” (money). At that point, it went from awkward to stressful because I wanted to give her money, but I had no idea how much. Should I give her a single peso worth about 3 cents? Maybe the fifty peso bill, the smallest bill currently in my pocket? Or maybe I should give her a few thousand pesos? I just grabbed a handful of coins and handed it to her, knowing that it wasn’t even enough to buy one meal. She smiled at me with gratefulness… or was it amusement? Included in that handful was a rare 25 sentimo coin, worth less than a penny, which she let drop to the floor before pocketing the rest.
Many emotions are going through me at this point. I am surprised that she rejected that coin, but I guess she was not desperate enough to stoop that low. I am glad that I finally made an effort to interact with a Badjao beggar, offering her more dignity than the rest of the jeepney passengers who simply ignored her. But at the same time I felt silly, even guilty, for giving such a tiny amount – she recognized her own dignity more than I did by laughing at my meager donation and by choosing what to keep; not the snack, and certainly not the penny.
I picked up the worthless coin after she left. The coin doesn’t know that it was rejected, it doesn’t feel pain when it is trodden upon, and it doesn’t feel a sense of renewed hope now that I am holding it with care. But I am keeping that small worthless coin and I’m not giving it away. It has become a reminder of the dignity of that girl who does know when she is rejected, feels the pain of being trodden upon, and perhaps would feel a sense of renewed hope were she to be held with caring arms.