Giving without joy

Giving without joy

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@Paula Dubbink

Columnist Paula Dubbink wanted to delve into December’s usual looking-ahead: what would 2015 have in stock? Then she met a young man on the streets of Lund, who might have been wondering just the same. 

“Sorry madam?”
A young man, in good English, interrupts me on a cold Monday morning at
Stortorget.
“Do you speak English? Can you buy some food for me?”

When my mum came for a visit in summer, she expressed her surprise at seeing so many people begging on the streets of Lund. Yeah, I answered a little ashamed, realizing that I had already gotten quite used to the street view and to having some loose coins in my pockets. I explained to her that the people begging usually come from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. And that most often, they are Romani who are being discriminated against in their own countries.

“What shall I buy for you,” I ask.
“Do you want a falafel?”
No, rather some real food, he answers, so that he can eat a bit now and a bit later. There is a small place where he can prepare some food, but he is not very good at cooking, he admits with a small smile. I decide to give him money, so that he can choose something himself.

Life at home is so tough for them that it apparently is better to come here, beg on the streets and sleep in a car or tent than to stay there. Or at least, I can’t come up with a reason why one would voluntarily choose such miserable living conditions.

“Can’t you find a job at home,” I ask.
“Your English, contrary to that of many others, is so good.”
No, he says, as he hasn’t finished many years in school. But to find a job here is just as impossible.

He might be leaving Lund soon, and try another country.

The year 2014 is almost over and while I personally can look back on quite a nice year, this is different for some friends. They might remember 2014 mainly for the loss of a relative, for hard quests of finding a place in Swedish society and on the Swedish labor market or just for a lot of things not going as planned.

All of them have though been able to go on because some hope was left. The thought was always there that tomorrow could be a better day. And 2015 will be a better year in any case.

But what will it bring for him?

We talk a bit longer and I start shivering.
“Are your clothes warm enough,” he asks me.
“Maybe not,” I say.

My parents already gave me money for a better coat… I just didn’t get to buying it yet. He is at the same time wearing several layers over each other, but no real winter coat. Too expensive, even second hand, he explains.

We exchange names, and hugs, and I feel ashamed.

For not having taken the effort to have any longer talks earlier.

For not having felt ashamed of this situation much more before.

For not doing more about it.

And because my biggest worry for 2015 seems to be finishing my MA program.

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