A street person with a decidedly western look about her caught my attention Friday. She appeared to be in her early 40s, small and thin with a shaved head, and leather and feathers hanging from her ears and arms and waist and pants. She looked like she could have been spin dancing on the sun-baked infield of the dilapidated baseball stadium in Madrid, New Mexico, during a Sunday afternoon blues show. She had a sense of determination etched into her face and turned more than a few heads as she came out of, and I went into, the subterranean pedestrian corridor under a bustling traffic intersection.
I passed her walking to a store to find some new music. The small store I patronize has the closest thing I can find to a jazz section and is situated in a rambling and perpetually busy four-story structure around which the old, the disabled, and young mothers with small children quietly seek alms, usually by way of an outstretched hand or a small sign. Verbal solicitations are less common, though on my way home I was approached by a young teen-aged girl, more European than Asian in appearance, who softly asked me for 10 soms, the equivalent of 25 cents. She cautiously looked over her shoulder, careful that our exchange was discrete, probably out of fear that police or military authorities would perceive it as an act of sexual solicitation—a concern I appreciated. Charges or an arrest for either of us was less likely than a shakedown for a bribe.
For the better part of December and January, an adult man set up camp at the bottom of the stairwell in my apartment building. Against advice I never requested, I brought him water, hot tea, and some food on occasion and we became familiar enough to exchange hellos and handshakes. I attended a “Babushka Adoption” benefit during the holidays for a charity that targets its services toward grandmothers and older woman who are unable to survive on pensions that everyone agrees are inadequate.
The begging poor will also come to your door. My most recent visit was from a young man in tattered pants and shredded athletic shoes seeking clothing and money with four young boys in tow. A week or so earlier, I opened my door to two boys, maybe 12 years of age, silently standing with outstretched arms and upturned hands. It is not uncommon to have groups of young boys sing folk prayers to you at your door, or more likely in public, and it is considered to be bad form, especially if you are Muslim, not to give them something for what amounts to a blessing.