The Woman in the Window

The woman walked up to the window of the armored vehicle I was sitting in with my boss and another employee 487773_416180411750809_1618032168_nof the school where I work in Kabul. She was the third beggar that had come up to our window in the 5 minutes we had been sitting in the car, waiting to get our kebabs for lunch and I had decided that I wasn’t going to give to a third one, even though it was from the other two guys in the car that the first two had gotten money.

She approached my window and began tapping on it.

Tap, tap, tap.

 I didn’t need to know Dari to know that she was asking me for money to go buy food. She was old, very old possibly. Although, this place does age you faster than other cities because of the pollution, stress, and health standards that people have to live with here. She had dark brown eyes, wrinkles, and a look of determined destitution. As she tapped, I looked her in the eyes, shook my head, and then proceeded to act like there was something very interesting on the back of the driver’s seat in front of me.

Tap, tap, tap.

I continued to act like all my attention wasn’t on her.

Tap, tap, tap.

I checked my phone, 11:40. We had left the compound at 9am for a meeting, I had been up since 5:30 getting ready for the meeting.

Tap, tap, tap.

This time, she was using the ring on her finger to make more noise in the car as she tapped. I looked again, shook my head, but avoided her eyes.

Tap, tap, tap.

The beggars are persistent, she didn’t intend to leave without something. My resolve hardened.

Tap, tap, tap.

My colleague in the backseat with me said some words in Dari that I assumed meant something to the tune of, “no, you’re not getting any money,” but probably more polite.

Tap, tap, tap.

The tapping grew in volume and frequency. Now, I was getting angry. I’m not giving you any money, old woman. Go away.

Tap, tap, tap.

 I continued to ignore her, but the tapping was fraying my nerves. I wanted to tap back and show her how annoying it was. Then…

Bang, Bang, Bang.

 She started slapping the window with the palm of her hand. In my mind, she was demanding what she thought must be her due. She was demanding money of me that I was unwilling to give.

Bang, Bang, Bang.

Now I really wanted to tap back, show her how rude it was, that she was unwanted. I wanted to scream at her to go away, leave me alone.

Then… she walked away. She left. Onto another potential target? I don’t know. Back to a group of hungry children? I have no idea. I just don’t know. A bunch of thoughts raced through my head… Did I do right by her? Should I have given her money? I can spare some, maybe I should have. No, I would just be reinforcing what’s wrong with this country, this whole system. She’s a career beggar. But was she? Was she just hungry? Does she have a normal job? Does she have a family?

I don’t know. I’ll never know.


I’ve never been without the hope that I could make something more of myself than I am now. I’ve never not expected to succeed, to flourish, and to do well for myself in every arena of my life. I’ve always believed that the best is yet to come, both because of my beliefs and because of the opportunities that have been given to me through education, wealth, privileges, and other blessings.  This woman, so many of these people, have never had what I’ve been given. Most of the people here can’t even read, much less have time to think about metaphysics and so-called “deep things” in their non-existent downtime.

I don’t know how to interact with people who have accepted destitution as a way of life. There is no new thing on the horizon for them. They hope to put food in their stomachs and maybe have a few Afghani in their pockets at the end of the day. What hope do they have? Better question. What alternative do they have? They’re too old to be trained, too poor to get education on their own, too this, too that. I’ve been spending myself for the past 10 months trying to help this country in the small way that I can. The poor will always be here.

Tap, tap, tap goes the window of my brain. Tap, tap, tap goes my conscience. Tap, tap, tap goes my humanity.

BANG, BANG, BANG goes my heart.

I don’t know if everyone goes through this dilemma. How do you change a person’s entire way of seeing the world around them? Instead of accepting the walls around them, to climb up and look over? How do you equip them to see if they have been blinded by a life of poverty and destitution? How do you find those who are in real need and turn away the career beggars?

I don’t know. I probably never will.

I wish I could finish this by saying that I’ve now resolved to do something or other when a beggar comes up to me. When one of the little boys outside the market come up to me asking for money, when the woman in the burqa holding her child begs me for money to feed her son, when the old woman taps on my window… but I don’t. I just don’t know. I don’t want to enable them, to encourage begging, to be a part of the problem. But, I don’t know the solution.

Tap, tap, tap. 




Photo cred: “Afghanistan in Photos”

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