mardi 29 mai 2007

City of Dim Light

(Drawing of the homeless. Copyright © January 2003 by MA Shumin.)

It is not easy being poor in the City of Light.

When the weather gets cold, the homeless and the beggars around Paris are more apparent. No matter what background we are coming from, and no matter how humble, we are fortunate compare to the homeless and the beggars. We have a roof over our head, food in our stomach and the luxury of shower each night when we want.

The other way of life confronts us each morning when we leave home and each evening when we return. The foul odors of those who have with them bags of their lifelong belongings are detected afar; they have come to the metro stations to escape the cold. Throughout the streets of Paris, refugees and the homeless loiter and beg. Often times they are women and young children who sit around.

In the RER B line, running from north to south Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport to Robinson are seen both men and women who panhandle. These people represent different race groups. Some are fallen French residents, many others are refugees from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and still others are unidentifiable. There are those who make music, play the violin or accordion to earn their money. Others pass out little slips of paper, saying they are homeless, without a job and need people’s help. And still some others just go from car to car informing the passengers that they have no work, no home to live in, have 2 to 3 children to care for and need help. Any change or restaurant tickets will help them out a lot.

In Paris’s 20th arrondissement at Jourdain metro station every morning a gentleman greets the commuters. This chubby elderly man is always positioned there. If in a red Santa suit, he can very much be mistaken for Santa. He is a friendly looking fellow and if dressed otherwise one would never imagine him being homeless. He smiles and rocks about, nods his head when someone drops some change into his held out hands. He has become such a regular that people would often have conversations with him, asking how he is doing.

There are a lot of beggars and homeless people in Paris, lingering around the metro station and on the streets. Most say the same things or have with them a similar sign: No work. No money. Hungry. Please. The word “s'il vous plaît“ has a whole new meaning for me now than when I first learned it in my French class in America. This is what I cannot help but notice about Paris; the great number of tourists is mixed in with the immense population of beggars, homeless and gypsies.

There is a very dim side to the City of Light.

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