Egyptian Holiday (Part 4): Parenting and Poverty

We were walking back to the old Christian monastery on for a tour inside. It was about 1 Km from the station where our minivan had dropped us off. We’d just hiked down Mount Sinai to the station and had eaten our boxed breakfasts provided by our hotel. We were going back for the tour. As I walked along in the heat of the day I was in a tired fog. Suddenly I was aware that something was going on and I became alert. I noticed a Bedouin man casually slouched on a low kind of stone fence talking to a 4-5 year old child. I assumed it was his son. The boy was running alongside a tourist. He had no goods to sell. He would look at his father. His father would say something to him in Arabic. The son would say something to the tourist and look back at the father who would say something to him. Then he would say something more to the tourist. Then I notice on the other side of the road there was a woman completely covered in her hijab except for her hands and eyes, talking to a different 4-5 year old child. I think it was a girl but it might have been a boy. The same thing was happening. The child was running alongside a tourist. The mother was saying something to her in Arabic. The girl would then say something to the tourist then look back at her mother who would say something to her. I did not have a sense that the father and his son were related to the mother and her child.

I realized that the parents were using this stretch of road to teach their children to beg. I know it is naïve of me but I did not think that begging was something that was taught. I had not really thought about it before; to me it was just something that was done. But the way these parents were teaching their children reminded me of the way I taught my sons how to develop skills in life – such as how to behave with guests, how to conduct themselves in public, etc.

My initial reaction was to feel sad for the children that they had to beg and sad for the parents that they needed to teach their children to beg. My next reaction was to feel relieved that my life circumstances meant I did not have to teach my children to beg. Finally, I thought of the poverty in Egypt and then I began to think that the parents were teaching their children survival skills. Because there are so few jobs and what jobs there are do not pay much, they would need these skills to survive themselves and to help their families survive. These children that I saw looked like normal healthy children. They had not been maimed by their parents to elicit charity as sometimes happens.

I still found it sad.

Dr. Bea Mackay

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