As in every country and every big city, there is need here. I walk by the older women at their sidewalk stands selling cigarettes or beautiful bouquets or tomotoes or magazines or books that have been unloaded from the back of the trunk for the day and I wonder, “How much money can they make?” I see the “pensioners” sitting on the steps to shops or out on the sidewalk itself, all hoping to make a few som that day. In a land without social security, this is what they must do. I don't know where they live, probably with their children. Public employees (doctors, teachers, street sweepers) do not make a wage they can live on. Their average pay is less than 60 dollars a month. We have been told that those who are doctors and teachers must simply love what they do and have a spouse who can find higher paying employment.
Peter and I went for a walk at dusk last night. We meandered through the park, full of families with children, dads with young babies, teenagers cuddling on the benches. And then we walked back on the main street, Sovietskaya and a young girl came up to us and said, “Pomaget mene” (help me). She could not have been older than 13, had a very ruddy face, unnaturally flushed she was. It was maybe the second or third time someone has actually asked for help. We brushed her off. But then we stopped and stood watching her. She was standing in front of a “supermarket” (not a Raley's or any such thing at all). Next to the supermarket was a fast food stand (not a McDonalds or anything of the like). She would go up to one person and then the next. No one saw her. Oh, one kind gentleman sprinkled her hand with a few som. But the rest, the fashionable young ladies walking in their high heels out of the store didn't see her, the well dressed men rushing in for something didn't see her, the people waiting at the fast food stand didn't see her. Alas! Is it not true anywhere, but particularly in big cities, that we do not choose to see those in need? Because if we saw them, we would have to stop and do something for them. But to be blind to them, even to scorn them, alleviates us from such inconveniences.
And so, having seen this girl, having noticed her flushed features and the way she put her hand to her forehead and her desperation, I mustered all the Russian I know and said, “Mozhna koopit eda?” (can I buy food?) to her. She assented gratefully and we went to the fast food stand. When I asked her how many samsi she wanted, she said, “moya brat tozhe” - my brother too. I wondered where her brother might be. And I wondered what she would do tomorrow and the next day and the next...