On my latest trip to Egypt something happened that I would like to share with you. This incident is based on my belief that the children of the world are mine and yours.
One morning as I walked to the souk (street where vendors sell things in small shops) I saw a little street person. She was only 4 or 5 years old.
This tiny child was picking up old, half-eaten bread from the dirty street and eating it.
She was not asking people for money, she was foraging for food. When I saw this, I knew I had to do something.
I went over and, in my best half-Arabic and half-English, I tried to speak with her.
The dirty little street child looked up with beautiful brown eyes and stared at me.
She stepped back, frightened, so I took her small hand in mine and walked along the shops asking in Arabic, "Do you speak English?" until I found a man who said, "Yes, why?"
I asked the man to tell the little girl that if she would follow me to the nearest food cart, I would buy her food. He asked me why I would do such a thing for a beggar.
I told him that she had not begged me for anything and she was eating off the street.
He told the little girl what I had said. Then I asked him, "How much should it cost me for the pocket bread with beans in it?" he smiled and explained two pounds, or about 50 cents.
He walked with us to the food cart (I am not sure if he thought I might hurt the girl or what) but once there he told the man at the cart what I was doing and helped me to buy three pocket breads. I gave one to the little one and she ate it as if she had not eaten for days. The other two I put into a bag and handed to her.
She smiled a wondrous smile and ran off. The shopkeeper smiled and went back to his shop.
The next morning on my way to the souk, the little one was waiting. She obviously knew a good thing when she saw it. I laughed and said, "ok, breakfast again?" and repeated the action of the day before, thinking that, for at least 14 days, this little one would have breakfast and maybe lunch, depending on with whom she was sharing the other pocket breads.
The shopkeeper smiled and so did the cart vendor. We seemed to have become fast friends over this little deed.
That night I got to thinking about my little street urchin. She was so dirty and smelled so badly. What else could I do to help her?
The next morning I was off to the souk again but this time I had a bigger plan. As I came around the corner, right on time, there she was, smiling.
I took her hand and went over to the shopkeeper and asked "Where is there water?" He thought I wanted bottled water to drink and I explained, "No, I want a faucet, like where the people wash before prayers." He looked at me like "now you really are a crazy American!!" and then he showed me a little side alley and there was a water faucet.
"Ok, here goes," I thought. "What will these people think? But, oh well." I reached into my bag and pulled out a newspaper and laid out a soap bar, a wash cloth, shampoo and cream rinse (the kind you get in nice little bottles at good hotels).
Now for the hard part: getting her out of her rags without upsetting everyone. The water was cold but it was the best I could do. So off came her clothes and I started soaping her down. She wiggled and squirmed the whole time but I could tell by the smile on her face she loved having someone care for her.
It took two soapings to clean her and all the shampoo to help her smell wonderful. Out of my bag I pulled a towel and dried her off. Then I pulled out a little dress from the bag I was carrying. I had bought the dress for a friend's child who, I decided, could do with one less dress this year. This little one needed it more. As I lifted the dress out, and she saw it, her face lit up like any child's at Christmas. It was a little big but she would grow into it.
Then I noticed something: a crowd had gathered. I had been so intent on my clean-up job, I had not noticed.
Now I looked up into the beaming faces of men, women and other children. The shopkeeper asked why I was helping this child and my answer was, "The children of the world are mine and yours. If we don't care for them, who will?"
I told him this child was as much mine as if I had given birth to her; that we are all responsible for the children, and if one child went to bed hungry then we were not doing our part."
He turned to the crowd and told them what I had said and they began to nod their heads "yes." It was as if in this single little act of helping this child, a miracle had happened. I bent and wrapped the old dress and the soap and things into a plastic bag and gave it to the little one before we went off to get her morning breakfast. Things had changed: the food vendor would not take money and gave her her food. We hugged and I went off to do my work.
The next day, I had many business things to do and didn't go to the souk and then I became ill and was not able to go to for five days. On the sixth day I walked the street looking for her, and boom! There she was in her new dress. Smiling, the shopkeeper came running up and said, "Madame, I thought you must have gone home." I said no I had been ill and he told me not to worry, they had made sure she had food each day. "But," he said, "each morning she would set out looking for you for hours. I tried telling her you had gone home and she would say no, and wait."
I asked the man if I gave him $40.00, would he make sure she was fed each day; that would cover about a year. He said yes and that others would help as they felt Allah had sent me as a teacher to them. I laughed and thought, "Spirit at work again."
The day before I left Cairo, I sat down with the little girl and the shopkeeper as translator, and had him tell her I was leaving but that she would be fed each day, and I would try to come back next year. I brought her a bag of fruit bars, soap, shampoo and a sweater much too big but it would keep her warm. I gave her 10 pounds.
Where her parents are , I do not know. I only know that one person can make a difference to a child. If, each trip, I am able to touch a child then I have done Spirit's work.
The children of the world are mine and yours.
- Atira Hatton -