One of the greatest things about our flat and its location is its close proximity to the grocery store. Norma is not just visible from our flat but is a mere five-minute stroll out of our courtyard. We've been to lots of different markets around our neighborhood, but Norma is where we do almost all of our food shopping, because its proximity to our flat makes walking home with arms full of grocery bags more tolerable. But also it's cute and small, and the staff know us by now, and they tolerate our inability to order meat or our insistence on paying with plastic. So we love Norma.
Frequently on our trips to Norma we pass people begging on the sidewalk between our apartment building and the grocery store. Usually it's either two young girls or an older woman with a small boy. They puzzle me because they don't look like Russians or Kazakhs, and they're often dressed in colorful, maybe traditional-looking clothes. We think they might be Roma, but we don't know the language well enough to ask them. So usually when we pass I just nod and mumble "Здравствуйте," and then on the way back from the store we'll give them something from our bags, a loaf of bread or some apples or something.
Today I made a quick trip to Norma to grab some ingredients for chicken noodle soup. Because 'tis the season, folks! It's already dipped below the freezing point here. I got a bag of carrots, a bag of potatoes, a bag of noodles, a loaf of bread, some green onions, and a carton of eggs for just over 500T, about $3USD. I love how cheap food is in this country! And you don't have to pay extra for GMO-free because it already comes that way!
I didn't see the older woman and the little boy sitting in their usual spot because the sidewalk had been closed for construction. (That's another crazy thing about Karaganda, how they build buildings. Brick and mortar, bit by bit. Remarkable.) I was caught by surprise when the little boy appeared from out of the brush, but I pulled the potatoes out of my bag and handed them to him. "Пожалуйста," I muttered, inwardly mourning my complete absence of Russian conversation skills.
As I walked through the courtyard back to our building I simultaneously marveled at how cheap food was and mused about the little boy and the older woman. Potatoes are cheap, and so it seems to me that these beggars ought to be able to buy at least simple food. Were the potatoes I gave them really what they needed? If only I could have asked what to get them. (Баклажан, eggplant, is the only produce I know.) Maybe they needed clothes instead? But the little boy's tattered shirt was a key element of his pathetic appearance, necessary to garner more donations. What if he was a victim of a Slumdog Millionaire kind of situation, "pimped out" by the older woman to make money? What if my potatoes were more of a salve for my conscience than of any benefit to them?
I had pondered myself into a tizzy by the time I reached our flat, completely at a loss for how to approach the older woman and the little boy next time I passed them. Do I give them money? Buy them meat? Find them hats and scarves? Ignore them? Find a new route to Norma? Oh Father, why is loving people so hard?! . . . and the answer came quickly, quietly, directly.
It is not my job to judge their begging as innocent or nefarious. It is my job to follow my Leader. To greet them as I pass. To share what I have when they ask. Doing is better than thinking. I don't know who they are, I don't even know what they're saying, I just know what my Leader has told me, to give to the poor and the widows and the orphans. Okay, I can do that. Loving is actually a lot easier than I think it is.
And this is what I'm in the process of learning every day here. To look to my Leader for guidance instead of being wise in my own eyes. To stop relying on myself to get through each day and instead look to the Giver of life. He will show me the way if I will ask it of Him, and He will direct my steps if I submit them to Him. He has been in this city infinitely longer than I and He knows these inhabitants infinitely deeper than I. He knows what they need so much better than I, and so it is on Him that I must rely.