In Santiago, on a daily basis, you will be asked for money on the street. There are many manifestations of this, from the typical beggar with a tin can (although these days it seems to have been replaced by a paper cup) to “college students” asking for a donation in exchange for a slip of paper with some poetry, to old women asking you to buy some bandaids to help them out (ayudame con unos parche curitas) to musicians on the micro, to the human statue by Mall Panoramico (or Paseo Ahumada, depending) to people who will try to sell you things as you dine outside, and on and on.
I have a loose policy when it comes to giving money on the street (or in the micro, but never in the metro*). I don’t give to flat out beggars. Okay, I have once. It was this guy who sits on a bench near my house and he caught me on a day when I was felling especially generous and good-natured. But anyway, I don’t usually give to straight out beggars. Why? Well, there is this woman who begs outside the Manuel Montt metro station. I see her almost every day. She is a little person, so it’s easy to recognize her. One day, I went by and noticed that she had dyed her hair. I’m sorry, but if you’re destitute enough to beg, you don’t dye your hair. Right? Someone please tell me if I’m totally off base here. Then, there is another man, who is blind, who begs on the other side of the Manuel Montt metro station, and one day, in the middle of begging, I see him whip out a cell phone that is nicer than mine.** Anyway, those two incidents have me kind of jaded when it comes to giving to straight up beggars.
Unless they are of the clapping and singing-that-makes-my-ears-bleed variety, I do tend to give to musicians, both on the micro and the street. What can I say, I like music, and a lot of them are truly talented.
I give to college students “selling” their poetry if it’s a young guy who won’t leave me alone unless I do, or if I’m feeling charitable.
The rest depends on how I feel, although I do try to give to the legitimate organizations, as long as I know which organization they are.
There is one category that I haven’t mentioned yet.
99.9% of the time I give money to the Chinchineros. I can’t really explain why, but they make me so sad, even thoughI know that’s the opposite of what they’re supposed to do. It’s a Chilean art, a part of the culture here, that’s especially popular during the Fiestas Patrias in September.
But I just can’t help it.
I have a couple of theories as to why. First of all, the first chinchinero I ever saw was a little boy, approximately six years old, outside the Bravissimo near Guardia Vieja. He was so young and yet (in my mind, at least) his family needed him to be on the street, playing his drum, to survive. Heartbreaking.
Secondly, the way their heel is attached to the drum gives me the impression that they are trapped, like slaves to their drum. I know it has a completely practical purpose, but I can’t get the image of slavery out of my mind.
And finally, they kind of remind me of this
Which in turn reminds me of the scene in Aladdin when Jafar turns Abu into one of them and he stays trapped that way until Jafar stupidly wishes to be a genie. I watched Aladdin a lot as a child, and Abu was one of my favorite characters.
Anyway, the chinchineros make me sad, and that, in turn, makes me give them money. That’s probably the definition of a sucker, but I don’t care. They just get to me, those chinchineros.
*The informal economy is largely absent from inside the metro (stations, platforms and trains), because I think there are policies against it.
** My cell phone is by no means the ultimate model, but it’s not the crappiest model around either. Solidly middle of the line, I’d say.