Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beggars in Dhofar

Published October 5, 2010

A couple of days ago I was driving around Salalah looking for a functioning bank deposit machine, so I could put a small amount of money into a relative's account. At the first stop, I got out of my car and stood in line waiting for my turn. It was busier than usual since it was payday for most people. As I waited, I noticed a woman standing next to the machine. At first I thought she was waiting for a brother or her husband, but as the line grew shorter, she still hadn't moved. She was a begging, and to my surprise, I noticed she was wearing three gold bracelets. (This is not a smart move when you're trying to convince people you need money!)
When the gentleman in front of me reached the front of the line she watched him swipe his ATM card at the machine. She snatched the opportunity and said, 'Uncle, can you spare some change?' I noticed she did not have an Omani accent. As he fumbled for his wallet, he tried withdrawing the card simultaneously, but it go stuck in the machine. He hit the machine hard a couple of times, and then left in frustration since it was no longer working, shoving a couple of rial notes into her hand as he strode away. I gave her some change and headed back to my car.
That wasn't the end of it. Ten minutes later I managed to find another deposit machine. I parked my car, delighted to be the only person in sight. As I proceeded to take my wallet out of my purse I felt something tug at my abaya. Lo and behold, it was a little boy, probably six or seven years of age. He was well dressed and wearing what looked like brand new shoes. 'Give me a rial!' he demanded. I asked him where he lived. He ignored my question and again said 'Give me a rial!' I gave him half a rial and walked away, deciding to go and search for yet another bank machine to do my banking in peace. He followed me to the car, 'I saw you have money in your wallet! Give me five rials!' I rolled up the window and turned the car on.

As I drove away he picked up a small rock and threw it at me, missing my car by a few inches. I headed to the third and final deposit machine I know in my area of town, and as I looked for a parking space, I noticed a woman sitting on the ground next to the ATM. She had a piece of cloth spread out neatly in front of her with some small change scattered on it…yet another beggar. I honestly couldn't face another one at that point, and drove away without stopping.
Sadly, this trend isn't anything new to me. Just last week a woman wearing an expensive abaya strolled into my office at work and demanded money. When my colleague gave her a rial she became agitated and demanded more. We had to call the guards to come and ask her to leave the building. How she got past them in the first place beats me!
I first noticed an increase in the number of beggars around Salalah about a year ago. The original and more genuine toothless beggars (whom everyone in town knew) used to beg near supermarkets. They were grateful for whatever was given to them, be it five rials, or five hundred baisa. However, this new category of aggressive beggars who corner you wherever they feel like it is certainly a cause for alarm. They are almost always well dressed and sporting expensive phones, watches, etc. It's not surprising, since begging seems to be a thriving business in Oman! During Ramadhan this year I must have come across over fifty beggars!
As far as I'm concerned, I've just about had it with the women wearing gold and aggressive children who claim they are desperately in need. Since Omanis are known for their generosity and since begging is a relatively new trend in Oman, quite often it's hard to distinguish between genuine beggars and fakes. I recently read that the Ministry of Social Development is going to implement a new law to crack down on begging. I hope this happens soon, before the situation in Salalah gets out of control. Otherwise, this aggressive begging is going to develop into something even worse like violence and robbery!


  1. Susan your generosity may well be needed even if they have gold bangles and can afford nice new shoes – they could be the family of this man who lives in a 5 star hotel paid for by begging from people like you .

  2. Your story doesn't surprise me. I saw a beggar at Salalah Mall last week. He really looked very poor and had an eye patch and was very skinny & old. My heart ached when I saw this injustice. So, I pulled my wallet and was just about to give him a generous amount when he pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket. I took a step forward and saw that many of the 20 or so bills he as counting were 50 OMR denominations! I put my wallet back in my purse quickly and turned around.... I felt really cheated.

  3. today is 10/10/10
    here are 10 eagles in Salalah - have a nice and unique day