That Moment (during travel) when we had to deal with street beggars..who’s exploiting who?

Written by @joehairie and content documented/arranged by @Lan
(Photos by team members)


It’s not that we underestimate this group of poor people. They are human beings too and we respect all, regardless. There’s this place that we went recently and after much time spent on the street looking for materials, we bumped into this poor lady and her son. During our travel, we always ‘receive’ good things. This recent travel was different. To get some good story, we had to seriously deal with this one middle aged woman, a street beggar, to be exact. Our wish granted and so did her wish, fulfilled. The question is, who’s exploiting who?

The argument

Recently, @Lan read an article by a blogger who mentioned about exploitation when one is simply taking photos of ‘some people’ on the street. Simply put, a photographer who take photos for his or her work gets paid or in return receive something cool in exchange for that effort.  The subjects of the photos (the people) gets nothing. So, do we as writers, researchers and photographers as well as travel bloggers need to at least give something to those ‘subjects’ in the photo(s)? The answer, Yes and No, depends.

Of course there is no law indicating that you must ‘contribute’ something to those who you took photos of. Logically, you do not have to pay anything. It’s a free open space. If certain people do not want their faces to be highlighted, respect that. If you have some smaller change, give it, just consider it as ‘social responsibility’ or things like that. How much? That will pretty much depend on your generosity. So, we found this lady with her son, Ani and the latter, Agung, begging, hoping for some ‘angels’ to have mercy on them.

The Story of 2 street beggars 

Ani and her son, Agung are on the street, begging, they do this everyday. Every single day. They go to the town, at a place where most people are. They will move to a newer place if that new place is having a carnival or something. More people means more money. More attention. The possibility of getting attention is certainly higher when there are many people around. One fine day, we were at the place they were at. The fate as we see it, where we were destined to know her and her son.

We came to her, nearer, and simply took some photos of her and her son. She was a bit hesitating. She tried her very best to cover her face and so did her son. Our intention was to get a story of her, not only her face. She seemed to be not interested at all. Dig into the pocket we did. Getting all that smaller change and tried to ‘bribe’ her. She still not interested. @Lan added more and she smiled.

So this poor old lady got some cash, enough I think, for few days at least. We had our story though she begged us not to show her face online. Oh did I tell you that she knows what Internet means? We were taken to another corner, the same area, not that far from where we found them. The agreement was, no more photos. We obliged. Their story, told to us, in chronological order.

Ani was born in Zamboanga. At the age of 7, she and her entire family braved themselves ‘migrating’ to this town. Her father knew that there was no chance of surviving the never ending conflict in Zamboanga. They actually ‘sneaked’ into this country. A journey on the vast sea of more than 3 days, to be exact. They were ‘arranged’ by this ‘master’.

Ani grew up here. She had no education as she’s illegal here, having no documentation attached to her identity. Living in this town is like being afraid of her own shadow. Get caught and you will be send back home, she told us. 21 years later, she is still here, ably to move around, freely but still being very careful not to mess up with the authorities. 6 years ago, she met a man, a person who originally came from the same country. They got married though we are not sure if that was a registered unification. (Did you notice, we applied the ‘middle age’ term for her appearance? She looks older than her actual age!)

They are still together until now. They have 3 kids, Agung is the eldest. Though they are happy with what they have, Ani claimed that economically, it’s hard! Her husband, works as a ‘coolie’ for a local contractor. The salary he is getting is still not enough, she said. It was in late 2015 that her husband decided, Ani and Agung are to be on the street, begging for others generosity.

At the highest, she collected about RM170 a day, the lowest RM60. She will take a day off if it rains the whole day. On average, she ‘works’ on the street like 28 days per month. At times, she and her son receives free meals from people passing by or sometimes by generous restaurant owners. Agung loves ‘one fried chicken outlet food‘ so much! He was treated to some take away  boxes by some generous people.

So, they are not doing bad at all. They receives good money and meals as well. How come they are in that kind of ‘dressing’, quite filthy, we asked her. She told us, this is gimmick. Logically, people will not have mercy on well dressed beggars. Yeah, we know, we were just trying to see if she knew things about the art of begging.  She is a master!

We guessed that street beggars all over the world knows the art of begging. It finally came to the kind of surrounding they are all at, if they managed to adapt, they will be happily living, on others generosity.  They might have no big house or big car. No cable TV for the kids. No school to attend to. No documents. Nothing, but they have enough sources to go on living comfortably, by their standard. They will not get that in Zamboanga, Ani told us.

1 hour talking to her, that might be enough, @Lan said. Let’s move to another area of this town and see if we can get more materials. I agreed. Ani heard that. We purposely said that loudly. A skill actually. So we have no more photos of her, @Lan said in English so that Ani wouldn’t understand. I said that’s okay. We got her story (which was actually long enough than what have been written in this article!).

So, we excused ourselves and she said thank you for the small ‘donation’. She said that soon her husband will fetch them. We said our goodbyes and things like that. We went to a corner, went up to the first floor where there is this opening that we can see the street level from above. We plan to see them being fetched by her hubby.

The Mean Writers/Bloggers

Now, exploitation issue. Did we exploit her? Did we use our power as writers, bribing her so that we can get her stories? We didn’t take many photos but we do have some actually. For this article, we used 2 images only. We intend to use the other images for another article that we are going to write for another platform. We might be paid handsomely for our work. What we gave to Ani was only a small fraction of a fraction from the numbers that will be going into our pocket.

Bad us, we’re horrible writers! We’re mean bloggers. Using others for our piece of article, we accused ourselves!  That’s what we thought when we’re on the first floor looking at Ani and Agung, walking slowly towards another corner. Yes, we saw them clearly. We were enjoying our cold refreshing drinks and pondering, thinking of their fate while we travel here and there and we’re sponsored and get paid by doing some writings for certain platforms. Lucky us. What about them?

For now, it seems that we’re exploiting the situation. We exploited Ani and Agung, their story and their daily life.

The Outcome

We felt a bit guilt, until…. a brown old car came and they went in, a man was in that driver seat. Was that Mr Hubby? If not, how come they were invited into a vehicle? There’s no way of telling the truth as it will be stupid enough to go after them and ask questions. Pretty much mind boggling, it’s not a taxi and there;s no UBER service here. Unless, they arrange for daily pick-up by the ‘pirate taxi driver’. We have no answer for that.

The next day, we went to a local market, We love seeing things in the local market. Colorful, vibrant and full of wonderful locals. Amazing produce, amazing foods and many more. We went around and around, until we saw a young boy who were extremely surprised to see us. The minute he saw us, he ran away, like a thunder cat. We’re pretty sure that’s  Agung, with a nicer shirt.

Why did he ran away? That moment, not very far, we saw him running towards a fish seller, a man. That man looked at us and whispered to a woman that we haven’t noticed earlier. That’s Ani and she looked amazingly different, different from what we saw yesterday. She quickly exited the market. So, were we scammed? Or was that another form of exploitation? Wait a minute, she exploited us? They are all illegal immigrants and it’s proven that they ‘exploit’ the country’s resources.

Now, it seemed that we were exploited too! Were we? We, the curios and curious travelers who always go around looking for materials, involving the locals and the ‘locals’ in our story. Traveling is not only about beautiful landmarks, landscapes, hotels, resorts, good foods. Traveling is also about looking at the life of the locals.

We presented a short story for you, a real one, now tell us, who’s exploiting who? Do we deserve that possible high pay in the near future, writing about Ani and Agung? Producing an article for a well-known platform about 2 ‘street beggars’ so that we can make ends meet? If we drafted that article and being paid, are we exploiters? 



2 thoughts on “That Moment (during travel) when we had to deal with street beggars..who’s exploiting who?

    1. Hi there transcribingmemory,
      Thank you for the nice comnent and thanks for dropping by as well. Cheers! Let’s blog for the world.

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