Sometimes, it really is hard not to feel like a vulture.
I went to send some letters and on my way to the post office I have seen this scene. A man stopped in front of a busy shopping mall, put his paper cup down, unbuttoned his shirt and began to knell on the concrete. I knew who he was before his knees touched the pavement. I have seen so many like him in many countries: beggars, misfits, addicts…You don’t see them much in Malta. Not that we don’t have poverty, it is hidden away from the tourists and well – off locals alike.
Poverty in Malta is a shameful secret, well guarded, locals will not beg, the island is too small to remain anonymous. If you happen to see person asking for money, they in 99% cases will be foreign.
This creates an illusion that poverty and poor living conditions do not exist.
The man on the street was motionless. My hand reached for a camera automatically, it is now a form of habit, I hardly notice. 1/500, F5.6, ISO 200 – told myself looking through my viewfinder. And then it hit me. There was a man kneeling in the middle of a busy pavement and my only worry was the exposure and the photos. I felt ashamed. A friend materialized in front of me and teased me that there I was shooting something, oblivious to the crowds passing by. I could only mutter for her to turn around. When she did she screamed in horror. The man she saw in front of her had no arm. It was amputed at the height of his shoulder. Within seconds she was gone excusing herself.
I put the camera down and reached for my wallet. I approached the man and put some lose change into his cup. I have tried to talk to him. He spoke only Romanian and a bit of broken Italian, no English. I have tried to stop some people and asked them to translate, nobody really had a time. Suddenly everybody was in a hurry.
I went to the post office swearing at myself for being heartless. On my way I noticed a nun and asked her for assistance. She was busy too.
30 minutes later I have returned to the man again. I tried to communicate with him again, using a mix of English, Italian, Polish and sign language. It worked. Somehow he was able to tell me his story.
His name was Mirko, he was 39 years old Romanian. At the age of 22 he had a car accident and lost his right arm. He had a family with three kids and travelled Europe to earn his money by asking for donations. He’s been to Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Malta. He slept on the beaches, ate a little, all the money he collected, he’d sent it home. He was to stay in Malta for approx. 30 days as police was giving him a lot of problems, unlike in Italy.
He allowed me some more photos and shook my hand when we departed. I wished him good luck.
One of my journalistic heroes Waldemar Milewicz said that camera was his weapon. If it is so, then there’s a lot to fight against.
[edit: seems that this story hit the news finally. Malta`s biggest newspaper Times of Malta, ran the article here: