John Palcewski (forioscribe) wrote,
John Palcewski

Bosnian Beggars

Tom Johansmeyer files this report from Paris:

Like Gare du Nord, the Eiffel Tower hosts countless "Bosnian refugees". They fan across la Tour's waiting area, eager to tap the sympathy of tourists waiting for a trip to the top. Instead of attempting to penetrate the jaded locals, the girls attain a higher hit rate with the Iowans, Japanese and, yes, even New Yorkers who flock to this international landmark. I was eager to find some of them and take their pictures.

"Do you speak English?" came a feminine voice from behind me. I turned. Her question had been directed at someone else. Ignored, she then walked toward a group that probably was local. I figured she, like the others, would be camera shy. I pressed off a shot with my camera waist high.

I returned to the ticket line for the ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. As I waited I saw a crowd of about ten of the Bosnian girls getting ready to leave. As the line advanced, I felt my opportunity to get some shots evaporate as the guard chastised me for trying to take "drinks"—by which he meant my unopened, sealed absinthe bottles—to the top. He ordered me away, so I pushed out of the queue and got a few shots of the Bosnians, apparently on a break. Their presence at a snack kiosk indicated neither poverty nor starvation.

I wound around the food stand and saw a girl arguing in French with the vendor and another sitting on a split-rail fence. One of them approached. "Do you speak English?" she asked with a heavy accent.

"Oui," I replied, and she began to unfold her index card. Before she could display it properly, I continued, "Je vous donnerai un euro si je peu le photographe." My French was passable, and she got the idea. She understood that if she let me take a picture of the index card, she'd get a Euro. I pulled the coin from my pocket as an offer of proof. She smiled and nodded.

She doesn't speak the language? Not only did she understand Euro, she also understood French. I surrendered the coin and asked, "Un autre?" She agreed, until she saw the lens pointed at her face.

"Non, non," she objected and pulled the index card higher.

Her friend, who had been arguing with the snack vendor, saw what was going on. "Donnez?" she asked, "Give me?" My refugee smiled and flashed the Euro; her friend evidently had noted the amount. Her face lit up, her expression buoyant. The girl bounced to her feet and commanded, "Donnez! Donnez!"

I waved my camera and replied, "Je suis fini, I'm finished."

Her disappointment was unmistakable, though her card probably lamented her inability to speak French, too.

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