"Seyama. Tha Min Nay ma kawn boo. calle nay ma kawn boo. su tao me. ohhhh...."
I paused for a second. All of our neighbors are in close range, she could have easily been at someone else's door. I stuck my head into the front room and saw a woman kneeling at our front door. My younger sister stood in the corner, frozen.
"Ma Katie." She whispered at me. "Balle? Be tdu le?" (What is going on? Who is this?)
The woman had a young boy with her and they sat on the dirty ground, and while I had been talking with my sister about who she was the woman continued to moan in pain, begging for help. She called herself "tha min" (daughter) even though she was obviously older than me, she was lowering herself and calling me teacher. She was a woman at the lowest rung of the social ladder, and she knew it.
"I'm pregnant." She told us. "I'm so sick. I have no money to go to the clinic. I have no husband. My son is so hungry. Please give me some money so I can buy some tea." Between sentences she paused and inhaled sharply, clutching her stomach.
My sister shook her head. I pleaded with her,
"We won't give her money but we can help her."
There are many beggars in Mae Sot. Children beg to make money for their parents. Women beg to make money for the drunk husbands. I've learned to not give money, no matter what they say. Giving money instills the habit and doesn't solve any real problems. It has been an issue I've struggled with all year. It would be so easy to give them money, to give them a quick fix, but it really fixes nothing.
"Is your baby coming now?" I asked, concerned that she could be in labor.
"Do you want to go to Mae Tao Clinic?"
She nodded again and said, "but I have no money. I have no money to buy food for my son."
"It is free." I replied. "They give you one meal a day and you do not have to pay anything."
"I want to go." She said.
I called my friend, who is a nurse and she said she would come right away to help me take her.
"We're so hungry. Please." The woman was begging, pleading.
"Okay okay, we have rice we have curry."
My sister and I retreated to the back of our small house.
She spoke to me quietly,
"Ma Katie, they are no good. She just wants money."
"We can still help her." I said. "We can give her food and we can take her to the hospital if she needs to go."
We served fresh rice onto a plate and I was reaching add curry when the woman said,
"No. We don't want your food. Just please. Give me some money for tea. I'll go to the teashop. My throat hurts so much. I want to drink something."
I put the plate down and picked up a cup.
"We have water." I told her. "We are poor too. I will give you what we have."
"I want tea. I need something hot." She replied.
At that moment I realized she had been playing us. I had no doubt that she was a woman in need, but she was refusing the help I was offering her. I wasn't just offering her a meal, I was offering her friendship, and through friendship comes long term relief. I could have set her up with a safe place for single mothers, I could have set her up with a job or a way to provide for her children. She refused it. All she wanted was money.
I made one last attempt to help her. I called my sister over and told her to go buy some tea, which was what the woman wanted in the first place. I gave her 20 bot, but as she made her way out the door the woman refused it.
"Don't buy it." She said sharply. Her pain miraculously gone. She stood up, grabbed her son by the hand and walked away.
"If you need food, you can come here. If you need help, you can come here. When you want to go to the clinic come here and I will take you." I told her in a soft and kind voice, making sure to use all the polite Burmese words.
She did not look at me as I spoke. She continued down the street, stopping at various houses and begging.
"You have a good heart." My sister told me, as we sat down to eat our breakfast.
I smiled sadly at her as I looked down at the plate of rice the woman had refused.