The Lottery of Life

By: Mostafa El Said

Photo via Al Ahram Online

I am sitting in the metro, clutching my precious smartphone and listening to a British artist. The inconspicuously shrill voice and saccharine lyrics are momentarily interrupted by a boy wearing slip-on flip flops with gnarly toes protruding from the front. The boy sells brand-less chocolate bars with added coconut-flavoured fillings in the cores. A bar costs two pounds and 3 bars cost five. The boy looks to be about 10- years old, but when you really look into his eyes and focus on his monotonous repetition of “el wa7da be etnein wel talata be khamsa” it becomes absolutely impossible to recognise that boy as a 10-year-old when all you see is a man burdened by a life of hardships that have lasted for much longer than a mere decade.

That boy spends the day reciting the same sentences to complete strangers, and jumping from one subway car to the other, in search for customers that are more willing to pay for a snack to accompany their commute. What saddens me the most, is that that little boy should’ve been in school like I was, watching mbc3 or celebrating his 10th birthday in Fudruckers, surrounded by family and friends. I try to ignore the beggar that keeps following me down the street, because I find it very difficult to look her in the eye, pull out my wallet and give her 5 pounds, knowing I can give way more. It is very exhausting looking into them, because the pain and humiliation their lives have driven them to endure through extend beyond their flesh and into mine. It’s even harder when you see someone your age, because then I don’t only see the suffering, but I also see myself. I would be worrying about trivial matters like whether replying to a text right away is too needy while that boy follows people around trying to appeal to their sympathies.

I sleep in my comfortable bed, under bedsheets purchased from IKEA, desperately seeking warmth because the AC is set too high. And in the midst of the darkness, I am surrounded in these expensive and pretty bedsheets, trying not to think of someone else who, instead of having a bed, is sleeping in their mother’s arms. I feel guilty for our dinner table that overflows with food and drinks every Ramadan. I am surrounded by luxuries I was born into and had no right in having more than that 10-year-old chocolate bar seller and that little girl in the brown headscarf who is always passing by car windows to sell napkins at the traffic lights in Mostafa Mahmoud square. Even when the beggars are persistent and start tugging at my shirt, all I do is imagine myself tugging at someone else’s shirt asking them for money instead of being angry at the beggar.

What am I supposed to do? My TV is spilling over with advertisements full of witty tunes and celebrities promoting charities by asking us to donate money and clothes. And on the other side of the spectrum are endless commercials for compounds away from the classless majority of Egypt, where only less than a quarter of Egyptians could dream of. I marvel at the diversity of the commercials that only make me feel worse for having been born into luxuries that I don’t deserve any more than our maid’s children. I feel burdened to do something, but I can’t give every homeless person a shelter, every starving child a feast and every illiterate and uneducated old woman a book. I can only do so much.

Maybe we’re not even supposed to pity those that are in need, because this might make us look at them as lesser human beings. There is always huge emphasis on how sad and distressing life for the ‘lowers’ is, but maybe we make no effort to actually understand what it’s like to be brought up differently, what it’s like to have lost the ‘lottery’ and why view their lives as the loss, and not ours.

We do not choose the families or lives we are born in to. It’s the lottery of life, all is only by chance. The few that are lucky are born into proper families, and the majority that isn’t are born into broken ones. But unlike birth, where we don’t to have a choice, we get to choose the person we become. You can be someone who lives their life beyond social and cultural barriers that have been erected long before we were born or you can stay inside the bubble too afraid to pop it.


Inspired by “The Genetic Lottery” by Bahira Amin, a ‘must-watch’:

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