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Diamonds in the Rough

May 16 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, my aunt came to visit me at home. We sipped coffee and caught up on the goings-on in our lives before she showed me her shoes and told me they were torn.

There were shoe shiners nearby who could fix them, so I volunteered to take her shoes to one of them. It did not take long to find one. I showed the shoes to the boy and the places it needed repairing. He told me to come after an hour, since he had other shoes that needed fixing and to leave the shoes with him.

I was going to pay him in advance, which I thought was standard procedure. But he said something that took me by surprise.

“I do not want the money now,” he said, shaking his head. “You will give it to me when I am done.”

I asked him why this was the case.

“I want to look forward to the money. If you give me the money now, then there is nothing to look forward to. But if you hold on to it until the job is done, then that will give me motivation.”

It was not even that much money that I was going to give him - just 20 Br. This is not much for many of us in this day and age, but he considered it something to look forward to.

“Where would the money go?” he insisted.

It is always surprising to find people like him at the bottom of the wealth ladder. These are people who earn to live and not the other way around. Some may argue that he did not care if he accepted beforehand or not because it is a small amount of money, but I saw in his eyes a sense of contentment with his craft and what his labour produces. I have come across cons that go to great trouble to swindle people out of much less to learn that 20 Br is still a lot of money for many.

There is often a stereotype that people who find themselves in the lower income group want to abuse the rest of society for their wealth. Some of them may indeed be involved in such acts, but they are usually honest people who are trying to earn a living.

It is absurd how the “rest of us” tip generously whenever we go to restaurants but get into a fight over 30 cents change with taxi assistants. I have a friend who often argues and tries to negotiate a price with street vendors but digs deep into her pockets without question whenever she buys expensive stuff at a mall. But the money we give to people at the bottom of the ladder always appears to be too much.

There are many like the shoeshine boy - they are diamonds in the rough. They appear in our lives very rarely but remind us of the human capacity for warmth and sociability.

I was in a public taxi once when I could not find change in my purse. There was a lady sitting next to me who realised I was having difficulty paying and offered to cover for me. When we got off the taxi, I tried to get some change and pay her back, but she refused.

“The next time you see someone who is in need, help them out,” she told me.

Being good to strangers does not cost a thing but puts a smile on their faces, as the shoeshine boy and the lady on the public taxi reminded me. The thought of striking up a conversation or even offering a hand to strangers could appear daunting at first glance, but as long as we approach them with a smile and politeness, they will reciprocate.

PUBLISHED ON May 16,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1046]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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