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Moses Obroku: When I Had to Beg in Brussels



dreamstime_l_56495750I know the title can conjure up that scenario of a male African migrant, who had gone to look for greener pastures in Europe and was now stranded –  begging for sustenance in the frigid weather that European countries can present during winter. But nothing can be farther from the truth.

It was 2014, and I was a returning student from the prestigious United Nations University/Maastricht Graduate School of Governance in the Netherlands, where I had just completed a gruelling course. The school is located in the serene town of Maastricht in the Netherlands, which is just about one hour away from Brussels, the capital of Belgium. So, it made a lot of logistical sense to arrive through the Brussels International airport; and take a taxi directly to Maastricht town. Rather than the long train or taxi ride that going through Amsterdam would have presented.

Having completed my studies, my return ticket, of course, demanded I departed Europe through the same airport in Brussels. Before leaving Maastricht a couple of days earlier, I was faced with two choices: either hitching a taxi ride to Brussels with two other of my classmates who were also leaving the same day as me, (even though that would mean a-five hour wait in Brussels airport for my flight); or leave Maastricht much later in the day and take a train ride to Brussels by myself. The latter choice posed a greater inconvenience as I reasoned. So I left with my colleagues that morning.

Since my flight would not begin check-in procedures for another five hours , I decided to use the luggage lockers in the basement of the airport, so I could be free to enjoy my rather long wait. I wheeled my bags, (about three of them) to the lockers, read the instructions on how they work and promptly loaded my bags into one I selected. The computerized compartments are designed to secure your luggage when you put in €1, after which it would generate a print out with a barcode and some digits. You are expected to punch this on the keypads by the locker when you return to retrieve your luggage, and omplete the payment depending on length of use. It is clearly written that for twenty-four hours usage of the lockers, the charge is €7.50; it, however, did not state the machine only accepts the exact sum.

I was happy, my bags were secured. I could now roam the airport or even take a ride into town if I pleased. After all, I had five hours to kill before check-in time. Leaving the basement, I went up to the departure lounge, had breakfast, did some window shopping, and generally spent time using the internet. When the moment came for me to retrieve my bags, I took the elevator to the basement brought out my little pouch where I kept coins and counted €7. Since I had put in €1 earlier, I am expected to now drop €6.50. Well, I didn’t have €0.50, so I dropped €7.The machine promptly accepted €6, and then returned €1 to me stating that I should insert €0.50!

I thought the machine malfunctioned at the moment, so I pushed the €1 back in expecting it to at least release my bags; even if it would not dispense any change to me. It promptly rolled back my €1, blinking €0.50 as the amount left for my payment to be completed. I knew I was in a situation at this point, as the departure floor is quite some distance from the basement.

So I thought I might as well ask those who come to get their luggage if they could exchange €1 for two €0.50 or if they have €0.50 to spare. I believed that amount was quite insignificant – even though it was now standing between my bags and I. Soon, I realized how big a deal that sum became.

I approached the first person who came by from the car park. He did not even stop to listen to what I had to say. While I reasoned he was just having a bad day, or running late for his flight; I spoke to the next fellow who checked the money with him and said he only had €1 and above. Not the €0.50 I needed. After approaching about five different people, within a few seconds interval each without success – with most of them barely listening to me – I started contemplating going the distance to the departure floor to increase my chances of obtaining the now elusive €0.50.

Immediately, two young ladies came by to get their bags and I decided to ask them too. When I noticed how they eyed me suspiciously, I told them my plight and proceeded to flash the wad of over €1000 I had on me to show I was not indigent. I would not know if it was the money they saw that gave them reassurances; but they asked me to wait for them to get their bags so they would know if the change I needed would surface.  Unfortunately, it didn’t. And my irritation grew.

At that moment, a couple of things occurred to me. I remembered I am a young black male and that probably did not improve my situation (which may explain why some of the people I approached did not even stop to listen). I realized how friendly we are as a people in Nigeria. Even when we don’t have the solutions to each other’s issues, we usually empathize. I also remembered how easily it is for us to part with money to total strangers in Nigeria. All at once, it became apparent that, seeking assistance anywhere is not as easy as it looks.

In fact, it is hard work that requires a lot of confidence to accomplish. I discovered that aside from those who are handicapped, people who resort to begging through life could very well excel in sales and marketing. They have all the characteristics. They know how to approach others, explain the situation, persevere and eventually make you part with money. I finally learnt that, some of those well-dressed, well-spoken people who besiege you with request for help on the streets of Lagos may have genuine needs.

As I came out of my ‘lessons learnt moment’, I recalled I had still not resolved my luggage retrieving situation. In retrospect, I think I was more reluctant to go to the departure hall to look for the change I needed because it would have presented the same situation as I was in the basement. I could either have looked for an item to buy that can give me the €0.50 I sought (which would have been difficult) or kept asking for who can do an exchange for me. Having some faith, I decided to also ask an elderly couple who came by. While her husband handled their luggage from one of the lockers, the lady listened to me and said ‘don’t mind those machines, they are silly inventions’. She checked her coins with her, and found a €0.50 I had been asking for. As she handed it to me, I could see that she had another €0.50 among the coins she spread out on her other hand.

Even though she wanted me to have one €0.50 for free, I politely asked her if I could give her €1 and get the other half. She agreed. As I went to the fortress of a locker that my bags were held, she accompanied me; probably to see if things were fine or if my story was true. I inserted the €0.50 into the machine, and heard the locks snap out of place from within, even as the door to the locker flew open! That kind elderly lady who saved the day for me, just started clapping and cheering as if I just scored the winning goal in a major league!

I thanked her profusely, lifted my bags out quickly and put them on a trolley as I headed for the departure hall. The final lesson I learnt that day was that, solutions to problems may not be solved by large amounts of cash as I had with me. Sometimes, they come in form of a caring, listening elderly lady. As for the other €0.50 that she exchanged for my €1, I still have it with me today as a reminder of that ordeal.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Aside from being a lawyer, migration management expert, security personnel and fitness buff; there are many other sides to me. I am also a self -proclaimed foodie (and oh yes, to complement that, I can cook!). Of course, writing is my passion and I have a mission to inspire my world, one person at a time. I can be reached on [email protected] Instagram: @mosesobroku


  1. anna

    February 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    any amount of money in europe is significant. That 1cent, without it you cannot complete a purchase. For that 1 cent, you will beg and beg until you sweat in that minus 5 degrees weather. add your skin colour to it, then your plight just becomes hopeless. Whether you are a citizen of that country or not, being black automatically qualifies you for a status as an immigrant, whoever helps you will do so according to how that person feels about immigrants. Its not easy oo

    • Damilola

      February 23, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      Lucky you, that you have money. Your story is not as intense as some Africans that literally suffer in these European countries. Many African migrants get stranded a lot financially. Sometimes, at the airport you will see some Africans who got stranded bcos the person they relied on to pick them up or live with didn’t come through. That naija friend that was hyping your head up, come to Europe or America. Only for you to get here, they are no where to be found.
      Another one, you bring a lot of money from home spent it lavishly, enjoyed life then the bills piled up, other expenses came up. You can’t work as much. You become distracted with trying to survive that your goal becomes lost in between. Or those Africans that came here through non student visa but know in their heart they don’t want to go back to naija. Just different situations that Africans go through especially in these European countries. America is better, they are not too strict, you can still work menial jobs under the table. In Russia, you have to carry your document with you all the time.
      Yet Nigerians will rather go through hell than hold their government accountable and fight for change in their country.

  2. Larz

    February 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Isnt it funny. Your first sentence gave away the perception even WE would have given the headline. If a middle white male, named person said the same thing, we will be more open minded about what he is about to share.

    Such a shame how black skin has negative stereotypes

  3. gurl_wendy

    February 23, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Misleading article, one would have thought you became a starving hobo on the streets from the misleading topic, was that begging or exchanging *sigh*. I thought you were about to draw attention to starving Africans abroad who have to resort to begging *sigh*, guess my imagination ran ahead of me.

    • Honiilols

      February 23, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      Begging is as much seeking alms; soliciting for charity as it is humbly asking for money. That ‘asking’ has to occur before the exchange. Begging shouldn’t always conjure that image of destitute in our heads.

      Truth is our experiences shape our attitude a lot of the times. I once had a well-dressed guy approach me in an estate politely asking that I help with tfare with some easy to believe story about him leaving his wallet someplace. I helped only for my sister to share her own version of that experience some weeks later. Same estate. I stopped answering people.

      You still got the ‘000 Euros?

  4. bijouxthisbijouthat

    February 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    loool,enjoyed it!!! and yes i have had similar experience before. Glad you derived lessons out of this experience,there is always a lesson somewhere!

  5. Dee

    February 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    This is what makes me annoyed when I help people buy stuff and they give me $10 less, and I’m thinking- if I had paid $10 less, I wouldn’t have been able to buy what you need. Now imagine if the 10 people I help to get stuff gave me $10 less- it might look small to you but please 1cent is important.
    sorry, just had to rant

  6. Author Unknown

    February 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Racism aside, most Europeans are cold. I realize that I’m generalizing here. God bless that “grandma”.
    I guess offering to buy an item at a higher price in order to get 0.50 euros. won’t cut it in a place like a Euro airport either *sigh*. Ehen, do you still have the 1,000.00 euros? Lol.

  7. Thatafricanchic

    February 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I have seen white people beg at the train station cities in Europe. I have had a pregnant white lady ask me for 1€. A lot of people passed her by.

    I have also been in situations where people needed change and asked me. Recently I needed change and I asked and I was given. Let’s not be quick to label every thing under racism. Asking for money generally in Eurean culture is frowned upon.

    Maybe they just didn’t want to give you money. Has nothing to do with race

  8. dudu

    February 23, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    @Author unknown
    Haven lived in the uk and canada I can truly say that most Europeans are unfriendly. In europe, its a case of “everybody mind your business” .

    • Author Unknown

      February 23, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Agreed dudu. Compared to Canadians, most definitely. Canadians are polite, so even if they don’t want to help, they won’t dismiss you as easily, and in the process will realise you’re harmless. I know there’s the big city vs. small town aspect to it all, but this is a department where Nigerians win, kinda. Problem with Nigeria is that both the “approacher” and “approachee” are suspicious of one another. Lol. It’s sad, and I really shouldn’t be laughing.

  9. Mr X

    February 23, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    One has to be organized and self reliant. . Always have a checklist and be organized. if you had money why didn’t you look for food court to buy something. That will break the money into smaller denominations. Everybody eye the chuck for airport oh.

  10. Iphee

    February 23, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Nice article!!!!!….. One of those “feel good” types. I like

  11. Honeycrown

    February 23, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I enjoyed this article and it made me laugh because I was having the same convo yesterday about how Oyibo people value their money up to the penny unlike we Nigerians who have no respect for kobo or small change. I learnt since my first job when you “dash” a co-worker 25c towards buying something at the vending machine, they return it the next day as if na $25. When you refuse it, na drama and questioning o, “why?, Are you sure? You don’t have to!” Then you go come get tight hug. On top wetin? 25c? ?? I used to keep my extra coins under the register back in the days to help customers who were short. I no get time to dey hold line because of 1 cent. I used to get so many hugs and good reviews ?
    Last year, a relative and I went to the mall and she kept complaining about all “these yeye coins” the cashiers kept giving her and what is she supposed to do with it blah blah …. I advised her to keep it because they always come in handy. A week later she went shopping and she was short on cash about $3 so I figured I was a good opportunity to show her how the “yeye coins” can come in handy if no one was around to help. By the time we counted, she had over $12 in change and she even added back another item she thought she couldn’t pay for. She respected “coins” that day!
    Rewind back to Nigeria same last year, my boo and I were at a supermarket in Abuja and his change was about #350 and the cashier told him she was out of money. I guess he was supposed to walk away because that money was too small for him to fuss over? I began to fuss about the change and why we can’t have it. … but I let it go when I was called to order ??
    Yeah that your title though!!! Meanwhile, this my epistle don pass the article sef ….

  12. coke

    February 24, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Wao the things we take for granted! i have had to request for a coin on more than one occassion and people were very willing to assist, i like to think 3 factors could have played out for me 1. mere Luck 2. being female 3. being mixed race.

    The truth is i really dont believe people and their plenty stories on the streets of Lagos, having been told by my colleague that a popular Apapa beggar deposits between 5-10k daily into his access bank account, the dude had met the beggar several times at the bank o.

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