Guilt and responsibility, or: on travelling through foreign places

Four, five, six, no, seven children are crouching under that tree, jostling for a slither of shade. Do they belong to the same family, or are they friends from across the tracks, just visiting to pass the time? Or, perhaps, are they only here to elicit empathy from the many travellers — men, women and children, with their brightly coloured, overflowing suitcases — standing at the edge of the platform? Behind the children, unprotected from the glaring afternoon sun, I can see three women, all bent over a small pot from which steam is escaping. A few metres to the left, fastened between two trunks and a shopping cart filled with clothes, a ragged tarpaulin hangs above a few thin mattresses. A baby is sprawled in the middle, suckling on an item I cannot make out. Two chickens are there, too, bouncing through the yellow grass, dodging bits of glass and plastic. This is their home. Exposed to the dirt, the heat, the insects and the noise; dependent on the magnanimity of strangers. But even here, confronted with the plight of these poor people, I do not go over to them. I do not give them the last samosa wrapped up in my bag, nor the few coins jingling in my pocket as I shuffle uncomfortably from one foot to the next. I do not even glance back as I step out of the shade. After all, my train is about to leave. I, the tourist, am not condemned to stay.

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