Tinkers, landless nomads who travel in large bands, are still a very real phenomenon, a fertile lot who are tagged a scourge by the Irish and--with the legal ramifications and damages awarded them in several landmark cases in the last decade--the government of Ireland as well. Weighed down with the same definition and social standing as the Romanian gypsy (which inspired the Cher classic, “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves”), the Irish tinker maintains a crude existence outside the more mainstream European culture—and sometimes even the law. Tinkers pile high into old cars and campers and they convoy in no particular direction, stopping wherever they can fit alongside open acreage or roadside, staying, usually, for months. The squatters barbecue by roaring fires and they carouse into wee hours, often sleeping during daylight. The teems of tinker children are not enrolled in school and they do not receive any kind of standardized education or “home schooling.” As a rule, tinkers do not seek degrees or hold down employment so they do not pay taxes or utilities, nor do they rent the rights to camp in groups for lengthy periods (like you could at KOA or any designated campsite in the USA).
As politically-incorrect as it may seem to “slander” the poor, there is nothing politically-correct about the Tinkers. Landowners who have had to unwittingly “host” the hordes have reported theft, bribery, lewd behavior, and thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of property damage to include trampled crops, not to mention the filthy job of having to clean up mounds of human excrement left from makeshift “potties” the groups had designated on premises, as well as a debris field of trash that would make the sinking of the Titanic look like playground litter.
When is that tragic moment when helping gets perverted into condoning bad behavior? I am reminded of my five-week stay in Amman, Jordan, a land where gypsies and the likewise disenfranchised could be spotted along fields but frequently, since there were no regulations against where they set up their rag tents or how long they stayed, they sought affluent neighborhoods because it was better begging there and a higher quality of rubbish, which they went through, indiscriminately pulling out leftovers or other perishables as well as bags and plastic jugs they would reuse to collect rain water—which was great, except that they emptied the dumpsters in the process and never put anything back into the bins so refuse always blew around. The practice wasn’t just a nuisance but a health hazard.
Still, I wanted to let go of even this difference in upbringing and lifestyle--to let go and let live--as I watched the local Jordanian gypsy children, a boy and a girl, sit outside their pieces-parts home and eyeball my friend and I as we jog down the road to get more concentrated exercise every evening, until the night they started yelling at us. Of course, we did not understand them—and until then, we had always waved or smiled as we ran—but I am sure it was a taunt, some teasing name for us that they had come up with in their boredom, and they ran after us, throwing handfuls of goat poop. They must have planned it, spending time to collect the goat turds, for days maybe, such was the amount that they had amassed. Sadder than this was the fact that neither my friend nor I--both teachers on summer holiday--had ever seen the parents; those kids ran the streets unsupervised all day long with no sign of an adult except for the larger shadow that was occasionally visible through the tent walls. At the time, Amber and I merely ignored their childish act and then ran a different route. How, though, does one improve the status of the impoverished without instilling different modeling or some newer skills, practices, and habits? Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, he'll eat forever.