Beirut beggar who died with $1 million in the bank

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Combo image showing Fatima Othman at rest and the alms recovered among her belongings.
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File photo showing a soldier offering water to Fatima Othman during a hot summer day.
Updated 17 May 2018
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Beirut beggar who died with $1 million in the bank

  • Unlike other beggars who could be pushy, Fatima Othman did not talk or beg. She just looked with eyes full of sorrow at passing people.
  • Othman had a family of eight and not one of them knew about her money, and her savings proved that nobody was exploiting her by forcing her to beg.

BEIRUT: When Fatima Othman, a disabled street beggar, was found dead in an abandoned car in Beirut’s Barbir district on Tuesday night, investigators thought it was simply another tragic death among the city’s poor and homeless.

But internal security forces called to the scene were astonished to find Othman had been carrying bags holding 5 million Lebanese ounds ($3,400) in cash and — even more surprising — a deposit book from a nearby bank that showed she had more than $1 million in savings.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Musallem, director of the Internal Security Forces public relations division, told Arab News that 52-year-old Othman had died of a heart attack.

“Finding the money and the savings book was a big surprise,” he said.

Othman was a well-known figure in the Barbir district. A photograph of the street beggar had won praise with its portrayal of a Lebanese soldier stationed at the nearby Barbir hospital helping her drink because she was unable to use her hands or feet. The soldier was later commended by an army commander for his “compassion and humanity.”

Many on social media mocked begging in Lebanon and derided it as a lucrative profession. But nobody knew Othman as I knew her.



On the pavement where the handicapped beggar used to sit — unable to move her hands due to a birth defect — she had the sympathy of people for decades.

Othman did not talk or beg. She just looked with eyes full of sorrow at passing people.

I used to live in the Ras Al-Nab’a district, and would cross the Barbir district daily on my way to school and, later, to university. Othman used to sit on a newspaper on the pavement near a coffee mill in summer and winter. She would look at me and nod her head, and I would ask how she was. “Alhamdulillah” (“Praise be to God“), she would answer.

The Barbir district was close to the front lines during Lebanon’s civil war and was targeted by artillery, especially during periods of calm when its gold market was crowded with people.

Othman was hit once with shrapnel, but returned to the pavement wearing a bandage. She kept watching us grow up, and we kept watching her grow older.



A week ago, I saw her sitting on the side of the road near the market. Her hair was white and her face full of wrinkles. Her smile had disappeared. I put a coin in her lap as I used to always do, and she held it with her teeth and dropped it inside an open black bag.

After Othman’s death, security forces discovered she was from the town of Ain Al-Zahab in Akkar, northern Lebanon. They contacted her family, and a number of relatives came and took her body to her village. She was buried on Wednesday. 

Othman had a family of eight — a mother, two brothers and five sisters.

The family knew nothing about the money, and her savings proved that nobody was exploiting Othman by forcing her to beg.

After daring not tell anyone about her money for fear of being killed, she died without enjoying the benefits of people’s compassion.


Prince Harry raises Invictus Games flag over Sydney Harbor

Updated 19 October 2018
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Prince Harry raises Invictus Games flag over Sydney Harbor

  • The sporting event, founded by Prince Harry in 2014, starts on Saturday
  • Prince Harry and his wife, American former actress Meghan Markle, will attend the opening and closing games ceremonies.

SYDNEY: Prince Harry scaled the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Friday to raise a flag marking the arrival of the Invictus Games, his brainchild and the focus of his current royal tour of Australia and the South Pacific.
The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, starts on Saturday. It gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball and to find inspiration to recover.
The fact that the Duchess of Sussex never planned to climb the world’s tallest steel arch bridge with her husband had fueled speculation that she is pregnant. The speculation was confirmed on Monday when Harry and the former Meghan Markle announced that their first child is due in the northern spring.
Harry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, four members of the Australian team and the widow of an Australian veteran climbed more than 1,000 steps up the back of an arch to raise the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 flag.
“The Sydney Harbor Bridge is an Australian icon and I can think of no better place to raise the ... flag,” Morrison said in a statement.
During the descent, Harry hugged fellow climber Gwen Cherne, a games ambassador whose husband Peter Cafe, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life in February.
“We were talking about mental health and really working on changing the way that our global community looks at mental health and deals with it,” Cherne said later.
The flag will fly 134 meters (440 feet) above Sydney Harbor until the games close on Oct. 27.
Harry and his American former actress wife will attend the opening and closing games ceremonies. Around 500 athletes from 18 nations will compete in venues around Sydney.
The couple earlier Friday walked barefoot on Bondi Beach to meet a group of surfers focused on mental wellbeing.
The group, OneWave, meet weekly in an “anti-bad vibe circle” on the sand.
While the group dressed in loud and outrageous fluorescent outfits, Harry and Meghan were more subdued, but their message to the group was clear.
“They’re super passionate about mental health. They are showing that mental health does not discriminate,” OneWave co-founder Grant Trebilco said.
Charlotte Connell, a OneWave member, said Harry spoke of his own experiences seeking counselling more than 20 years after his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997 when he was aged 12.
“Harry said it took him not six months, but 18 months to find the right person to speak to. ‘You’re not going to find the right person to speak to straight away,’” Connell said.
Both Harry and Meghan used exercise as a way of keeping well, Connell said.
“Even in her jetlagged state, she got up in the morning and did yoga at 4.30am,” Connell said.
“She said it’s so good for healing her mind,” Connell added.
After Bondi, the couple made an unannounced visit to Macarthur Girls High School in Parramatta in central Sydney.
The shrieking students gave the couple a rock star welcome to a school assembly.
“When they walked in, I felt like my heart stopped. Their presence just made everyone shocked,” 15-year-old student Rhiannon said.
The couple finished their day’s events with formal meetings with Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Harry and Meghan will also visit Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand during their 16-day tour.