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

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.


World’s loudest bird sings heart out in pursuit of love

Updated 2 min 25 sec ago

World’s loudest bird sings heart out in pursuit of love

  • The researchers wrote that its calls are so loud, they wondered how white bellbird females listen at close range without damaging their hearing
WASHINGTON: In the mountainous northern Amazon, a tiny white-plumed suitor turns to face his would-be paramour and belts out a deafening, klaxon-like call, reaching decibel levels equal to a pile driver.
Meet the white bellbird, which has just beaten out its rainforest neighbor, the screaming piha, for the title of the world’s loudest bird.
Biologist Jeff Podos at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mario Cohn-Haft of Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia described the record-breaking finding in a paper published in the journal Current Biology on Monday.
The researchers wrote that its calls are so loud, they wondered how white bellbird females listen at close range without damaging their hearing.
The feat is all the more impressive given the species’ diminutive size: they’re about as big as doves, weighing around half a pound (a quarter of a kilogram).
The males are distinguished by a fleshy black wattle adorned with white specks that falls from the beak, while the females are green with dark streaks and wattle-less.
Podos told AFP he was lucky enough to witness females join males on their perches as they sang.
“He sings the first note facing away, and then he does this dramatic, almost theatrical swivel, where he swings around with his feet wide open and his wattle is kind of flailing around,” he said.
“And he blasts that second note right where the female would have been, except the female knows what’s coming and she’s not going to sit there and accept that so she flies backwards” by around four meters (13 feet).
It’s not clear why the females voluntarily expose themselves to the noise at such proximity, which reaches peak levels of 113 decibels — above the human pain threshold and equivalent to a loud rock concert or a turbo-prop plane 200 feet (60 meters) away achieving liftoff power.
“Maybe they are trying to assess males up close, though at the risk of some damage to their hearing systems,” Podos added.

Still, since the scientists didn’t actually observe the birds ever mating, “We don’t know if the males we saw were accomplished males or dorks,” said Podos.
The pair used high-quality sound recorders and high-speed video to slow the action enough to study how the bird uses its anatomy to achieve such levels of noise — louder than much larger howler monkeys or bison, but probably not as loud as lions, elephants or whales.
“We don’t know how small animals manage to get so loud. We are truly at the early stages of understanding this biodiversity,” said Podos.
They also found that as the bird’s call gets louder, it also gets shorter, and theorized the trade-off may be occurring because the birds’ respiratory systems have a finite ability to control airflow and generate sound.
This, they said, would place a natural anatomical limit on how loud the bird could evolve to become through sexual selection, or selection for traits that are advantageous for reproduction.