The old lady was weather beaten and broken. It was obvious that the 50 years she had spent in the street as a beggar had been rough and unkind to her. The residents never thought that the sightless and ragged neighbor had actually gathered a fortune in cash and buildings. Her financial worth would match that of the town’s richest.
Eisha’s life on the streets ended suddenly. The woman died quietly on the bathroom floor of her sparse home. Neighbors were upset when a hearse pulled into the driveway and then left with Eisha on a stretcher covered by a sheet. They couldn’t understand when they found out she had left a fortune in jewels, real estate and gold.
Ahmed al-Saeedi was from Eisha’s home district. They had grown up together and he had spent a great deal of his life taking care of her. Other than her mother and one sister, who had each been a beggar, Eisha didn’t have any relatives. What only al-Saeedi knew was that the three women had put together a fortune while sitting on the street corners of Jeddah.
After Eisha’s mother and sister died, she continued to haunt the streets asking for help. She would get pity and help from the wealthy all year-long, but especially during the celebration of Eid. Eisha was simply an elderly, blind woman who didn’t have anyone in the world said Saeedi. He saw that she would be buried in Ummana Hawwa, Our Mother Eve, Cemetery in the neighborhood where she had begged.
Saeedi kept Eisha’s wealth a secret. Saeedi said he had tried to get Eisha to move away from the life of a beggar. “I asked her to give up this lifestyle,” he said. Eisha always refused his advice, telling him she was saving up for the hard times ahead.
Fifteen years ago, Eisha gave Saeedi some coins. She asked him to keep them until she felt it was the right time to sell. When Eisha handed the coins over, they were worth about $250 each. Now, they are valued at over $1,000 for each shiny, gold disc.
Saeedi said that several families lived in the buildings owned by the old beggar. She had permitted them to stay in the buildings rent-free, but after she passed, the families were forced to leave. The authorities wanted the real estate. The residents refused to go saying that no once could evict them as they never had been charged any rental fee. The homes had been a gift to them and one resident told the courts that it had been Eisha’s desire that they live there in perpetuity.
While the authorities struggle with a decision about the fate of the residents, the district chief, or “umdah” isn’t ready to push anyone into the street. “The old woman hosted several families in her buildings before her death,” he said. “They lived and grew up with her.”
Who could’ve foreseen that an elderly beggar would leave behind a fortune?
By Jerry Nelson