Why does Baba refuse to take the welfare money from Mrs. Dobbins?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Baba has a great deal of pride, and the American welfare system is a completely alien and humiliating concept to him. We learn that when he had used the food stamps at the cash register at the supermarket, this was terribly embarrassing for him, and he always worried that a fellow Afghan would see him using them.  This would be shameful.  

While he had clearly been financially comfortable in Afghanistan, he has always earned his money. He tells Mrs. Dobbins,

I work always. In Afghanistan I work, in America I work....[B]ut I don't like it free money (130).

From the moment he and Amir arrive in America, Baba has been looking for work. He finds a job at a gas station after one month, with only one day off weekly, working hard, twelve hours daily. It gives him a great deal of satisfaction to then march into Mrs. Dobbins' office and be able to leave "like a man cured of a tumor" (131). 

This might be difficult for Americans, who are accustomed to the welfare system, to believe, that someone would reject this help.  But Baba is from a very different kind of culture, one in which one does for oneself and possibly seeks the help of family, but never free money from a government.  His pride in himself has been difficult to sustain in this new land, not knowing the language, not knowing the customs, no one valuing his education, experience, and skills, or the status he held in Afghanistan.  In order to hold onto his pride as a man, to find his own value in himself, he must be able to provide for himself and Amir.

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