Is it just me or has the number of beggars
including human-waste-wielding streetkids asking for money dramatically reduced in and around the CBD? Ok, I know I’ve been out of the country for long but still I’m sure a lot of you would agree with me that most of the streetkids, that would literally follow you around town begging for change, have significantly reduced. But it seems something else has taken their place. Something that I am having a lot of problems fathoming let alone accepting: I call it: ‘story-telling’.
Lemme try and explain this using the following three scenarios, all of which have happened to me this month alone:
Scenario 1: In class:
One afternoon, before the start of class, a tall immaculately dressed girl walks into the lecture theatre and asks for permission from the lecturer to take 5 mins of his time to address the class. The lecturer agreed. She takes the microphone, standing straight, looking poised, staring directly at the class and begins to speak. She introduced herself, exhibited copies of her ID, together with copies of her University of Nairobi acceptance letter and academic transcripts, which she then handed out to my colleagues in the front row so it could be circulated round the class for all of us to see. While her papers were making the rounds, she told us she was entering her 3rd year of law school at Parklands and she was an orphan, a first-born in a family of 4 and throughout the first two preceding years at uni, she has had to raise money in order to register on campus. Bottomline: she wanted us to pledge money that would go towards her tuition for this year. What really struck me about all this was how confidently she spoke. Begging total strangers for money must be an extremely difficult thing to do, not only because money tends to be such a sensitive issue for a lot of people but also because her situation appeared to be very desperate which in turn explains why she felt she had to resort to begging a lecture-room filled with total strangers.
Scenario 2: In the hoppa
My school is far. It really is. So every evening after my afternoon classes, I’m forced to get a hoppa heading into town and then connect from town with one of the mathrees that goes to my neck of the woods. So it was during my trip from school to town that I was confronted with the following scenario. (Sidenote: I’m seated in the window-seat, headphones on, blasting some southerncadillacplayermuzik, minding my own business)
At some point, between all the people alighting and boarding the hoppa, a decently dressed chap decides to sit next to me. Somewhere along the trip I notice he keeps looking in my direction. But I thought he was just looking outside the window too and not at me. But it turns out he was actually trying to talk to me and I just couldn’t hear him. In the end, he actually taps me on the shoulder repeatedly until I’m forced to press pause on my iPod, wrap my headphones around my neck and then I give him the wtf dude?! look. Immediately this dude starts talking to me like we know each or something.
He introduces himself and starts asking me questions. I give him one word answers but all my body language kept saying was: “Leave me the eff alone, man” but he just keeps making small talk with me. At some point he finally works up the courage to tell me about his “problem”.
I should have guessed it, there’s always a “problem” isn’t there?
So he starts off by telling me how he’s just come back from hospital (that could be true since there are a few hospitals along the route from my school to town) then he tells me that he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS about 4-5 years ago and now its full-blown and he has to go in for treatment. He explained to me that he contracted the disease from his wife who was having multiple sex partners behind his back. His wife passed on a year or so ago and he was left to look after their two young children. He narrates the ordeal of raising two kids all by himself, how he has never gotten over his wife’s betrayal, and generally talks about how hard life has been for him. What was the purpose of all this storytelling? Ofcourse, what else? He needed money.
Scenario 3: Last weekend in the Sarit Centre Parking Lot:
Yesterday a friend and I were in the Sarit Centre Parking Lot. We were seated in her car chit-chatting and she notices an Indian guy standing on the sidewalk infront of the car. He looked like he was waiting for someone so we ignored him until she asked me whether I thought the guy seemed okay. I hadn’t really looked at him before and when I did, I could see he was crying. He was actually crying. A grown man. Crying.The Indian guy realised we were both looking at him and then timidly approaches the car we’re sitting in. The passenger-side window was already rolled down so he greets us. He’s still got tears in his eyes. My
gullible good-hearted lady friend responds to his “hi” with a “hello” and that’s when he blurted out:
“I don’t know whether you can help me. I’m having a really big problem”
Apparently the story is as follows: he was kicked out of his Indian community because he went off and married a Kalenjin woman. They had three daughters together but one of them died recently due to heart complications. His problem? He doesn’t have enough money to bury his daughter. He showed us a creased photo of his three little mixed-race girls and couldn’t hold back his tears as he narrated to us the story of how he’s been trying to raise money for the burial of his little daughter. In the process of us asking him questions, he told us that his wife and himself are currently unemployed so they have no money to pay for the burial and they have no relatives they can turn to for help.
My lady friend was so moved by this crying Indian man’s story that she reached into her purse, pulls out the money she had and gave it to him. I just sat there.
My reaction in all 3 situations?
My Christian upbringing reminds me that 10% of my earnings should always go to charity. But for the love of brown baby jesus, I’m a student! 10% of my pocket money wouldn’t even cover a mathree fare for you and your whinny begging self to get the hell out of my sight. Speaking of charity, I think my last generous donation to society should have me covered for atleast the next 2 years, atleast. (Karma, I hope you’re listening.)
In all seriousness, we’re all human-beings and I believe in loving your neighbours as you love yourself and doing unto others as you would like them to do unto you. That’s why I listen. I always listen. In all three scenarios above, as much as I was a tad irritated from being interrupted by a complete stranger demanding my full attention, I still stopped what I was doing and heard them out. If you come to me with a ‘problem’, I will never refuse to listen. But let it be known, listening and giving you my advice is all I can offer you. I believe that if you’re an able-bodied, healthy-looking person yet you still find yourself reduced to begging, there is no way any money I hand to you from my wallet will help solve your problem. In fact I’d rather hand you the business card of a charity organisation or something; people you can actually call and get the assistance you truly require to get back on your feet. But giving out money to begging strangers is something I refuse to do purely as a matter of principle.
Over to you people of DR, do you feel uncomfortable when random people or familiar people come up to you asking for money? Or is it something you’ve just gotten used to? How do you respond to such people?