Begging in Kenya & The Art of Story-Telling: My Answer is Still No.

Me hungry long time..

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?

This is a whine-free zone.

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?

Let’s share.

13 thoughts on “Begging in Kenya & The Art of Story-Telling: My Answer is Still No.

  1. Pingback: Begging in Kenya & The Art of Story-Telling: My Answer is Still No … | Kenya today

  2. Wow your lady friend sounds like me. Only the guy ended up stealing from me. I am not so generous. Or at Agan Walk those idiot who look for girls ask for money or whatever it is you are eating then conviniently scream at you so that you will be compelled to give them. One day my crazy best friends and I decided to scream back the idiot hasnt sumbuad us again.

  3. I will never help a beggar on the streets for the following reasons:

    One: That beggar who hangs around Tuskys, Tom Mboya Street. That guys asks for 2bob from everybody (which you never have bcoz all our supermarkets and especially the one next door thinks you need candy more than you need your change.) So he approaches me for that 2bob and when I remind him that I gave him Ksh.10 the previous day he starts calling me names. He thought I would get intimidated and I would move away but for his barrage of unprintables I congenially replied with “Sisi wote ni wa Mungu.” (We are all God’s children) I gather he once intentionally smeared mud on some chic who was waiting for a mat with her boyfriend. The guy got a thorough beating from dude and other idle onlookers.

    Two: That woman who begs around Taco’s and Zeep with a child on her back. She always has a story and when I didn’t listen to her,she insulted me too. Now how I’m I supposed to sympathize at least with the child on her back when she’s calling me names? Eff her, man!!

    Three: The kids that beg at Donholm near Caltex Petrol Station. There is one particular one that thinks you have a loyal obligation to feed him. You can never shake that kid off. And when you try, he takes hold of your hand like a cop that wants to handcuff you, WTF?!! So one day I decided, let me buy him food. And instead of giving him money, I take him to a cafeteria nearby and sit him down like we were on a date. I tell him to make his order and he asks for Ugali & Beef. Three spoons through his meal, he shouts for three chapatis. Two bites later he demands for tea. One sip and he’s sending the waitress for 2 mandazis. WTH?!! Then he doesn’t even finish the meal, he demands for it to be packed, leaps out of his seat and leaves me there without the least sign of gratitude. Two days later, I see him walking in my direction with that stupid sad face. Before he could say “Auntie nisai…” I told him to shut the eff up and go back where he came from.

    Four: The guys that drug you while telling you their story. It has not happened to me (divine Mary protect me) but apparently these so called beggars blow some powdery drug into your face that makes you disoriented in seconds. Next thing you know you’re moving from ATM to the next withdrawing your cash for a “beggar”, or you’re in the guy’s crib and he’s kidnapped you for a ransom.

    In short. I will NEVER give money to a beggar,I will NEVER help some vagabond with directions and I will NEVER listen to any sordid story. And if I’m going to hell for that, I frankly do not give a rats ass!

    • 1)Yep the mama at Aga Khan walk that is always asking for 30 bob ya fare, hata ukipita 3 times hiyo place she will tell you that turd *ss story.

      2) some baba at Kencom, bastard is always telling people about his dead wife all the damn time for years.

      3) the drugging b*tches, my ex was in a bus to his place at fedha on those rare occassions he uses public transi, sits next to mama as he says was hot and seemed genuine in telling her storo on how her kid is been kidnapped(complete with a photo and a text message from sid kidnappers) and how they are asking for sh 100,000.00 that she doesnt have. Stupid him he gives the woman 2k, the next thing he is at Mater Hospital ICU, ati his neighbour found him hapo fedha stage. He almost died. He cant recall what happened between after giving the money and two days later when he regained consiousnes. Now I just tell my daughter not to be as gulliable as her dad.

      • @mimi I’ve heard a story similar to that one of your ex. I’m glad your ex made it out alive though. Stories like these are the reason I ignore ANYONE that comes to me asking for anything!

  4. I walk around with a certain amount of change each day that I will give out. My issue is finding someone to give it to. After several years, I’ve got a formula.

    1. Cripples, lepers, nursing mothers: People in situations where they can’t help themselves. If I have time, I actually talk to them. This one guy who begs near Yaya Center, old cat, real eloquent, all round cool dude is victim of leprosy, he normally gets my coins and has never once asked for them. One day, a sudden downpour of rain caught both him and me in the street and I saw him struggling to get back on his wheelchair so I helped him out. We talked for a while and he was 100% respectful, educated, and quite selfless. Apparently, he uses his money to shelter and feed some other young kids. Met them. Cute bunch. While they’re in school, he’s begging.

    2. People trying. I met this one girl near Alliance Francaise whom I recognized from my days in YMCA. She used to be a CSW(Commercial Sex Worker). Now she was trying to go back to school amongst other things. She sat there by that intersection with a board with EXACTLY how much money she needed and everytime she got a coin, she lowered the amount.She was there for a few hours each day for about 2 weeks. Last week I saw her in town. She wasn’t begging. She was going to work. She’s part of some late night housekeeping crew that cleans some buildings in Town. I tried to give her some money for dinner and she said “No, thank you.” Lump in my throat yo.

    3. People who don’t want money. This one kid in Kawangware asked me for bread. I told him I didn’t have any. He grabbed my hand and said “I don’t want your money, we just want food.” I turn and it’s this little kid and his littler brother. I bought him the bread. Everytime I’m around there I look for him. Never saw him again though.

    Now, it’s important to note that 99% of the time, I do not give cash blindly. In fact, in any of the scenarios NV described, I would have told them “I am not prepared for this” and direct them to some real help. The Uni girl should go to Posta, 26th floor, apply for a bursary. The AIDS guy neeeds to go to a proper shelter where they can accomodate him and the children and that last guy….well, you get the point. They aren’t doing a whole lot to help themselves if handouts are their first outreach.

    But unlike NV, I don’t just say no; I set aside my coins for the day and vet candidates.

  5. Pingback: Kindly Finance Your Stupid Wedding? « Diasporadical

  6. No cash… well… most times…

    I avoid eye contact when I can. Doesn’t always work…

    I have started buying food for the folks… Not always convenient. Not chips but bananas, bread & milk…

    Why don’t we allow fruit sellers in Nairobi CBD? Those who lived/studied/visited New York know what I am saying…

  7. I know this is like a super-late comment but I just discovered Diasporadical so…

    There’s this one guy at the BP petrol station junction in Lavington. He has no legs and basically, he sits at the stop sign everyday (though I haven’t seen him in a while). I know nothing about him except that he has at least two young kids who go to school. I saw him a few months ago walking (on his hands) out of the convenience store with them, both kids with ice cream in hand that he had just bought them. I hear the guy has a BlackBerry though I don’t know how true this is. I wouldn’t be shocked though; you look at this guy and you just smile. He doesn’t beg. He sits there and smiles and waves at everybody who happens to look his way, driver or pedestrian. And if he happens to get money, well and good. If he doesn’t, he isn’t bitter about it; he just comes back the next day. I seriously hope his absence means he’s gotten a job or something.

    Then there’s this other guy who used to wheel himself in a wheelchair/bicycle at the Valley Arcade shopping centre parking. Very happy guy, too, except that he would follow you to right outside the building, where he couldn’t get to and then back to your car or to the gate when you came out. Not beg, just follow and…expect. At some point, I think the management got tired of him and he disappeared for a while, only for him to reappear a year or two later in the Lavington shopping centre parking lot. My mum tells me that some sympathetic mzungus had taken it upon themselves to give him a job which he took. Then his head begun to grow too heavy for his chair; he was fired for this and as he wasn’t allowed back into Valley Arcade, he’s back to the same thing in Lavington.

    That said, I think iCon has the right idea. There are some people who really do need our help; and his formula helps narrow them down to the real deal.

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