Wednesday, May 20, 2009


About 3/4 of the way along my jogging route, I always run into a group of Kenyan women sitting at the intersection, waiting. They wait, all day everyday. For a job. I don't know how they expect the job to fall from the sky. But they wait for someone to approach them with some kind of opportunity.

One of these women would always laugh and cheer me on when I ran by. One day, I decided to stop and introduce myself. As I did, I told her, "tomorrow, you're coming with me!"

So the next day, when I got to her spot, I stopped and said "let's go!" She got up off the rock she was sitting on and ran a block with me in her orange dress. We ran slow and she breathed hard, but she actually did it! I was impressed that she wasn't just talk. That day we exchanged names for the first time. Hers was Jane

The next time I ran by, I stopped to say hi. Jane told me her brother had died in Nairobi's biggest slum. She needed money. It was amazing how little I felt. Two years ago in Senegal, that would have tugged at my heart. I would have felt I had to give her something to feel ok with myself. This time, I felt something completely different - that I wanted to set a different tone. I wanted it to be clear, from the beginning, that a friendship with me is to be a true friendship - and not for any other purpose. I obviously still have questions about this. Sure, she shouldn't befriend a stranger just to ask for money, but what if she has no option? Sure, in Africa, asking someone for money isn't really using them because the needs are just incomparable, and if you can give, you give. But I guess I just wasn't happy with the expectation that I was now going to be her bank. So I said, "I'm so sorry to hear that" and kept running. Have I become cold?


sean said...

You should have an easier time of that, since you're probably seen as a Muarabu instead of a Mzungu. I found that Swahili East Africa was really, really taxing when it came to people of all walks of life expecting me to give them money, because I was a foreigner.

I remember having dinner with a Tanzanian friend of mine who had just gotten back to Dar from Cairo, and she was complaining about how everyone was asking her for money or trying to sell her something. An Australian friend of mine and I both laughed immediately, telling her that's what it's like being from the Bzungu tribe.

Walker Elliott Rowe said...

nice travelogue. make this stuff a book. did u read srinivas naipal's book on africa?