Tactics for dealing with beggars range the ethical gamut. Certain kinds of people just fork over the cash at the first sight of a quivering lower lip. A handful of others like the silent treatment (easy but not immediately effective). In Bombay I noticed that Indians would actually hit street kids with rolled up newspapers — a bit hardcore, but immediately effective. Luckily, I’m white and I live in Kenya, so I have plenty of opportunities to try various methods almost daily! For example, I felt terrible after this exchange with an eight-year-old girl last week:
Beggar girl: “Uncle please, I’m hungry…”
Me: “Go to school”
Beggar girl: “Please buy for me some food”
Me: “Kwenda huko, uliza huyu. Hata mwafrika anapesa!” (Get out of here, go ask him. Even African people have money)
Beggar girl: “(mumbling)… enda nchi yenu” (go back to your country)
Me: “Mimi ni mkenya” (I’m Kenyan)
I felt triumphant for outwitting her until I remembered that she was eight, and everyone was staring at me. I don’t know what came over me, the poor girl had no idea what was coming! Although I realize my tactics were flawed and spur of the moment, I wasn’t entirely remorseful about how it went down. Picture Nairobi’s central business district early on a Friday evening: everyone and their brother have just left the office and are now milling about town. You can imagine my frustration when they come running the instant they spot me.
Telling her to go to school at that time of day was admittedly pointless, but I still feel like it was a good suggestion. In the heat of the moment you can’t take time to make sense, you just have to go with the flow. Extra points for using a foreign language, haha!
For what it’s worth, I was walking to dinner in Westlands a few nights later and found a small girl sitting alone on a curb. She jumped up and started her routine when she saw me, but I quickly shifted gears. As we strolled along I casually asked her a few questions, like, “What’s your name? Will you sleep here? Where do you live? Was that your sister I saw down the road?” I gave her enough money to go buy some milk or a few packs of biscuits.
I felt good about my actions until I walked around the corner and there were three more beggars disturbing me one after another. I told them, “Sina coins” and, “Nimesota.” (I don’t have coins, I’m broke). Then I walked a bit further and found a whole gang of homeless people who promptly started yelling stuff at me. As I continued down the road towards Westgate mall I saw a bag tied to the fence. The bag was moving and making sounds, the sounds of baby puppies squirming. Enterprising Kenyans sell cute puppies, kitties, and rabbits here during the day — I never thought about what happens to the animals when the customers aren’t around.
What a crazy night. Life just isn’t fair.
I was happy when I heard what you did for the second girl. Saddened to hear about the animals. Be nice to girls and the moms for sure. Check this out- http://www.girleffect.org/
Wow, that video got to you too? It’s making its rounds here too… Yeah, I’m always nice to girls and moms. I’ve long thought they were the backbone of Kenya. At least in Tala it was hard to find a man who was dependable, sober, respectable, etc. It’s easier to find a mama who is sitting in the market all day selling vegetables, planting in the garden, going to church, etc. It pisses me off when a matatu conductor tells a mama to fanya haraka (do it fast) when getting in!
Life just isn’t fair?! You obviously have no idea. I mean absolutely none. You fully embody the modern white male abroad who views the world’s poor as another ‘experience.’ Your brief discussion of ‘tactics’ toward beggars, demonstrates your seemingly unending ignorance of desperation, its consequences and its causes. You felt good about giving some money for biscuits?! After you scorn an eight year old for not being school. You make me sick. Go home.
I agree I handled the situation poorly, luckily I don’t make a habit out of of yelling at beggars. One thing I’ve realized, even after reading The Prophet On Giving, is that you can’t give to everyone.
U got me hooked to your posts. Bado uko kenya ama usharudi nyumbani?
Glad you enjoy them. I guess laughing is the only way to deal some really stupid things sometimes! By the way, nimesharudi Kenya. It feels good to be back!
I know it can piss someone off. I know it’s even harder for a white person as everyone thinks you’re a rich tourist.