Saturday, February 12, 2011

I love being white and super ric h

We Americans are very lucky; it is pretty cool how every one of us has glowing ivory skin and pockets full of cash. Well, that’s what America means to a Kenyan. Lately I have been wishing for only one thing: to not be white. I am getting really tired of people asking me for money. I have started to not be polite when they ask. I know that I have white skin, and most white-skinned people who come here are wealthy, and they are apparently very generous to every person they meet. But I have no money and even though I have never had biscuits or pens or 5 shillings or sweets or tuition money since I got here, I still get asked every single day. I want to say, “You know me, we are neighbors, you know I don’t have spare shillingis”. Kenyans do not use the word “please” like we do in America. It is not considered rude to say, “Give me money” even though it drives me bananas. When little kids say it, I tell them “Hapana, mimi si banki, mimi ni mwalimu” (No, I am not a bank, I am a teacher) or I just tell them, “tabia mbaya” (bad manners). When adults ask me, they do it without preamble. The other day I had a conversation with a neighbor that went like this:
Me: Habari Yako? (How are you?)
Him: Ninahitaji shillingi mia moja tu. (I only need a hundred shillings)
Me: Sema tena? (Say again?)
Him: Nipa shilling mia moja. (Give me a hundred shillings)
Me: (pause)… Nina hakuna pesa, pole. (I have no money, sorry)
Couldn’t he even say hello first?
On Monday, I taught the form ones for the first time. At the end of class, one girl came up to me and said she wanted to ask me something but was afraid of me so she wrote me a letter. The letter was her life story; she has 6 brothers and sisters, her father had died, her mother had to make illegal home brewed alcohol and charcoal just to feed the family. She was the only one in her family going to school, and she would have to drop out because she had no money for tuition. Could I please pay for her schooling? This one is harder to deal with because I feel bad, even if her story sounds too awful to be true, I want to help her. But again, I do not have money. And even if I was wealthy, after all, I do have more money than they do, I still could not help everyone. When I told her no, I felt like I kicked a puppy. So I told her I would look to see if she could get a sponsor. I don’t know why I said that, I don’t know how to find a sponsor. I know that one or two girls here have them, rich couples in America who fund their education, and now I have to try to find one for this girl.
When I am generous, I feel like the students are ungrateful. This is probably my American sense of manners influencing my perception again. I was doing Review Jeopardy for my physics class and I brought a bag of Hershey Kisses. It was the last of my Christmas candy from America, and I felt very magnanimous for giving it up to the girls. As soon as I handed it out, there were maybe 3 or four pieces left, the girls started fighting over it. “Give it to me!” “No, just for me”. I told them I did not have enough for the whole class so I was going to give it to the teachers. They said okay, but then a crowd followed me out of the class begging me for more. Not one person said thank you. And for the rest of the week, students keep approaching me asking for more. “You bring for me tomorrow” It makes me not want to give them things, even though I know they deserve it.
I wrote the paragraphs above earlier today while I was at school, I was frustrated that this kid who I see every day asked me for biscuits, again. I wanted to slap him; and when I told him no, he ran away mumbling something under his breath, that in my mind, was “Screw you, Lady”. But then on my way home from school, I passed the Kubibagasa bore hole again, and it hit me how bad the drought was getting. The past few days have been hotter than…well, it’s hot. The people here are suffering because the bore hole is drying up. The herders bring their animals to the bore hole, and wait from morning to night for the water to come, and when it does, it is too little to water all the animals there. Yesterday, a cow died at the bore hole, and they ‘processed’ it right there. I gave an upbeat “Habari!” to the guy holding a machete in one hand, and a cow leg it the other. The women and girls with their 20 liter buckets on their backs walk for hours in the sun to get here, and then they wait all day for water that is probably not going to come. The road home is crowded these days, yesterday I waded through a herd of 200 goats, because there is little food and no water in the desert so they are just migrating. The men, who normally only have guns at night, carry their huge weapons during the day now to protect their few animals from being stolen. Yesterday, an old man died in my village. My village is very, very small, so this was a big deal. Someone told me he died of an illness, but they think it was caused by malnutrition. Without water, there is no milk from the camels or goats; that is their main source of food. And the elderly cannot eat githeri, their other staple food, a tough mix of maize kernels and beans that hurts your jaw to eat. So the man got sick and died, and the drought is just going to get worse. The rains are not supposed to come until April. I am pretty good with heat, I like the desert, but even I have been complaining. I am drinking almost 15 liters of water a week, and I am sweating most of it out. I am so exhausted by the walk home, and I am thinking I can no longer do it while the sun is high, I’ll have to wait until after 6 pm.
Now I feel guilty for complaining about people asking me for things. If I had a starving family at home, I would beg rich people every day. It makes me wish that I was actually wealthy. It has gotten to the point where I do not want to drink out of my water bottle while walking to school because I know every person I pass would love to have my liter of water. So if you are rich, and you do come to Africa, please do not give candy and money to children. It turns them into money- grubbing little monsters. But if you are rich, please give to charity, or churches, or become a sponsor, or come here and volunteer.
See what I did there? I relieved my guilt and turned the tables around. Instead of people asking me for money, I am asking you for them. See how that worked out?
And now after that depressing note, I’ll leave you with something positive. I saw a couple dik-diks on my way to school yesterday. (Google it) They are Adorable with a capital A. And so are baby pundas (donkeys), and baby goats. Baby goats are so tiny! I just want to grab one and make a run for it, but the guys with the big guns would probably object. My neighbors got a tiny baby goat a few days ago and I think they are keeping it in their sitting room, I can hear it bleating to its mommy through my wall right now. There, now I ended the blog by talking about baby animals. Don’t you feel better?

1 comment:

Paul Rockower said...

There is an old Indian saying, "Those who beg in silence, starve in silence."