There are all kinds of very legitimate ways of justifying it, but still I am so bothered by something that happened on the way home from a cyber café yesterday. One of the daughters of my hostess, Mary, and I were walking through the neighbourhood on our way home, when some boys dressed in rags began following us and talking to us. This had happened on the way to the cafe as well, and it is very common in Nairobi for children beggars to follow people and beg for money, particularly from mzungus (white people). Generally my response would be to just ignore them, cross to the other side of the street, or just tell them “Hapana” (no).
So as we were approached by these two children who were maybe 4 or 5 years old, they began talking and I, not knowing what they were saying but assuming they were like the others asking for money, just gave a cursory glance over my shoulder and said, “Hapana.” A few steps later, Mary told me what they were saying, and I was heartbroken. They must have been kids from Mitumba, because they were saying something along the lines of, “Hello! Look! Our new teacher!” AH!
Here I am, supposed to be bringing the love of Jesus to these kids, and when they had recognized me and were saying hello, I just shrugged them off as beggars without a second thought. I can only imagine their confusion. One minute, Teacher is shaking hands, greeting them, playing with them, singing with them, and the next, when they see Teacher on the street and they say hello, she just says NO and keeps on walking. Argh!
Everything is a lesson, and this was a painful one. How do I find the balance of being loving all the time – not just when I am “on duty” – and yet still not give in to begging kids or people asking for gifts or money??? Language helps, of course, but still, it’s a delicate balance – one I got completely wrong yesterday. Thank goodness for forgiveness. I can only pray that what the kids remember of me is the smiles and the love, not the cold greeting they got on the street. Oy.