A child looks at us and begs for money for food; he actually wants to use it to buy sniffing glue. A man has a seizure right before our very eyes; he’s faking it to get something out of us because we’re white. A woman befriends us, earns our trust; she steals from us behind our back.
I will never fully understand what extreme poverty is like. It’s almost as if it drives people to become less than human. They turn into fakes. They lie. They cheat. For what? For the hope to feel human again? For the opportunity to be noticed? For a moment in time when they can get rid of some sort of pain or burden? Poverty drives people to a level of desperation that I have never known, that I hope to never fully know. It drives people to react out of fear, out of pure emotion. This makes it difficult to know how to handle certain situations. In a country where emotions guide most decisions that people make (this could be another blog entry on its own), it becomes extremely stressful when faced with conflict…even more so than it normally is because you never know how the other person will react based on how they’re feeling inside.
I confronted her, asking her to tell me the truth that I already knew. As she wept and begged, and got to her hands and knees in front of me, pleading for forgiveness, I looked her in the eyes. “Why did you take money from me?” In between sobs, she cried, “I needed money for my son!” It was an emotional reaction to her poverty. Now she is reacting out of fear of being found out by her boss. “Please don’t tell, they will sack me!” She clearly didn’t think it through when she took money from my room, and now she wasn’t ready for the consequences. She could lose her job, making her one of the 45% of unemployed citizens here in Kenya. “You are one of the people here in this country that has a job. Not only did you steal from me, you stole from the kids who don’t have money to go to school. You stole from the women we are working with who are trying to build their business in an honest way.” I was shaking with rage. She cried harder. “I know, I know!” Initially, I wanted her fired. I wanted her to know how badly she hurt Tina and me, and I wanted her to suffer for it. To be honest, this is something I’m trying to work on. People make mistakes. I know she’s not a bad person. So as she sobbed, and told me she’d find the money she stole from me, and never do it again, I forgave her. I let my anger go. I didn’t demand my money back, and I didn’t demand that she lose her job. In fact, after speaking with the owner, she managed to keep her job. This should be interesting. The only thing I ask now is that she not have access to my living quarters. We’ve made our own rules.
I forgave her, but forgiveness does not mean fully trusting again. Which leads me to the ever-begging question: Who can you trust again once you have been betrayed? Forgiveness and reconciliation are powerful things, and they can change people, but how do you trust again? She was a friend. Does this mean our friendship is through? How much do you let them back into your life without risking being played for a fool? Who else can you trust without feeling like you’re risking something? Do you kick everyone out? Where is the black line on the white canvas that I want so badly to exist?
Before I left for Kenya, a friend of mine told me, “You’re going to come back so jaded. You have no idea what things are really like over there.” Not surprisingly, I took this as a challenge. “No, I won’t. Becoming jaded is a choice that you make, and I refuse.” He scoffed at me. But in reality, the question of who to trust, and when, is a serious one when living in a third world country where there are so many who look at you as having so much more than them. There are so many who look at you and want what they think you have. So how do you approach this from an un-jaded standpoint? How do you still live without the fear that someone will take advantage of you? Or was my friend right? Do you just become jaded over time, and use that as your survival skill to get to make it through?
Before vacation, we witnessed the man who faked a seizure in front of us because we were white and he wanted our pity. We attempted to help the drunk man on the street in the middle of the day when I thought he was dying. I had to physically shove off another drunk man who grabbed my arm and began yelling at me in Swahili. I verbally battled the bus conductor who overcharged us for our bus ride. We were constantly approached by all the street kids who always ask us for money. I could go on. Now back from vacation, we’ve had to struggle with confronting a friend who stole from us in the very place we call home. We don’t have many friends here, so when one of those people cheats us, it’s a harsh blow. None of it is easy. It’s emotionally draining. The past month has been quite rough on our emotions, actually. From the begging, the lying, the cheating. From never knowing who we can trust here, always on our guard. Corruption’s the name of the game. Poverty’s at the root of it all. And even though we took a break in Mombasa from our work, we came back with a different kind of exhaustion.
Things at this guesthouse are still not settled, and we’ve decided to keep living here for now, with our new rules in place. I’m not sure how this will work out now that we’ve had a huge emotional blowout with one of the women who works here, but we will see how things go. I’m still apprehensive about it all. Still not sure who I can trust here, or if any other guesthouse would be better at this point. Time will tell.
It’s days like these where I miss my friends, my family. I miss the freedom to walk into a comfortable home, go to the cupboard, grab a glass, and pour myself something to drink without having to ask, or feel that I’m being rude. I miss the freedom to be a part of society without the worry that I’m going to get cheated or taken advantage of because of my white skin. I want to walk out in public without every street kid begging for food or money from me. I want to go out after dark without worrying that something bad will happen to me. I want a social life. I miss the freedom of a culture in which I can relax. The freedom to be myself.
There are some days where you feel the burdens of the world with such intensity, and wonder if you’re strong enough to handle it all. Some days that you want to break down and cry all day. Some days, I just don’t want to be strong enough. I just want to curl up in a ball and let the world go on without me for a day or two. It can figure itself out.
Until then, I still ask the question… Who can I trust?