Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kenya; too many stories to tell.

OK, is that your real hair or is it extensions.  "Hahaha, it's extensions!  You should get some!"  Chuckles over spaghetti lunch at my favorite restaurant.  It's a continuation of a conversation we've had before.  The rest of the staff join in, laughing, telling me I should get extensions!  Come on, guys; two weeks ago you were giving me a hard time for needing a haircut!

So tell me about your family.  "Well, I have two daughters, one 8 years old and the other not quite 2."  Is the older in school? "Yes, and she's doing well.  I have 6 brothers and 2 sisters on my mother's side.  I'm the first girl! (with a big smile).  "My father has two wives, so I have 3 more brothers and 2 more sisters."  Two wives?!  Can you do that in Kenya?  "Oh, yes.  It just depends on your pocket, you know.  He's 73 and works as a cleaner at the hotel.  He had a 3rd wife, but she left with one kid.  I live with my mom, and she takes care of my girls while I work."  I tipped much bigger than usual.  On the days she works, it's 8:30 AM until 10 or 11 PM.  She'll make $50 - $70 per month if things are good.

A street boy (that's what they call themselves) hustling to make some business happen had agreed to make this plaque for me.  It's hand-carved ebony.  He and another fed me a song and dance about the police raiding their shop, taking their money and tools, using an expired business license as their excuse.  I checked their story the next day.  It's quite likely true.  The municipal authorities were in the area rousting shop owners, tearing up the places, and extorting money from the folks involved.

This evening, I get a call from the hotel desk saying I have visitors.  It's my street boy (he's 40, perhaps) and the shop owner, old fellow, and a conservatively if simply dressed lady.  They brought the plaque and made apologies for the delay in delivery.  I told them I had heard the account of the corrupt police event.  They apologized again and asked if I'd be willing to help them get their license renewed and their tools back.  Of course.

Too many stories.  Don't yet know how to process them all.  I've got a good ear for liars after years of this stuff; these, I think, are at least partly true.   Sleep doesn't come easily.

UPDATE:  True or not, today at lunch, each of them approached me, one at a time, asking for help.  The restaurant staff chuckled and whispered, "Here comes you next patient."  Five hustlers in the half-hour while I was trying to eat.  As a rule, I shy away from liars, but their need is no less genuine than the truthful.  What a mess.