On Monday, I successfully my blanket policy. I'm tired of talking to drunks. I'm sick of trying to explain why I don't want to talk to them, why I won't give them this or take them there. So, an easy solution.
I will not talk with you.
Rudi wakati hulewi. Kwaheri.
Return when you are not drunk. Goodbye.
No discussion. No explanation. Simplify my day.
And I applied it. I made it simple and brief. Essentially I returned a favor.
If people have decided to treat me a certain way before they know anything about me, if I am little more than a bell to trigger a set of standard flatteries, false kindnesses and inevitable demands, then I can do the same. I can judge the outcome of the situation before it even starts. I will not talk with you. Goodbye.
On Tuesday, I am asked, for the thousandth time, to take someone to America. But this time, the conversation doesn't start with the face of East African Tourism since 1970 (JAMBO!). I haven't been told how generous I am or how fortunate they are that I have come and that now things really will get better. There has been no mention of sick animals or children. No one's hand is on my arm and I don't smell cane liquor.
It's David. My neighbor. As young as me.
I've watched for weeks as he and the three other guys jammed into the tiny space next door have waited for supplies from the state run utility company. Watched them sit, for almost three weeks, with no work. Away from their family and friends in this tiny town, in a tiny room at the top of a mountain where it rains all the time.
Today, there was work. In fact, no one took lunch. I went to watch, at the end of the day, as 25 or 30 men my age worked together to erect a 55 foot utility pole by hand.
I hadn't realized there were so many. Spread out in rented rooms and extra beds around the village. All waiting. Sitting, sleeping, drinking, until today. Because a job is a job. And they are hard to find.
All over Kenya, men and women David's age - my age - with and without education, leaving or not leaving spouses and children depart the places they have always called home. They go to cities and borders to find work that doesn't exist at home. The farm isn't enough anymore. There's too many children and not enough land and anyway aspiration have outstripped a field of maize and reading the bible by lantern light.
And whats the other option, stay in the village and become a drunk? (So visiting Westerners can create blanket policies about you that simplify their day?)
So David asks and for the first time in 4 1/2 months of being asked. I wish I could help. David, who always greets me, genuinely and warmly. Who speaks to me in Kiswahili. Who tells me about his family and asks me about mine. David, who I genuinely like. Who is young (like me) and hopes for a good life (like me).
And I tell him the truth. And its okay.
This wasn't a built up sales pitch from someone else with a cousin in, what city do you come from again?
David's hope is simple and (perhaps) naive. (I doubt that he has extensive knowledge of or pull within Kenya's immigration process) But it communicates something different than the base gimme mentality fostered by a century and a half of haves and have-nots neatly divided along color lines.
It communicates, by which I mean I finally hear, need. A yearning for more and for better.
There is no promised land for me. No place better or bigger or brighter than the one I have voluntarily (but of course, temporarily) jettisoned. When I go home (which is of course, a foregone conclusion) I will not need to leave my family to find work.
Indeed my work now, my choice to go somewhere besides the richest country in the world is perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of privilege. It is the wealth of my family that provides me the time and space and encouragement to go. The wealth and power of my country that creates the economic and political impetus for such a program. A place so rich it pays for its residents to go and experience poverty.
An so, my accent, my skin color may very well be a trigger for pretensions and even lies. For clumsy, tiring and terribly ineffective manipulations, but when David asks, I finally feel the wish for better and the sadness of dreams deferred.
The one that I will never have the burden of experiencing.
I have been gifted, blessed really, with this time. My work, my schedule, my deadlines are almost totally up to me. There are hoops to jump thru, but for healthcare and food and housing and loan payments and vacation time. For resettlement money, for a chance to see and experience these things which I could not otherwise, it isn't much.
But, apparently, I don't have time to talk to drunks. Thats a hoop too low for me to stoop thru.
It's too tiring for me to be an emblem for better things; a perceived possibility for those with less than me.
My effort and this miraculous and unearned - unearnable - time I have been provided with - I can't just give it away. Its too precious for that. It's mine. And what reason could I have to share it?