Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Saga of George Continues...

Gentle reader, please recall the story of our friend George, the gatekeeper at our apartment complex. George had eagerly been waiting to go back to Kosumu to visit his family. It is a six hour bus ride for a two day visit, and he was overjoyed. It had been a long time since he had seen his mother and brothers. When we saw him next he said he had been forced to come home early because he found his mother very, very ill and he needed to earn more money to help pay for her care. We talked to him a bit about it, and he said she had asthma and was in the hospital. A few days passed and George told Chris that her situation had deteriorated and she had tested positive for AIDS. He was panicky and teary eyed and said he didn’t know what to do. His uncle had told him that the situation was very serious and that George should return to Kosumu. He needed to secure permission from the Security Contractor he works for, but wasn’t sure who to talk to about his problem.

Chris tried to help him formulate a plan and I called the landlady to see if she could help. Instead of showing sympathy for George she demanded to know “why he is talking to you about this?” so I think I only worsened his dilemma. He finally got in touch with his superiors, but they denied his request because there was no one to take his place until the 15th. (An eternity when your mother is likely dying of tuberculosis, a vicious disease where the lungs are actually consumed by virus) I am certain that he didn’t tell them the entire story because he is worried about keeping his job. I am sure he could leave if he explained the situation, but they will likely tell him not to bother coming back. There are thousands of fellows who would be more than happy to take George’s place, and apparently, demand is high as the holidays approach. The managers all take the last two weeks of December off and only the lowest paid guards remain behind to run everything. If he looses this job, he will be unable to find other work because he won’t be able to afford the bribe necessary to secure a new job. (These bribes are often more than an entire months salary.)

The next day he arrived at our door with a gift for us. (A neon fiber light flower which I really hope didn’t set him back much) He thanked us for trying to help him, much to our embarrassment. I’m sure we’ve only complicated everything. And then this morning he approached Eric and said that if he can’t come back before the fifteenth, what his mother really wants is for him to send money. Its very simple he said. We just go to the Post office and wire the money to her. But I am really broke, I have nothing. I need $6000 shillings (about $75 dollars) right away.

So now we are in the position of having to decide what to do. This is a lot of money by Kenyan standards and we have no way of knowing what will happen to it. Even assuming that this story is true, and the money pays her hospital bills, George will remain in the same luckless situation in which he finds himself currently. Earlier, we had planned to give him $3000 shillings ($35 dollars) to go to driving school so that he could move forward with his plan to drive a taxi. But now, I worry that this money will just go down a black hole, and George’s life will remain the same. I also worry that he is taking advantage of us, or that someone else is taking advantage of him and his friendship with the mzungus. I have no way of knowing if his story is true, or what this money is for. Now, our relationship will change. Maybe he is just desperate and can think of no better option. It is not at all unreasonable of him to assume that we have more money than he does. Our apartment looks like a splendid palace compared to the tin hovel he shares with his cousin in Kibera for $1000 shillings ($14 per month) I don’t know what the right action is in this situation. Suddenly I am questioning the authenticity of this relationship. Has he been so happy to see us all along because he wanted money from us, or was this a genuine friendship? I have no frame of reference for this situation, and my inclination is to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I would hate to see this money fail to improve his life.

What strange dichotomies this place makes evident. George seems to suffer a great many of the indignities of poverty, and yet his smile is broad and he seems genuinely happy. I am filled with pity for him. I feel a sudden resentment toward him because his situation now involves me. Then, I feel disgust with myself for resenting someone who finds himself in a desperate situation and turns to me as a last resort. I struggle to make myself empathize with his plight. I can’t imagine a situation where a job would keep me away from my dying mother. In fact, I once quit a job in Albuquerque when they wouldn’t give me time off during one of her visits. I can imagine his frustration and fear and sadness, but I can’t totally understand the confines of his poverty. The choice of loosing his only source of income, or saying goodbye to the one who gave him life is one I cannot entirely fathom. It is so different from the constraints I have faced, even in the low moments when my bank account was overdrawn and my credit card maxed out, I would never have had to make a choice like the one George is being forced to make. If I were him, I would ask us for money too.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow!!!!!

Greg

Anonymous said...

Wow!!!!!

Greg

Jake said...

A difficult situation, I trust you'll do the right thing whatever that may be. I think you're asking the right questions.

Also, could you clear up the NGO acronym?

Katy Oswald said...

How to respond to a story like that?
What an experience you are having...

The Taylors said...

The Taylors said...
Becky!!!!! It was so good to hear from you -- we're religious followers of your blog, even though we haven't been very good about writing. I'm so sorry you've got this dilemma on your hands -- it's a very tough one. It is SO nice of you to make time to send the dirt --we know it'll be the hit of the school. Your trip sounds like it's been so interesting already -- I can't to read more. That bus trip to Uganda ... all I can say is Oy vey!! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry for you all. Is there anything you need/want that we can send you? We'd love to put together a care package. Also, that pic of you with all the kids -- is there anything we could maybe do about shoes for them or others who need them? Put together a giant box of flip-flops at the least? We want to help, if you think there's something we can do that will be worthwhile.

We miss you and Eric!!
XO,
J, R, S & G

4:49 PM

The Taylors said...

The Taylors said...
Becky!!!!! It is so good to hear from you -- we're religious followers of your blog, even though we haven't been very good about writing. I don't envy the dilemma you're in -- it's tough one, but it sounds like you're considering all the right questions. It is SO nice of you to make time to send the dirt -- we know it'll be the hit of the school. Your trip sounds like it's been so interesting already -- I can't to read more. That bus trip to Uganda ... all I can say is Oy vey!! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry for you all. Is there anything you need/want that we can send you? We'd love to put together a care package. Also, that pic of you with all the kids -- is there anything we could maybe do about shoes for them or others who need them? Put together a giant box of flip-flops at the least? We want to help, if you think there's something we can do that will be worthwhile.

We miss you and Eric!!
XO,
J, R, S & G

4:49 PM

Miss B said...

Later that week we went out with four other ex-pats and two of them had heard the exact same story from the guards at their complex. The security provider was the same for their building and ours and I think they must have told George that this was a good way to the mzungu heart. I still believe he is a wonderful guy in a really difficult situation, but we didn't want to throw money at his troubles, because maybe it is usefull, maybe not. The net net was that we gave George a big bag of groceries and clothes to do with what he will. If he was hungry, that helped him that day. Thanks for all your comments!

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