Being humane in Nairobi is a dangerous thing. Most residents of this amorphous city know this and they live strictly by the unspoken rule, “don’t help anyone because they might help themselves to your stuff.”
But then, no matter how street wise or “sugu” we might be, we are human and can be swayed or tricked into breaking the rule for just a few seconds. Luck might save you from the jaws of the Nairobi con artist and you might just find that you were indeed dealing with a genuine case. An innocent Kenyan, just like you, who desperately needed you to break the rule, just this once, so you can help them.
Apart from the fear of being conned, another fear stands in the way of a city dweller’s compassion. We are afraid that the beneficiary of our kindness might take it and get too comfortable with it. If you help today, will they expect – nay, demand – it tomorrow? Will they begin to see you as the easy way out of their problems? After all, you were so forthcoming the first and second time, why not ask you for help a third time?
As human beings, we have to live through this very tricky balance everywhere. At work, it could be that your boss keeps asking you to perform extra duties or to work overtime. Your kids could be conveniently producing tears at the same spot in the supermarket aisle. And your SMS inbox could be full of “please call me” or “niokoe na mia please” messages from broke relatives who are hoping you’re in the right mood.
No one is living his or her life for the second time so we’re all learning new lessons from our experiences. I guess that’s why they came up with the sayings, “Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
So if you choose to help, do it with no regrets.
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