There are two women at the gate. One of them carries a baby wrapped in a faded kanga, a grey knit cap on his head. The other is young, beautiful. With wide full lips and skin like mocha. In another world, she would be a model. But now she sits on the curb outside my gate, her dusty toes poking at small rocks. Please, we need help. They speak at the same time, in quiet Swahili. My guard, Sammy, translates. We have not eaten in a week. The baby is hungry. There are 2 more at home. Tafadhali. Please.
I stand silent, still in my pajama pants, my orange flipflops also poking at rocks. I have come out to tell them I can not help them. There are so many reasons not to help: Don’t give directly to beggars, it only keeps them begging. Give to established charities instead. Never give handouts to strangers. Don’t create a cycle of dependency. You’re only hurting in the long run. If you give to someone at your gate, word will spread. Tomorrow there will be a crowd. I know all these arguments and I believe them to be true and wise and so I’ve come out to tell the women they have to leave. I’m sorry. I cannot help you.
But there they sit. Young and hungry and broken. I will eat more food today than they’ve had in weeks. I have more money sitting in an envelope in a closet than they will probably have in a lifetime. Give to anyone who asks. If someone asks for your cloak, give them your tunic also. Is this what Jesus means? These women? If not them, then who? But what about dependency and the crowds at my gate?
I can’t help everyone.
But I can help these women. This baby with eyes like windows, cheeks too hollow for a baby. My heart breaks wide open. Not just for these women but for myself. For the injustice of a world where giving might be bad. Where I’m so rich that I can feed a whole crowd, but I’m scared that that crowd might actually find me.
I look to Sammy for help. What should I do? Please, you who are at least Kenyan, who have seen this all your life. Please help me, a rich, lost white woman.
Maybe you should give some flour, he looks down as he speaks. Yes, I agree, relieved at the suggestion, and maybe some sikuma from the garden. Wait here.
We go inside. One bunch of sikuma, one bag of powdered milk, money for a sack of flour. My gift to you, women without hope, baby with no food.
I open the gate and give them the plastic bag. God help you, they repeat. Again and again. God help you. God help you. But what about you, my sisters? Will God help you?
I’m crying before the gate closes. I can’t stop. Sammy, this is so hard. I know, he assures me, Kenya, it’s a country with many problems.
God help me.