#21 2014 The Days Just Keep Being Interesting
My plan was for a relaxing day, but you’ve probably noticed by now that my days rarely go according to plan. This one was no exception. The car I drive, which I share with Fr. Kiriti needed new tires. We had negotiated the price before he went back to Kositei last weekend, so this morning I went down the road to the central part of town to meet with Nellie, Fr. K’s friend, who runs a tire store—actually a hole-in-the-wall shop with a thriving business. I had stopped by yesterday to ask whether I could pay by credit card and she assured me they could do that.
I sat on the bench, reading my book while the tires were being mounted when along came Simon Kingori. I’ve known him for years. He runs a small uniform shop where most of the local school kids get theirs. He’s a good person who has helped kids with school fees and such and I had thought about him as a possible Rotary member. So when he greeted me I invited him to share my bench while I told him about Rotary. I took Jesse Wahome as a guest last week and he likes what he saw, so I was encouraged to invite more folks I know, thinking maybe I can recruit a few more members—the club here is very active, but small. Like Jesse, Simon seemed interested and has agreed to go as my guest next Wednesday evening.
The tires mounted, I handed Nellie my card. Well, it turns out I was to be their initial CC buyer, their maiden voyage onto the sea of virtual money. We tried everything. They have a small device which can swipe a magnetic strip or read a chip—except we couldn’t make it work. After about 20 minutes, I said, “That’s it, I’ll go to the ATM and get what I can today. Then I’ll go back tomorrow and the next day.” It’s a pain in the backside, but I could see the maiden voyage had crashed on the rocks. The guy who sold them the device will have to come back with lesson # 2.
Pulling up to the bank I was about to get out when I realized I had my credit card but not my debit card. ACK! Just then the little man who collects parking fees for the city came up to get my ksh 80, which always burns me up. That’s almost $1 to park. ARGH!!! Too much! But I told him I had not gotten out of the car and I was leaving. He was none too pleased, but then neither was I.
Going home, I realized going to the ATM 3 times is more of a nuisance than I had patience for, so I decided to cash in some US money I had, knowing I would need it in shillings before I leave here anyway. Back to the parish. Each time I go home or leave, the gateman for the parish compound has to open the gate for me, so I feel very guilty if I come and go too much. But I had to pay for the tires, so back I went, got my dollars and went to the bank. Fr. Kiriti had told me which bank to use and the name of the woman he deals with. When I saw her I realized I had met her before, last year with Jecinta. She was so gracious and got me a very good rate, which was very nice. She does all the banking for Empower the World (our Kenya Help foundation here) and is willing to give us great service. Back in the car, with my thick wad (ksh 86.5 to the dollar) I worried a bit, remembering the time Fr. Kiriti was car jacked having come out of a bank with a thick wad of bills. The bills are ksh 1000, but even at that, I had a stack almost 1” high. I watched everyone, and headed right to Nellie, where my wad was very effectively reduced, as tires are expensive here and I had to get 4.
One of the workers wanted to buy 2 of the tires, which he said could be used more. I hadn’t thought about what I would do with the old tires. In the US, we blithely drive in, get the new tires and leave, having paid a fee for disposal. Here people take them home for who knows what, but I knew I didn’t want 4 smelly tires in my car. I called Fr. Kiriti to negotiate a price, but it was an on-going discussion when I left. Have to go back tomorrow.
While I was sitting on the bench, it occurred to me that after my lunch I could go visit Simon Ng’ang’s (pronounced Nang ya), one of the first friends I made here. He was a math teacher at Ndingi in 2005 and assigned himself to be sure I had tea, lunch and anything else I needed. We’ve been friends ever since. He has definitely moved up in the world, having landed the position of chief for the area just above SFG. I’ve visited him at home and at his office, so I called to see whether today would be a good time. “Come this afternoon to my office.”
When I arrived I saw several people waiting for their hearing with him and there were maybe 7 or 8 people in a meeting in the office—about 10 x10, with benches, several tables, one of which serves as his desk, and a fancy chair for the chief. I waited in the car and was glad I’d stuck a book in my purse for the wait at the tire shop. Pretty soon out he came, big grin on his face and a bear hug for me. He’s put on some weight, used to be skinny, but it gives him a look of importance. He’s one of God’s nice people, polite, smiling, ready wit and just nice. He invited me into the office and I sat there while he dealt with a couple needing a letter—something about their land and while I didn’t understand a word, I could see the kind way he spoke to them and explained he couldn’t write the letter until they brought their identity cards and the ID numbers of all their kids. Nothing happens here w/o an ID. They left and we chatted, while his advisors, elders, sat reading the paper and occasionally responding to what we were saying.
Then a young man came to see him, also for a letter. It seems he has worked for 7 months but the employer has refused to pay him. Again I understood nothing, but the man spoke so earnestly and had such an open face, I believed him, as did Simon, who wrote the letter, sending the employer to the labor board to answer the charges regarding why he is refusing to pay. I could see how good he is at his chief job, which is mainly resolving disputes between people or families, but occasionally other matters as well. It takes care of a number of cases before they get to the courtroom, clogging up an already unmoving judicial system. It’s a good system if the chief is a good guy. Simon has always had a sense of what’s fair, a respect for people and patience to listen to the story. His people respect and appreciate him. Soon after the young man left with his letter, another matter came up and I could see this was a busy day for him, so I left him to do his work. Hope to see him next week.
Since I was in the neighborhood of SFG, I stopped by to take care of some matters and hope to find a student who has asked for math help. This morning I’d made a dental appointment for Jacqueline, the girl with the artificial leg, whose front teeth are broken and need to be repaired. At 16 she has never been to a dentist, so I can just imagine what the diagnosis will be on Monday. I had to tell Ruth we would be picking her at 7 am, to get to central Nairobi by 9:15. Took care of several other matters, then found the girl—Jacqueline, as it turns out and we spent over an hour talking about her last test, which was not good. She’s so bright, but she’s missed some math along the way. I could see the wheels grinding as she began to see what had been murky. “You’ve had some real AHA’s, haven’t you?” This after we were done for the day. Seeing her puzzled face I explained an AHA is that moment when the light dawns. Oh, yes, she knew what that was and yes, she’s had some.
We talked a bit about her future, which is very hopeful, if she works her little behind off. I told her I thought she could earn the requisite B+ or A- required for regular admission to university and if she managed to pull that off, I was sure we could cover her greatly reduced costs. Just to remind you, she lost her leg and her father in a matatu accident 1 ½ years ago, leaving her mother with 5 kids and no job. Her only hope is to make it into the university and I realized it was important that she got that message. Unlike Quinter, about whom I wrote yesterday, she hadn’t quite put it all together, but once I laid it out for her, she really got it. This girl will make it through sheer determination because it’s her only hope.
By then it was 5:30 and I was tired, but needed to go to the Naivas. I’ve been carrying around an extra empty 20 liter water bottle for several day and wanted to get back my deposit. When Judy was here and we were using a lot of bottled water, I bought 2 of these big bottles. Since I had only 1 empty to return they made me pay a deposit on the bottle of ksh 1295—over $15!!!! I made sure it was refundable, then paid it, but I was really stunned. The contents cost something like ksh 350 (about $4). Yeah, the bottle is worth nearly 4 times the value of the water!
Armed with my receipt and carrying the empty bottle, I bought the few things I needed and queued up with the rest of the Friday night shoppers. The end of the month is also payday, so the store was full. The clerk was totally flummoxed by the empty bottle but I didn’t want another full one. “You have to see them over at that desk.” So off I trotted, bottle in hand to see the young woman I’d dealt with severally on other matters. She too couldn’t figure out what I wanted. “I bought 2 bottles of water but had only one empty. I had to pay an enormous deposit for the other bottle and I want that deposit back.” Finally she got it in her head, “We can’t do that. We’ve never done that.” “May I talk to your manager?” She calls the manager who tells her I-don’t-know-what, but in the meantime, other people are standing there waiting to have their problems resolved too. I wait patiently. She doesn’t do anything for my issue, so I just wait and she sees I’m not going away. Again, “We can’t do that.” “What? You’re refusing to return my deposit? You know that’s not right.” And I just stand. Finally she calls again and then asks “are you shopping tonight?” “Yes, I’ve already done it.” “OK, I’m going to give you a credit slip.” “Thank you so much,” and I go to queue up again at the same check stand where my 3 loaves of bread (they bake it fresh in the store and it’s yummy), my 2 liters of milk and my laundry detergent are all bagged up, waiting for me to come pay. These few items didn’t add up to the ksh1295, so the clerk said I’d have to go buy more things because they don’t give cash back. Those of you who know me might wonder whether I was ready to give him the tongue lashing of his life, but I was actually quite calm, explaining that I didn’t need anything more, thank you. Finally, as the queue behind me continued to grow, he gave me the balance in cash and I was off, happy to have resolved this in my favor but equally incredulous that it should have been questioned. Can you believe charging $15 deposit on a plastic bottle? AND then refusing to return the deposit?
I know what it is about me that won’t give this up. I’m a true 1 on the enneagram and we are the people who know right from wrong. We try never to cheat anyone and we’re damned if anyone is going to cheat us. It’s not as if I would go hungry over the $15, but it’s the principle of the thing. We 1’s are very principled and we are unrealistic enough to believe others are too. Alas, we are often disappointed.
=Love to all