May 6, 2014

Searching the Obvious

Speaking engagements have brought me to Nairobi. Because of security concerns, I am cocooned in a safe place that has high walls. The only entry point is through a gate managed by two guards. Outside is the real world.

After a long morning of meetings I need a physical break from the boardroom. I decide to walk around the premises and say hello to the guards. The guards know me by now. They let me look out the gates for a bit, but always encourage me not to linger. They remind me there is a reason for the heavy gates. Safety.

Although it is lunchtime, I am not hungry, and my mind is still on topics introduced in the meetings. I approach the gates, greet the guards, and hold the gate bars in my hands, like a prisoner watching life go by, but not participating in it.

As I look past the gate I see an old woman sitting on the curb, probably 50 feet from us. Her clothes tattered, she wears them in layers; she has a cloth bag next to her, full of items I cannot make out. She is barefoot. Cars rush by, people walk by, but nobody seems to notice her. She is sitting, holding a little paper cup, taking any coins from those who walk by. The problem is that in this area nobody has a coin to spare.

Across the street from the woman is a little boy, also wearing tattered pants and shirt, and shoes that are obviously too big for him. He simply stands there, watching people walk by. He looks 12 or so. Why is he standing there?

A well-dressed businessman kneels next to the old woman (I don’t know when he arrived, because I was busy watching the boy), apparently unconcerned about his business suit getting dirty, and offers her a bag. I recognize the logo on the bag; it’s from one of the fast-food places in the area. The old woman takes the bag, then holds the gentleman’s hand for a moment; they talk. I lean into the gate to listen, but I can hear nothing.

As the man walks away, I see the old woman wave to the young boy, calling him to come over. He darts through the heavy traffic to get to her. They sit together and open the bag. They begin splitting a sandwich; they lay french fries on top of the bag so each can have some. I watch, wondering: How full will that small meal make them?

Just then the same well-dressed man returns. In his hands are two bags: one for the boy, one for the old woman. They talk for a minute; again from a distance I hear nothing. The gentleman is kind and helps them create a more comfortable eating area.

The guard standing next to me says: “We see him. We see him all the time. When there is a person sitting on that corner, he brings them food. He shares his wealth that way.”

I look at the area surrounding us. There are no corporate buildings, no businesses to speak of. We are a very few miles from a ghetto nobody would dare walk through alone. Where does he come from?

The guard continues. “My wife says he is an angel, or a man God inspires to help. Wouldn’t that be amazing that I see an angel every day? But sharing food, giving food, you don’t see that a lot around here. When you do, you have to think there is still goodness in the world. See, he saw them sharing and took the time to bring them more so they would both eat a full meal today. There is still goodness somewhere, and sometimes it visits our country.”

Watching the scene is heartbreaking. The woman and boy eat and laugh as if their lives have no worries, as if they know where their next meal is coming from. An angel or a man God inspires to help; what a beautiful thought!