A couple of weeks ago, I was driving up our murram road, now in very poor condition at the end of the rainy season, when it came on to rain, just as I espied an elderly woman walking in my direction.
You have to be careful when giving lifts, here as anywhere in the world, but I judged myself safe from attack, so stopped and offered her a lift.
And we then communicated, neither of us being fluent in the other’s mother tongue.
But I gathered the gist of her situation, namely walking home having been diagnosed with a form of cancer, and needing drugs for treatment. There was uterine bleeding, and some hospital notes in proof.
I gave her some cash, of course, and dropped her off at a cross roads, where she wanted a left turn, while I wanted to go straight on.
Fortunately the rain had eased into the lighter drizzle that often occurs here at the end of the rainy season, instead of the ‘open heaven’ downpours that drench one to the skin within seconds as is common earlier in the season.
So, I pulled over, as she wanted to use the left turn, the Old Nairobi Road. But there, as she prepared to alight, I made a tactical blunder, a serious error. In my ‘happy-I’m helping state’, and under her persistent questioning, I disclosed our address.
No fool this lady, who I guessed to be in her sixties. Having found a mzungu, -and of course a mzungu always has money- she was not going to let a good contact go. After all, only an idiot loses a map to a gold mine!
Two weeks later, she turns up at our door, with a teenage daughter in tow, from which I brilliantly and belatedly deduce that she is far younger than I had thought.
She harangues me in Swahili, and thrusts in my face dockets from a local hospital, which show that she needs treatment for “cervicitis and endometretitis”, she tells me she is on her own, her husband having abandoned her, and shows me a prescription that needs 645 shillings.
And what do I do? I stand there desperately trying to squash a strong desire to escape, at my door, unwilling to allow her entry, because Liza – who is in the bathroom- and I are due out to travel on a mission of mercy for a friend, and I was already running late, needing a shower and shave.
I notice that I am feeling resentment at this woman’s importunity, embarrassed for her and by her naked need. I have no doubt that she is telling the truth, but want to get rid of her pronto.
I’m also irked with our watchman, who is supposed to guard all of us who live in the compound, six families in all. How did she get past him? Why did he let her in?
If he had kept her at the main gate, then the situation would have been easier. But now, I am face to face, again, with human need at its most basic. At my doorstep.
She tells me she has no home.
I try to school my face to show something more than polite interest, and observe out of the corner of my eye that the teenage daughter, who is as ill-clad as her mother, is also embarrassed by the whole situation, her body language indicating a strong desire to be elsewhere.
“Pole” I say, the polite formula for sympathy.
But the mother is not going to give up, she is not going to go without letting me know more of her story. She is fighting for not only for her own life, but also that of her dependants.
Of course I give her some money, and tell her we can talk at a more convenient time, for I really have to go now, as we are due in Kapsabet soon, and should be on the road.
Which was true.
And so, eventually, she leaves, but I know she will return.
And indeed, why not?
So I need to sort out my tangled web of emotions; my mixed feelings of anger, embarrassment and distaste, as if I might be lowered by interacting with her and her blatant need, as if ignoring it will somehow magic it away.
Her vulnerability not only tugs at the Rescuer within me, but also the pseudo-Perpetrator, the man who stands on his own feet, and expects others to do the same.
Is she to blame for her situation? Is she somehow responsible?
I feel manipulated, somewhat harassed, irritated, and once again, at odds with local systems, their uncaring norms and cultural blindness.
But Jesus healed the woman with an issue of blood, and when she touched Him, He became ritually unclean. Her social exclusion was ended miraculously, and her medical bills ceased!
He was even initially unaware, but noticed that power had gone from Him.
It’s a strange story, isn’t it?
When I gave this woman a lift in my car-sorry, I still do not know her name –
she entered into my space, and became my neighbour.
Of course, we are all beggared, all impoverished, all needy, at different times, in different ways, whether we recognise it or not, and when we pray, we are all beggars, begging for happiness, health, money, love.
Sometimes, perhaps in our better moments, we beg for others.
And when we beg, or when others beg from us, we stand at cross roads.