Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Ever-Aging Man

Living in a third world country and having Snow White's skin guarantees visits from the less fortunate, as many Ugandans live under the assumption that people with white skin are rolling in money. Our hearts break for the small children that are sent by their parents to beg on the sidewalks and the men without legs who have been propped up under shade umbrellas. When someone comes up to you to beg for money it is difficult to send them away. At the same time, we don't want to reinforce the poverty mentality which tells them "You can't do any better." When people give them money it tells them, "You don't need to do better, so don't even try!" 

Sometimes, as with one particular man, the experience can be interesting, to say the least. 

We first encountered this man a few days ago on our way home from Nakumatt, a grocery store that we frequent on account of its proximity. We had almost reached our apartment when this man stopped us. He told us that he had seen us in Nakumatt (which means that he had been following us for at least 10 minutes) and that he wanted to speak to my mom "as a mother." He then went on to explain that he was 39 and born again. He asked us where we went to church and then told us he attends Faith Fellowship. He is an elder of his church, but things are getting difficult, and droned on and on.

Now, we noticed a few things while listening to his speech (which was lengthy due to his repetition of nearly everything he said - at least three times). First, that this man was probably in his late 20's or early 30's - there was no possible way he was almost 40. Second, that this entire monologue was memorized. There was not a flicker of truth in his eyes, and his face didn't register any real emotion. 

After a while of this, I watched my mom tune out as she set her mind to work, formulating a polite way to say, "bug off please." Finally, she stopped him and said curtly, "I'm sorry, but we don't give out money." She then turned and continued walking. Thankfully the man went his separate way.

Alas, our parting was not final.

Today, we went grocery shopping at a store we hadn't yet perused called Capital, which was too far to walk so we drove. For us, shopping is quite the undertaking on account of my brothers, whose stomachs can easily be compared to black holes (but I'm sure anyone who has ever sat down to eat with a teenage boy understands this completely). 

While purchasing our two cart loads of groceries, we were again approached by the same man. This time looking for pity in my dad, he told him that he wanted to talk to my dad "as a brother in Christ." Having apparently aged rapidly in the last few days, he was now 43. He was still an elder of the church, but he still needed money. My dad inquired if he had asked his church for help, and he had, but the senior pastor was out of town for two more months and his approval was needed to release money. Seemingly having grown older even as we stood there, he now informed my dad that he was a 47 year old man and he just needed a little help. 

My dad said something along the lines of, "I'm sorry but our policy is not to give out money, but you are welcome to visit our church and see what they can do for you."  

On the not-so-slight chance we meet again, I think we shall turn things around on him a little. I am absolutely curious as to how he will react to a 72-year-old woman and her 40-year-old daughters asking him for money.

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