Because of all the crowded hyper-activity, I don’t especially like going there. On this particular day, I didn’t feel well. I wanted to get my errands done and go home.
A few paces after alighting from the bus, Peter, my newspaper vendor saw me. He sells the daily news with a polite smile. As always, he quickly counted out my change, thanked me, and added - with just a slight pause - a simple but sincere, “You have a good day, huh?” Then he bounded off to the next customer.
A hawker acquaintance, selling sunglasses, greeted me. “G’morning, my friend”. One pair of hip-looking shades is always strategically propped on his head. Prominently displayed on his left arm are another dozen or so. He offered his right hand, giving me a wonderfully warm and hearty handshake.
A short stroll took me to the post office. Just as I approached the steps, in order to check my mailbox on the 2nd floor, I absent-mindedly passed by a man. He suddenly asked if I wanted his card. In mid-stride and turning to look back, I asked him why. By then he had already extended his arm towards me, with one of his cards in his hand. “I do computer repair and other things.” Bounding up the steps, I called back that I didn’t need one. Strange encounter, but then… this is Kenya.
From there, I walked across the parking area towards the Karen Provision Store. John, one of my flower vendor friends, waved at me. As we chatted, he told me with a beaming smile that he and Dedan had done great business on Valentine’s Day. The past few years they’ve seen this holiday increase in popularity in Kenya.
I decided to buy a frozen yogurt just outside the door of the provision store. After inquiring about my fruit preference - I chose a mixture of banana, strawberries, and mango – Kate, the young attendant, started to mix it with her commercial blender. She told me she’s filling in for someone on maternity leave, adding that when the other gal comes back, she’ll now longer have a job.
This was my 3rd or 4th time to buy a yogurt from her; it’s a new enterprise by a local milk company. Apparently, in her eyes, we’re now great friends.
“Can you give me a job?”
I suppose I get such requests for two basic reasons: One, the unemployment rate in Kenya is ridiculously and unfortunately very high. Secondly, the assumption is all too often made that because I’m white, then surely I must have oodles of money to throw around, as well as many people in my employ.
“I don’t have a job for you.”
When she finished making my yogurt, I helped myself to her chair. I wanted to relax and thoroughly enjoy my treat in the midst of the chaotic and crowded grocery store setting.
“Hi, Deb”. As I looked up from my snack, I saw another hawker friend of mine - Kiuki - greeting me as he passed by. I call him “Mister Comedian”; he makes me laugh.
The yogurt attendant proceeded to continue the conversation, gushing, “I can cook for your pets.”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly and asked for clarification. Upon confirming that I had heard what I thought I had heard, I replied incredulously, “I don’t have any pets.”
I returned my attention to the pleasure of my yogurt. Umm… it was so good.
“You don’t have a dog? I can cook for your dog.”
I ignored her silly comment; however, she pressed on. “Do you already have too many workers?”
I was irritated with her woefully incorrect assumptions. “I don’t have any pets. I don’t employ any workers. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any jobs for you. Please, can I just enjoy my yogurt?”
I imagine she sees many “wazungu” (whites) hurriedly passing by, as she politely peddles her product. Perhaps, in her imagination, she envisions all sorts of interesting and well-paying jobs she might obtain.
But the many busy shoppers hardly slow down long enough to give her the time of day. Here I was, not only seated on her chair… but with a smile. She likely saw it as her golden opportunity.
It was an all-too common, albeit annoying, experience for me. I guess it goes with the territory. If I were in her shoes, I’d likely try the same sort of stunt.
As I continued on with my yogurt, a few people paused to ask Kate what she was selling. With spoon hovering at my lips, I volunteered an unsolicited endorsement to each potential customer. While I sat there, three ladies did make a purchase, each of them tasting frozen yogurt for their first time.