Guilt

Today a man approached my car.

Now if you’re female and you’re reading this, you already feel the apprehension that I did. I work around the Westlands area. For those of you who don’t know, when street people were shuffled out of the CBD they moved to Westy. There are loads of them mulling about the sidewalk and skulking at the corners: constant reminders of why I need to be grateful.

Today, while approaching a junction to the main road after dropping my brother off, a man approached my car. He looked, well, he didn’t look high, but he wasn’t quite all there either. His skin had an oily reddish brown tint and his teeth had little coffee squiggles doodled over them.  He had short hair- not unkempt- and a large gash on his forehead. He also had funny looking bruises all over the place. He did not look well.

I saw him before he even thought to approach me. I saw him see me and process a young lady alone in the car with her window rolled down all the way (“fresh meat” I thought). He calculated how long it would take me to close the window versus how long it would take him to get to me, factors like fear, common sense and shame remaining constant. Then he walked up to me.

“ Madam niaje”

“hi” (lame. I know)

“Unaweza nisaidia na…”

“Aki leo sina”  (not entirely a lie, I just hadn’t checked)

“ Madam si uangalie tu, unajua niaje? Aki sijakula siku mbili na mi ni mgonjwa…”

At this point traffic started moving and I took the easy out. I was slightly panicky because he had been moving closer and horror stories (real and imagined) were rushing through my head. I pretty much took out a lorry as I sped (through traffic) to get out of there. All the way to the office I couldn’t get that guy’s face out of my head. I hated myself and I hated Nairobi.

As I look at the situation now from the comfort of my desk sipping fresh home made mango juice, I figure he really couldn’t have done anything to me. There were so many people and not enough time for him to do any real damage. Worst-case scenario I get a lapful of you-know-what. That’s bad- but I can deal.  Actually, worst-case scenario is he cuts me and… I don’t even want to think about it.

I’m a Christian girl. If I didn’t lose them so often, I’d probably own a WWJD band or two. I know the golden rule and everything. I know I need to help those in need but truth be told I was really scared. If my brother was in the car I would have probably talked to the guy and given him the money, or my fruit juice or something, but on my own I didn’t even want to acknowledge his presence.  I’m pissed off right now. I’m mad that I live in a world where a man, a man, just like my dad or brother or cousin or workmate, a man approaching me just like that is scary. That I feel helpless to do anything about it. That I feel, in turns, selfish and foolish for wanting to protect myself. I’m ashamed that I did nothing to ease that man’s suffering and upset that he may not even have been suffering but now I am. Ugh.

I’m not too sure how to end this piece. I started out wanting to vent about fear and inability to overcome prejudice but now I’m not too sure. I mean, really, I may regret not helping him, but I’ll regret that for a little bit. If he’d done anything to me, I’d regret stopping forever. So why do I feel so guilty?

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8 thoughts on “Guilt

  1. Just realized I’m international :p Translation of the conversation above
    “Madam how are you? (how is it?)”
    “hi”
    “Can you help me with…”
    “Today I don’t have, I swear.”
    “Could you please just check madam? You know what’s up today? I haven’t eaten in two days and I’m sick…”

  2. The other day I walked passed three high school boys. One was obviously drunk, he was shouting and the other two were trying to restrain him. As I walked towards them, I mentally calculated the seconds between safety (the pavement just behind them) and the moment all four of us would be aligned. Then the inevitable happened, the drunk boy made an uncomfortable physical pass and his friends sheepishly apologized on his behalf.

    So, know that your anger and frustrations at being ‘helpless’ are not your alone. I cringe with fear every time I have to pass next to a group of men, one, in my mind at least, I can handle, but more than one nah. As for the beggar, we are all riddled with guilt at not helping regardless of our financial situation. So, when you can, help, even if his/her plea was not genuine, your actions still are…

    • I would have passed out. It’s funny how most of my friends are guys but I’m super scared of the ones I don’t know. But this piece may make it sound a lot more dramatic than it is. I wrote it immediately after so adrenaline things… Thanks for hitting me up

  3. Fortunately I do not have to deal with the insecurity. Unfortunately I do have to live in Nairobi too, and so do women I love and care about (which accounts for a good percentage of the female populace).

    So while I feel for your current predicament, I find it only on the serious side of self-preservation that you did what you did. That you reacted based on what society, a society you have to live in, has made you. A society in which a woman’s rights are given convenient and Oscar-worthy lip service, followed by veritable furore every so often when said rights are impinged upon. Yet Lady Justice and her suitors the Kenyan Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of an illicit government do little more than sit back and facilitate your fears by doing nothing when women, real women in real life situations (as opposed to those who reside in the castles of air they talk about empowering), actually need their help.

  4. So no. You should not feel guilty. You should justifiably feel enraged, but only for so long. After all our ire will not change the system at all. What you did may seem cruel, but with the baggage of evidence you no doubt drew upon as to what could happen to a lone woman driving in Westy when approached by a seemingly destitute (at best) or malicious (at worst) man, you quite simply did what you had tobut only for so long. After all our ire will not change the system at all. What you did may seem cruel, but with the baggage of evidence you no doubt drew upon as to what could happen to a lone woman driving in Westy when approached by a seemingly destitute (at best) or malicious (at worst) man, you quite simply did what you had to

    • @Mbois clearly you’ve given this about as much thought as I have. May I ask, has anyone ever mistaken you for being “malicious.” I’d really like to hear the guys aspect on this…
      And thanks for the well thought out reply.

  5. More often than not actually. I recently approached a former schoolmate (from Primary). She was talking to this guy at Kencom, and since I rarely forget a face, I decide to halla at her. She reacted so suspiciously, to the point of taking about a million paces back (I counted 🙂 …it must have been the dreads) then blushed a few heavy compliments my way soon as she realized who I was. Good thing I was bright back in the day she knew me 😀

    And don’t even get me started on the number of times I try to help women out in tao only to be written off before I could. This mamma went as far as leaving her scarf in my arms when I called out to her trying to hand it over after she’d dropped it.

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