Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 16: Simple Gifts

Two years ago on my first full day in Kenya I walked a couple of blocks from the YMCA to get a sim card for my phone. I knew to look for a Zain sign (one of the largest cell networks in Kenya) based on recommendations from friends. The first one I saw was on Koinange street and within minutes I was in the expert care of Sanjay. Two years later I still have the phone number he set me up with.

Sanjay quickly became my go-to guy for all sorts of things - DVDs, Mirrors for my room, saffron for my brother's Christmas present (I'd heard it was much cheaper in Kenya). I passed his shop most days coming to or from school and I'd stop by for a quick chat or sometimes bring by sodas or icecream to say thanks for a variety of small favors during my first weeks and months in Nairobi.

On one of my very first visits Sanjay gave me a Philip Presio watch - a steal by American standards but pricey for Nairobi's downtown. I couldn't understand why he'd give me something when he barely knew me and all I had done was buy a sim card and some phone credit from him. Still, as he did, I realized to refuse the watch would be horribly impolite. I also recognized that if I were to accept it, I had to do so in the spirit of giving, and not with an expectation that I owed a favor or something else to this new acquaintance who I really didn't know that well.

For months, each time I saw Sanjay I expected some request to counter the gift of the watch. Would he someday ask me for money or a loan? Would he eventually cross a line and hit on me? None of these things ever happened. Instead, he invited me to meet his wife and two small girls who lived in a small lower-class Indian enclave on the road out of town. Over the next year he would call to check in if I hadn't stopped in in awhile, always asking if I was o.k. or if I needed anything.

This last year Sanjay's shop had moved and I never got to see him. He called me a few times to say hi, giving me an update on his family and checking in. I continued to wear the watch which was extremely helpful in Nairobi where you risked staring at an empty palm if you checked your phone on bustling streets.

Tonight I arrived in Orlando to visit my brother Todd and his family. Shortly after getting off the plane I stopped by the restroom and in a quick flash watched as Sanjay's gift flew off my wrist and into the forceful flush of the airport toilet. It happened in an instant due to a loose clasp and suddenly this trusty little time piece was gone.

It was a simple gift from a fleeting friendship that helped me feel at home in a far off land. It was generous, without strings, and useful - everything a gift should be. I will miss it.

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