Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Friend, Desiré

I just spent a pleasant hour or so with my friend, Desiré. I first got to know him in the days before digital cameras. He was one of the many guys downtown selling rolls of film, and whenever I needed another roll or two for my camera, he’s the person I bought from. Unlike many of the street vendors who were either downright annoying or constantly looking to take advantage of you (or both!), Desiré turned out to be a decent gu,y and our relationship as buyer and seller eventually became one of friends.

He’s helped me out numerous times when I’ve needed information or haven’t been able to find some item that I needed. He knows the downtown and its denizens on a level that I never could. Usually we’d get together whenever I had to run an errand or two in his part of the world. Lately, however, my current administrative responsibilities have not allowed me to get away so easily. It’s been four months or more since I last saw him. So today, he borrowed someone’s moto and came to my place instead.

We sat on my veranda, shelling and crunching on peanuts, and catching up on each other’s lives. It had rained in the morning, so the day was refreshingly nice and cool for a change. Unfortunately, the rain also brings out the mosquitoes and, despite my best efforts, some of the little beggars got me on my bare arms. I know, I know, I should have got up and put on mosquito repellent, but I was too lazy :)

Desiré lives with his wife and son in a row of cheap, crowded apartments where everyone shares a common courtyard and water tap. He still makes his living selling rolls of film as he is able (not many people use film anymore), but also takes photographs of people and events on demand. Not a very reliable way to make a living, though. There are weeks when there isn’t much call for his services. I’ve never heard him complain, but I know he runs short sometimes and stuff a bill in his shirt pocket quick and walk away before he has time to stop me.

Quite a difference from the young man that accosted me as I was leaving a graduation ceremony at a local church this morning and on my way to the reception. He asked if he could catch a ride with me. I remember seeing him in the crowd at the ceremony, so agreed. On the way, he told me that he was going through a difficult time and could use a little help. Knowing that many churches here have a ministry to respond to such needs (and not convinced he was telling me the truth), I asked him which church he attended. He indicated the one we were just driving away from. I continued and asked if he’d approached them for help. He said yes, that they’d given him some food a couple of months ago and he was ashamed to ask again. I said I’d think about his request at the reception.

Once there, I found the pastor of the church and asked him to confirm the young man’s story. He didn’t know the young man, but made some phone calls, including one to the person in charge of helping people in need. All yielded negative results.

After the reception, I took the young man back to the church to find the person in charge of helping people in need. He wasn’t there, but a friend of mine was. He didn’t recognize the young man. Neither did the pastor and his wife when they showed up a little while later. Frankly, this was beginning to look like a scam to me.

I finally decided to give the fellow a coin that would buy him supper and told him come to church the next morning (Sunday) and ask for help there. If he’s not genuine, he either won’t come, or the church folks will figure him out. When it comes to scam artists, us expats are generally a pretty easy target. But it’s hard to fool the locals :)

1 comment:

Laura Dun said...

wisely handled, Mike :-)