Do you remember the lady at the gate? We’ve seen her a few more times since then, always saying she’s poor and needs food, but always with a different story. Sometimes multiple stories in the one day or the one conversation. She’s very skinny; she doesn’t look healthy; she’s shabbily dressed. There’s no doubt this woman is poor and without a support structure. But that’s not all there is to the story.
After the last time I wrote about this, we decided that we would engage Mama Velo to help us work out what to do with this lady. As I noted in the comments there, Mama Velo saw the situation differently from us. So when we saw the lady again last week, I gave her some food but told her that if she wanted anything else we had told her she needed to come in the morning when Mama Velo was here. She previously hadn’t taken us up on that but we now know why.
She came back the next day but later than the time I had told her, hoping, it seems, to still speak to us but avoid Mama Velo. It turns out that she does know Mama Velo who was able to verify her name, that her husband is in fact alive, and that her parents live in this very suburb and have come to her aid at other times. The lady at the gate used to work for another expat here but because of a bit of a con job has been banned from working for anyone on campus. The dishonesty we identified last time was just the start of the lies she had told.
So, what do we do with this new information?
Stop helping her because she’s lied to us? Being dishonest doesn’t make her any less in needy.
Stop helping because we’ve found out she has others who could possible help her? There are still things that don’t seem to add up: why is a married woman begging when she has parents who can support her?
Ignore her dishonesty and give her what she wants? That only helps her short term, and I’m not sure it does much for her human dignity.
Try to work out some way to help her that also builds her capacity? I’m not sure what this would be, nor am I even sure that’s what she wants. Her track record is not of someone who wants to change her circumstances.
Of course we are enlisting the help and advice of others, including Mama Velo. It’s still complicated though. You can’t escape the messiness of the situation. There’s probably no clear right or wrong; it may be a matter of looking for a way to bring as much good as possible, however small. Everyone, whether expat or Tanzanian, has different ideas about what good would be. And a great challenge for us is how not to harden our hearts towards this woman.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.