Thursday, December 8, 2011

My first death threat: It IS my business...

I haven't blogged in a while.  I guess I've been waiting for something to stand out.  This morning, that something happened when a group of con artists told me that they would kill me.

Ever since I arrived in Kitale in September there have been a group of con artists that are outside the local Posta (post office).  They used to "give" away toothbrushes.  They have since upgraded to cell phone batteries.  The way that the scam works is that they give you the battery and you have to pay money to remove a sticker on the back.  They give you a list of 10 prizes that could be under the sticker.  You pay 500 shillings to have the sticker removed.  To be clear, there is only one prize: nothing.  In fact, if you ask to see the phones that they list as prizes, they don't have them.  They have no vehicles nor any bags that even could have anything in them.  They also claim a "free" t-shirt if you don't get a prize.  The same is true - they have no shirts.  This is a very clear scam.  These guys pay off the police with a mere 20 shillings a day a piece (that's about .25 US cents - it costs more to park your car in town for the day) to not be bothered.

One thing I can't stand is people ripping off others.  Unfortunately, it happens more often than not here in Kenya.  These guys refuse to admit that they are doing anything wrong at all; they will tell you that they are "marketing officials" doing a "legitimate job".  If it was legitimate, why do they have to pay a bribe to the police?  Why do they not have a business license that everyone else is required to have?  If it is legitimate, why are there no prizes?  I've had a few encounters with these guys.  I've debated back and forth with them on numerous occasions.

Yesterday, I was walking into the Posta when I saw them scamming a local Kenyan, an elderly man.  I couldn't do nothing.  I walked up to him and told the man about the scam before he wasted his money.  He understood and walked away.  This was the start...I picked up some stamps to send some cards home and only way out, they were at it again with another man.  I walked right over to them and did the same thing.  They lost another "sale".  Now, they were beyond angry.  The guys proceeded to argue with me.  They made the comment that it's none of my business because they only steal (they actually used the word steal) from Kenyans, not the Muzungos (white people) here.  They tried to scare me by yelling.  They told me that they will "meet me in the US one day; another idle threat.  I made it a point to walk by them a few more times during the day to show that I'm not afraid of them; and I'm not afraid of them at all.  Not one bit.  

Today I was walking in town and the leader (he wasn't there yesterday) of the group yelled to me.  I need to point this out:  this man is a local pastor!  I was told that I should just go back to my own country and leave them alone.  He also told me that this is none of my business.  I told him that when he is stealing from people it is my business.  I said that I am here for a while and anytime I walk by and see them scamming someone I will warm them.  That's when he got really angry.  His exact words were, "if you keep it up we will smash your face and end your life".  Again, an idle threat.  I told him to try.  The second he lays a finger on me, that'll be the last thing that finger ever touches.  He yelled some more but refused to come close to me.  He even followed me down the street threatening to beat me and kill me.  There were some street boys walking with me at the time.  They seemed concerned.  It was a great opportunity to teach them to stand up for themselves and others.  They asked why I wasn't afraid of this group of me.  I told them that it's because those guys are cowards.  They yell idle threats while being sure to stay a few yards away.  The boys seemed to begin to understand.

There was a time in my life where I would have walked away afraid.  There was a time when I would walk a different path in fear of the bullies.  Not anymore.  They say it's not my business, but it is.  It's my business because it's wrong and they are too used to people not standing up to them.  They're too used to getting away with it because they paid a bribe.  I won't be bought off, nor will I be scared off.  Not by this group of corrupt thieves.  I will not chose a different walking path to avoid them.  Not because I am looking for trouble, though I won't run from it in fear.  That walking path is one of the most direct paths and I will keep using it.  And I will continue to warn others before they waste their money.  To most Americans 500 shillings (just over $5) may not seem like much.  But to the average Kenyan, that's a lot of money.  And to be lured into a scam thinking you have the chance to win a brand new smart phone is not acceptable to me.

That said, I do not walk near them blindly.  I am very aware of who they are and where in the street they are.  I walk ready.

So, that's my adventure that I thought worth sharing.  It's kind of a good feeling.  The fact that they are this angry at me shows that I've done something right.  When you stand up against evil, the evildoers take notice.  That doesn't mean you back down.  It means you keep doing what you know is right.  You pick and chose your fights.  I've chosen this one.  What is yours?  What are you willing to stand up for?  WHO are you willing to stand up for that no one else will?

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