Thursday, January 19, 2012

If we're friends, what is my name?

I love hanging out with the street boys here in Kenya.  But there are some that truthfully aren't interested in talking; they want your money and nothing more.  I see many kids like this all the time, and many adults who are no different.  They say things like, "my friend, buy for me bread".  Or, "my friend, buy the fruit I am selling".  As I was walking a few days ago I began to think about what a friend is.  Some of these people I have never seen before.  A kid called me friend and then told me to buy him bread the other day.  I asked him what my name was, because if we were friends, he would know.  Of course, he didn't know.  I explained to him that a friend is more than an open wallet.  A friend is not someone who just gives you things.  A friend is someone that you know.  A friend is someone who will talk to you.  This particular child had no more interest in talking.  He only wanted me to buy him things.  To me, that's not a friendship.  Another favorite example is the kid who was at one time taken off of the street and given food, clothing, a home and education.  He chose to return to the streets and beg.  When I questioned him on this he told me I was selfish and cursed me out.  A few days later he saw me and wanted to call me "friend" as he asked me for money again.

I have definitely made some friends with some of the street boys.  I think of Alex-Juma who every time he sees me runs over and gives me a hug.  The only thing he will ask for is if I have a ball in my bag so we can play catch.  Or sometimes for the checkers board.  He never once asked to keep anything.  When he calls me friend, he means it.  We talk.  We hang out and have built a relationship.

I think of Peter.  Peter is the young man that I took to the hospital after he was beaten up.  I see him in town and we talk.  He doesn't continue to ask for more and more.  He asks how I'm doing.  He tells me how his day is going.  Instead of asking me for money he tells me that he wants to give back to me when he has money.  I have to keep telling him that he doesn't need to; his friendship is all I want in return.  We were talking the other day and some other street boys came up to chat.  Peter looked at me and said we should walk away.  When we left he said that the other guys were pick pockets and he didn't want them to steal from me.  In other words, he was looking out for me.  That's a friendship.

When I think of friends from home, I think of guys like Jim that I've known since grade school.  He's a guy that I don't have to spend time with every week.  But when we hang out, we always have a great time.  He's a guy that I know I can call at any time.

When I think of a friend, I don't think of the people selling things from the street that don't even care what my name is.  I certainly don't think of the one who cursed me out.  I think of the one that will sit down and have a conversation.

I know that the word "friend" is used often, but for me, I want to be more meaningful when I use it.  When I call someone friend I want to mean it.  If I call you a friend, then I want to know you.  When I say friend, there is a commitment behind the word.

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