This is a small cone of paper wrapped around some nuts.
I bought it tonight on my way home from a kid, standing in the middle of the road, in the dark, in traffic. He stands there every night, from the start of rush hour until late in the evening. He's wearing his school outfit - a dirty white collared shirt covered with the typical v-neck sweater. Slack shorts that are a little too short for his slender frame, dirty brown socks sticking out of over-worn brown loafers.
He's standing there every night. Selling nuts. Waving the little cones back and forth in the air, trying to attract the attention of the drivers streaming past him on their way home, or out to dinner, or to the mall.
"Please sir, pull forward." And he trots along with me - more worried about holding up traffic than making the sale.
"How much?" As I'm reaching for my wad of cash.
"5 Shillings, sir."
The smallest paper bill I have is 50 shillings. That's the smallest one they make. I don't even bother carrying coins less than the 20, the one you use at the mall to pay for parking if you stay over 30 minutes.
For the past hour that's all I've been able to think about, just sitting here staring at this little home-made, smoke-smelling cone of nuts. He sells them for a little over a nickel. Every night. In the dark. Almost no one rolls down their window to buy one. I don't know why I did. I think it was that part of me that tries to reward industrious effort when I see it - I always leave a buck or two with the subway performers in NYC.
But this kid is in Nairobi, and he's much better off than millions of others who aren't privileged enough to live in the slums here, selling nuts on the side of the road. Which hardly anyone bothers to slow down and buy.
When I was thirteen I had my first job and I was making 6 dollars an hour training hunting dogs and cleaning kennels. 6 dollars an hour. This kid was selling nuts for 6 cents a cone.
Where do you sleep, when you're that kid selling nuts? What do you eat, for your one meal of the day? If you get one? How many hours do you walk to school? What did your mother have to give up to get you the uniform, so you could go at all? Will you ever see a doctor, or own a pair of jeans? Will you live to see 30?
What can you possibly afford when a good night nets you - maybe - half a dollar?
Hell. I spent so much mental energy and frustration this week on the fact that I can't afford the big 4WD I want to be driving around this continent, feeling betrayed of what I know is rightfully mine. Because I've worked so hard for it. Or something.
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"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."