We were sitting in traffic near the Nyayo Stadium round about last week when the peanut lady came to our window. We call her the peanut lady because she hawks peanuts in traffic. I bought three cones and she added me one cone saying ‘Wacha nikuongeze hii’ – ‘Let me add you this one’. My son who was in the back piped up and asked “Mum, how come all your friends like to give you free things?’ On querying this observation, he told me about: the banana man – a gentleman who sells bananas in a hand cart on Mombasa road who often adds a free bunch to our purchase; the macadamia man who sells macadamia on Langata Road; the fish lady at Kenyatta Market who has a fish stall at the bus stop; and the vegetable lady in south B. “Mum – you don’t even ask them and they are so happy to give you things for free. Why?” I didn’t quite know the answer to this question. The best I could think of was “Because they are my friends”.
I wondered if I had lied to my son….. Were these street vendors really my friends? I didn’t know them beyond our brief transactions where I was the buyer and they were the sellers. My son’s question got me thinking about why they were very willing and happy to give me free wares that I hadn’t asked for. I then conducted a small poll in my networks to establish if this was a standard happening – that is, to have a street vendor willingly ‘donate’ their products without being asked.
I got varied responses including:
- Was it the end of the day and they wanted to offload their stock?
- Were these perishables?
- Are these your relatives?
- Had you bought a huge amount of products prompting the offer for additional stuff?
- Did you ask, hint, request, beg for the ‘gifts’?
As none of the above applied to my situation, I began to speculate about this unrestrained and spontaneous giving and concluded that the answer is found in Rachel Naomi Remen’s “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal” where she says:“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we can ever give someone is our attention. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but listen. Listen to what they’re saying. Listening is the most generous gift that you can ever give”
And I remembered my resolve this year to really listen to the people I interact with and the people in my life. And to hear them no matter how small or insignificant seeming what they are saying sounds. My listening circle has therefore included people off the street, hawkers, people at work, my family, my social groups – everybody.
Methinks this listening to people for who they really are and beyond their circumstances, may have non verbally communicated across. And so I have done the maths……….. The good book tells us Generosity begets Generosity, generosity of listening has therefore been translating into generosity of the gift of goods. What do you think?
And as we ponder over that – let me challenge you this week to really really listen to people and reflect on the interesting fact that – “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” Alfred Brendel ; Austrian poet and author.