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Guilt-tripping into giving

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I used to be horrified at the tales of friends who would visit home only to be plundered off their possessions by relatives who would set eyes on anything they could set their eyes and get their hands on.

Even those of us who lead comfortable lives are not above the adage, “Beg, borrow, steal” when it comes to material goods we cannot quite yet afford or don’t see the value of investing in. The luxury car you can borrow from an older sibling as your budget does not yet stretch that far… The high spec camera you borrow from a friend for a project you can’t quite deliver on your lower spec model… Even the suitcase you may lend a relative as they are desperately seeking a medium-size for a short-haul getaway that doesn’t justify hauling half their possessions in a gigantic suitcase…

As for women, lending and borrowing LBDs, accessories and even makeup comes as second nature – except of course if, like me, you’re an only child, not quite at ease with the concept that sharing is caring.

Then there are those of us who go far beyond the boundaries of “borrow borrow” and just simply take, take, take. I used to be horrified at the tales of friends who would visit home only to be plundered off their possessions by relatives who would set eyes on anything they could set their eyes and get their hands on. A friend even admitted only wearing the relatively cheap high street label Primark when going to see relatives, and always keeping a few of the same outfit she has on in different sizes in her suitcase, so when the conversation turns from, “It’s been so long; we’ve missed you” to “Oh that’s nice, Auntie, you will dash me now” she can quickly grab one out of her suitcase and dash at her heart’s content.

I was equally horrified at the end of my first trip to Nigeria in 2009, when as is customary, I went through the old fashioned customs check at Lagos Murtala Muhammed Airport, which I hadn’t been warned would involve me hauling my suitcase on top of a rickety wooden table while two or three customs officers rummage through my belongings.

As I was watching the custom check unfold with the passenger in front of me and contemplating the fifty shades of red I would turn once the officer opened my bag to be greeted with bras and knickers I’d casually thrown right on top, I heard the female customs officer ask the young man whose scanty belongings she was rifling through “These shades are nice; why don’t you give me them as a present?” as she held a pair of Ray Bans she had rescued from a pile of condom wraps. God, I thought, if she can find something to ask for in a suitcase that only contained three changes of clothes and hundreds of condoms which clearly belonged to a guy who was back home for Easter for some family and mostly fun times, with all the shoes, handbags, dresses, my suitcase will make for an early Christmas present.

“Nah, nah,” the chap drawled in his faux American accent, “but you can have the condoms” which was met with a loud tut from the officer. Flummoxed by either his irreverence or the sight of my bras and knickers which popped out as she opened my suitcase, somehow I was not asked to part with any of my possessions. Over the next few years, however, the diligence of customs officers in observing the contents of my suitcase and picking at random which they found appealing more than made up for the ease of this first escape, and I got better and better at saying no and meaning it.

It came as no surprise, hence, after years of experience in dodging the “dash or pay cash” culture – as I’d like to call it – when a random chap who claimed to be an amateur photographer from Senegal slid into my DMs last week on Instagram.

“It’s an honour for me to talk to a professional photographer like you…” he said, “In Africa it’s rare to find good photography materials. I just hope maybe you can help me to get professional photograph materials. Cause I live in a very poor country… and photography is my passion in life.” What followed was a long story of how he had a degree but couldn’t find a job, how he was modelling, fitness coaching and selling t-shirt to make money. When I looked at his feed, there was however not a sign that he was genuinely interested in photography.

I countered with advice that he should first use whatever is available for him, as photography is as much about talent as it is the equipment at your disposal and he should seek photography businesses where he can intern with to get experience. I also asked him two questions: 1. What makes you think I have the money to support someone else’s passion? 2. Of all people I know who need help with their passion, why him?

His answer? More on his sob story of course of how he is from a poor country and he cannot afford the equipment but will pay for the shipping should I send him cameras, followed by “Never worry, you teach me never to tell your matter to people. In the future, I will never tell my matters or life to other people.”

Here was a young man who had more hustles going than me, and yet by virtue of the fact that he was in a “poor” country and I was not, he could ask me to “dash” him a camera or two. When questioned about his assumptions, he had the audacity to be offended. There is absolutely nothing wrong with dreaming, hustling and occasionally resorting to begging and borrowing to get the things we need; it becomes a problem when you cross the boundaries of common courtesy and then feel offended when turned down.

My advice to those who wish to move from “borrow” to “beg”, follow these three simple rules, and there wouldn’t be any cause for offence.
1. Don’t assume because someone lives in the UK or US or anywhere that isn’t in Africa, their roads are paved with gold and they can dash anyhow
2. When asked why you should be the one they help, make your elevator pitch ready, not your sob story
3. Take no for an answer; guilt-tripping into giving is never a good look



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