The first time it happened, we were at a supermarket. I was standing in the checkout line with the Swiss couple who, in one of those moments that comes from a hostel’s atmosphere of camaraderie and adventuring, had adopted us for the previous two weeks. Behind us was a girl of about ten who was holding a loaf of bread and ten one-Namibian-dollar coins. Exactly the amount that she needed. When the girl laid her money on the counter, Pascal, our dad, casually slipped the cashier a N$10 bill and slid the coins back into the girl’s hands.
The second time was outside this supermarket. As we were climbing into the rental car, a man in a dirty black windbreaker and old jeans that did not look like they were doing anything against the cold wind asked Pascal for money for “watching” the car while we had been inside. When we opened the trunk, he immediately focused on the empty five-liter plastic bottle we had in the back. He asked if he could have it, and Pascal handed it over.
A Namibian volunteer called it “compassion fatigue,” this feeling of after two years of people constantly (and I don’t say that as a cliché or a literal meaning, but in almost all my interactions with Beninese people this would happen) asking me for things or asking me how to get to America or taking things out of my house. I, looking at these same two Namibians in Epupa, was over it. I was over the begging and the swarming and the constant badgering.
I looked at Pascal and Tabitha the rest of day and tried to think what they were thinking. Tried to find the same source in myself where they found their generosity and their compassion. Tried to find the person in me again that would have also paid for that girl’s bread and happily handed over the water bottle to the man.