November 23, 2009
A twelve-year-old boy hangs around my house a lot. He speaks English surprisingly well and translates for me when I talk with the other children in the village. One day, I asked him to read the children a story. He held the book and read nothing … because he couldn’t read. I found he stopped going to school and had fallen very behind.
“Why aren’t you in school?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he answers.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t know,” he repeats.
I ask the boy to take me to his parents. He does.
“Why isn’t your son in school?” I inquire..
“We don’t know,” they answer.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“We work all day in the field from morning till night. We don’t know if he is going to school,” they politely respond.
Whose fault is it? The mother and father or the farmer they work for? It’s not productive to assign blame to anyone, but the little boy can’t read or write and his life is going to be one to reckon with when he’s working the streets because there will be nothing else he will be able to do. And then there will be his children who will inherit the same corner.
March 30, 2010
My name is Given Kamilo, nicknamed Bobo meaning a thing to play with. I was born 35 years ago in a family of three, one sister and one step-brother. My parents were Agnes Kamilo and John Longe. They are both dead and my elder sister, too.My parents divorced when I was just a small boy. Our father stole my sister and me to live with him in Siavonga. He pretended to buy clothes for us and ran away with us. We lived with him for almost three years under difficult and cruel conditions. Our step- mother treated us badly. She would give us only nshima (cornmeal mush) with salt and father did not say a word even seeing us eating this. Sometimes, we went to bed without food. I remember one day when we went swimming in Kariba Dam, my step-mother left me to drown, but my sister rescued me. This woman was cruel at times. She would tell me to drink dirty water used after washing the blankets.
It was during Christmas holiday when we met our uncle (the young brother to mother) on his way to Chelstone as he was coming from the village Kasisi on foot. We were coming from the maize field. My sister recognized him, but I didn’t know him. He decided to return to the village and inform our grandmother that he had found us. Immediately, mother was informed and sent a message that we should be collected.
At last, we met our mother whom our step-mother told us had died. She was working at Plonghman’s Arm and staying without step-brother. She bought us new clothes and good food like meat, milk, bread, etc… Life changed.
A year later, she stopped working at Plonghman’s Arm and joined Fringilla butchery. It’s where things got better for us, nice clothes and food. Some people even called us children of White parents because of living, a well-to-do.
Early December 1983, I was enrolled in grade 1 and during grade 2, term one, I was number two out of 55 children. Mom took me to my father to buy me a uniform which he did not do. Mom got annoyed with him because of this and told him not to ask us for holidays. Mother told us to change our surname to hers, Kamilo. She never took us to visit our father again and this is how we lost contact with him.
Mother used to drink a lot of beer. She would go to the drinking places like Twin Palm and Ploughman’s bar. One day, she thought that the money spending on beer was too much and serving could be the best. She made a turning point by stopping drinking beer to banking. This time we could have coffee with milk, bread with butter or jam, nshima with meat or sausage and have good clothes. Life was wonderful.
Mother got married again, but things didn’t change as she continued working. Mum and step-father most of times would fight and reconcile.
Years later, step-father got sick and died within a short time. Mum was accused of his death. This case went to court as mum demanded a post-mortem, but my late step-father’s relatives refused. They were found guilty and told by the court to compensate her. Mum refused to be compensated. When I reached grade 7 in 1989, mom started getting sick. She developed sores on her right hand. I can remember her crying for us that we will suffer after her death. I could imagine the pain and agony she was in. Things started to change for us. She was in and out of the hospital, but her manager understood her condition and let her work. If I misbehaved, she would only tell me that when she dies, we will be like dogs.
We didn’t know the whereabouts of our father since many years passed without hearing from him. Mum didn’t want to hear his name mentioned in our family. We lost him and his relatives, too. When there is a divorce or death the children are the ones who suffer. They are ripped apart.
In 1990, I was selected to grade 8 in Kabwe at High Ridge Secondary School. Mum became very happy with me although she was sick. When people asked her why she was working in her condition, she said, “I am working because of Bobo: I want him to finish school.”
Mum had a goiter and decided to go for an operation, which she did. Eventually mum got TB and was admitted to Liteta Hospital where she died around 10:00, March 27, 1991. I was in grade 9.
April 9, 2010
We drove down a nondescript dirt road in back of Kampeteke Basic School. The fields were filled to the brim with corn stalks drying in the sun and crunching in the wind. From the driver’s seat you could just see over the tops. A few hundred meters down the road on the right-hand side, we stopped and walked into the front yard of a field. Children were everywhere like during recess at a school somewhere. But this wasn’t a school; this was a house with children, so many children. “Mulibwanji (Hello)!”An old obese lady with puffy unattractive legs and feet barely fitting into ragged and jagged tennis shoes came to greet us. What is her story? She had 13 children in her long life. Twelve of them died along with their partners all before they reached forty. They left behind their children, 32 of them. These children then made five children which brings them up to 38. The girls with the children were each abandoned by their men who planted their seeds in her garden and then left them and granny to till the fields alone. The rabbits hopped off somewhere way before their women ever showed. That’s not rabbit’s problem.
April 16, 2010
One day, a lion was hunting in the bush. As it was hunting it went in the wrong way. The lion fell into a net which covered all parts of its body. The lion had no friends because of its behavior. Lions behave badly to others. Lions hunt other animals for food. Eventually, all run away and have been used as a meal.A mouse had a journey back home after coming from the field to harvest maize grain. As mouse heard a sound for help from the distance, mouse ran toward and found a lion hanging on a net saying, “Please help, help and help, mouse!”
Mouse replied, “I can help, but if I help, are you going to eat me?”
The lion flicked back, “No! I will not eat you.”
So, the mouse helped the lion.
After helping, the lion said to the mouse, “I am hungry. I want you as my meal.”
Therefore, the mouse replied, “You want me, but I have a special meal for you. Let’s go back into the net and I will go to collect a meal for you.”
The lion replied, “All right.”
The mouse lied to the lion and left him just like that, never bringing a meal for him.
[Jack is 19 years old. He was made a double orphan before he reached double digits. His brother struggled and managed to get him up to and through ninth grade, but as school fees increased, he failed to come up with enough money for Jack to continue his studies. Jack was referred to me. He said he wants to be a teacher. He’s teaching the pre-school children in exchange for tuition support. He wrote the above story.]
People are unreasonable, illogical, self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win fake friends and true enemies
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you help.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you ve got anyway.
From her book: A Simple Path
My Life Held Together By A Safety Pin
Luapula Province, Zambia
June 19, 2007
Her name is…
She stands nearly naked at a door post.
“When did your mother die?”
Tears come to her eyes.
It was 2002, yet 5 years later her eyes still get wet.
Her hand clasps the edges of a piece of fabric wrapped around her hips, a kind of skirt, but the edges don’t meet and it is a safety pin that helps her. The edges don’t meet so it is her hand that blocks her womanhood from being a public spectacle.
She stands thin and tall like an African giraffe. She is silent like one, too. She is like an African giraffe without its majesty, without its stride or towering countenance. Instead of towering the open plains, she towers poverty.
She haunts me as she silently taunts me.
I cannot sleep. Completely exhausted, I lie in bed with her looking at me. It is a rare sight to see a broken spirit. The human spirit is resilient. The African spirit is among the most resilient. So, to see hers has left me without peace.
I cannot settle. Feeling helpless isn’t the state I settle for. There must be some solution. How easy can it be to swoop her up and take her to restore her life, give her a complete life lift: shoes, shirt, skirt, soap, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera? If I find her another home, adopt her into another place of plenty, what will happen to her grandmother? Will it unburden the aged one or bring further burden upon her without the assistance of this grandchild? As a wave has an up and a down stroke, so does everything in life. What we do has its ups and downs, too. Living life requires finesse to know what to do that will cause the least amount of waves. I’m not the best at this and I often fail this test. I must believe that if something is done out of love, the ripple of love will prevail even though tsunamis come from doing, saying, and changing too much, too quickly.
This is a holocaust, a silent holocaust that happens without journalists, without the world press. It is a holocaust without the gas chambers and ovens. The killer isn’t orating in front of millions. This is a silent holocaust working behind the scene silently out of sight, out of mind. The bodies decay slowly and steadily disappearing without trace. Even the memories of those dead fade as the children left behind were too young to remember their birthrights: a mother and a father. It is only the grannies that live to collect and care for the specks of life that dare to stick around. But they are too frail and make no sound themselves. They are the real heroes of compassion. But what can they offer more than love and a piece of cassava from time to time. They are otherwise helpless and sing a song so soft that it is unrecognizable. So, how is the world to know about them? It is the rare and uncommon neighbor who steps outside her own doorstep and steps into the world of the grannies. She tells the story to the rare and uncommon one coming from afar to bring a little glimpse of those being buried alive, bypassing the chambers and the ovens and going directly into oblivion never to be seen or heard about again.
This is a silent holocaust that is orchestrated and managed by poverty. And the root of it? The story is so convoluted that it is too hard to tell. Is it the broken condom or the woman who sells herself for a piece of rice to feed her fatherless children? Her man abandoned her before baby was born. In fact, he abandoned her somewhere between the time ovum met sperm. He left the scene shortly after dumping his polluted pool of man to ravage her and her soon coming baby. Dead or alive it lives a life not worth living. And the root of it? Is it the people paying off the people in power or the diamonds that adorn the people of plenty? Is it the unnourished mind or soil that has long since been famished? What is the root of this holocaust?
Like crabs in a basket that need not be covered, you are rest assured none will leave the basket. Anyone nearing the edge will be thwarted and returned by gravity through the reliable guard of the others. Poverty doesn’t let you go. It goes with you. What is the root of it and how do you uproot it? Please help me. Please help me to understand where I stand. Please help me to stand.