My kids started to hand out the apples we had brought and were astonished at the enormous grins that they received from the children. Fruit is an oh-so rare luxury here. My daughter was puzzled, however. “Mum – why do a lot of the kids sort of bow or curtsey when you give them something? I’ve seen grown-ups do it too here …” There wasn’t time to go into the whole spiel Empire and Slavery and Ownership Legacy at this point (and she probably would have resorted to her pretend snoring like she usually does when I embark on a lecture), so I answered her with; “they’re just being polite. That’s all.”
And then we looked at our watches. It was already past midday. We had a car-boot full of items that needed to be bagged up for 50 kids. We had 20 kids that needed taking to the shops in order to buy them clothes for school. And we had to ensure that we were back on the road long before dusk fell due to the lack of lighting and the wildlife/driving dangers (have you ever seen a kudu? Do google this animal. You seriously do not want an antelope the size of a horse running headfirst into your car …)
We had to work fast, so we split into two groups. My other half and our friend from Epako rounded up the 20 neediest kids, flagged some taxis down at the edge of the location and headed for the shops (there were some *very* astonished customers and shop assistants on that day… the day when crazy white man turned up with 20 ragged street children – all still dizzy and grinning from their first ever ride in a CAR with a mad foreigner!)
Me and my own nippers were abandoned in Gobabis town and managed to flag down a friendly local. “Can we use your garden?” I rabbited. “We just need to fill 50 bags for 50 really needy kids. Can I borrow that table over there? Can we drink the water out of your garden tap? Can I use your loo?”
The friendly local looked rather confused, but he was very obliging and just let us get on with it (one of the things that I used to love about living in Gobabis… the attitude of ‘yeah … weird things happen…let’s live with it.’)
The day before, we had hit the shops big-time in Windhoek (Namibia’s capital) in order to buy the items that children need in order to attend school in this country. Many of the kids have to ‘board’ – that is, to stay over in school hostels – due to the distances. From the age of 6, children are often separated from their parents. This is traumatic enough for many, but imagine the ordeal of it all when you are too poor to be able to own even the most basic toiletries, a blanket or a pen and an exercise book. And school uniform and shoes? Well. Dream on, my friend.
And all of this means that the runaway and absenteeism is an enormous issue here for schools. Not to mention the bullying. Sadly, some kids will always want to pick on the dirtier, smellier and poorer children. But we knew exactly what to buy, thanks to our previous work with the San Bushmen children in southern Africa – some of the poorest and most oppressed kids in the world. So, we had bought the goodies and it was off to work!
This is what we had to do. In just over an hour, fill 50 bags, each with toothbrush, toothpaste, sunlight soap (for clothes and body), vaseline (black skin needs this!), pens, exercise books and the inevitable sweets and ‘glowing things’ (see yesterday’s blog.) My daughter – who detests all things to do with numeracy and formal education – came into her own at this point. Ticking me and her father off for fudging our mental arithmetic when it came to splitting up bulk bags of toiletries.
Whilst mother and daughter were giving Alan Sugar’s Apprentices a good thrashing (seriously – I would like to have seen that bunch of shysters doing all of this in such a short timescale…) child number 2 had found a new friend and was wandering in and out of people’s houses and sharing his sardine sandwiches with anyone who would give him the time of day . The kid was born in the wrong century and was definitely more at home in Namibia than in the UK where we all have to book play-dates several months in advance…
Bags finished, we put them back in the car and then headed off to see what chaos the others had inflicted on a humble clothes shop in the centre of Gobabis …
MORE TOMORROW …