Little Davies came to spend the day with us today, he is the son of our house keeper and occasionally accompanies her to work. He is a sweet 5 year old boy and the only time he has ever seen a computer, a Nintendo DS or a TV is when he comes over to our house. He lives in a one room tiny house with no electricity, flushing toilet or running water. They pay 7000 USH in rent, that is $3.50 a month. He goes to a school with two teachers and 100 students in a class and today he brought his school reports and work books to show us. The work sheets were where he needed to fill in the correct word,” God is our Creator, Satan is bad, God gave me eyes, I need to bring a Broom to school.”
He learns by rote, copying over and over the same words, the same lines until he has it just right. If he disobeys he gets hit with a stick. Consequently or despite this, he is a well behaved little boy and has a wonderful happy smile. He loves to come over and see us, to flush our toilet and share our Lays crisps and watch a movie on the DVD. He also likes to draw with our coloured pens. Today for his belated birthday present I gave him a huge pack of pens, a thick pad of paper and some blue-tack so he could put his pictures on the wall.
The disparity in our lives could make us feel very uncomfortable but the longer one spends here and sooner we realize that there are certain facts about life that cannot be changed. Guilt has no place here, by the fortune of the colour of my skin I was born a white girl in South Africa and he was born black and poor in Uganda. Yet white man’s guilt exists and it tends to rear its ugly head, more in the impressions people have of us rather than in any misfortune of circumstance or birth.
While Davies was playing in our house, a woman came to my door and asked me for money. She said she needed school fees. True or not, this is a standard line, the truth is in the reasoning that because I am white I am going to help everyone. I told her that I am not a rich mzungu, I am teacher and I cannot help everyone who comes to my door. Being white in Africa leads to a strange mixture of guilt and anger that any one would presume that they can ask us for help merely because of the colour of our skin.
As complicated as this whole business is, in the end it comes down to a happy little boy hopping around our house playing hide and seek with Princess. It is hard not to feel uncomfortable when he leaves to go home to his little shack but the longer I live here the less uncomfortable I feel. This is just the way it is and a smile and a packet of coloured pens can go a long way.
White means rich and white means Aid. (Why help yourself if there is an aid agency around the corner to prop you up?) It is a very complicated situation and one that leads to much head scratching.
In other big observations this week:
Nobody owns anything. Ownership is a foreign concept and one that can lead down the slippery slope towards theft. Most people I know have been robbed, whether on the street, in their car, at home or by a housekeeper. Everyday week a new story comes out of someone who had a necklace ripped off their neck while driving with an open window or a family who was robbed while sleeping, mists of chloroform sprayed around each room to stop anyone awaking. One teacher this week was pulled from her car, punched in the face and had her bag pulled off her arm. The justification is that if you have more than me I can just take what is yours. Life is unfair and unequal so the balance should be readdressed, however illegally. Morals don’t stand tall when one person is driving a car that could feed an entire family for a life time.
We didn’t buy Davies the football that he wants more than anything because it will break his heart when it is stolen from him.