Two years ago I was staying temporarily with a friend in town. On my way to her apartment a woman stopped me. She had a baby on her back and was holding the hand of an adolescent. They were very dirty, thin and clearly in distress. She asked if I’d seen her son Tatenda (which means we are thankful in Shona). ”He looks like his brother, is five years old and is holding one shoe”. The moment I said no, she rushed over to the other side of the road and before I knew it she’d briefly stopped by a number of people and disappeared. I briefly prayed her son’s safe return. I had been with another good friend of mine sowhen we parted ways, I was joyful and taking in the early summer sun. My strange and brief encounter was soon forgotten.
At that time, my friend was staying in an apartment at the corner of two major roads. Thankfully the traffic lights were working that day. A smart, clean shaven, suit clad young man was about to cross the road and right behind him was a dirty little child watching him, mimicking his stride from a distance far enough not to be seen. Instinct kicked in. I ran towards the child and grabbed his hand. In his hand was a flip-flop. My mindsimultaneously screamed thank God and ‘oh no!’ Thank God I found the child and ‘oh no!’ what to do next? ‘Tatenda’, I said to him as gently as I could, ‘your mother’s looking for you’. He was frightened, so thin and fragile. With a few coins in my pocket, I got him Maputi and some fruits. Our journey was just beginning.
I traced back my footsteps asking at every corner around the area the woman had been looking for her child. Almost everyone I asked remembered the woman but no one could tell me where she’d gone. I went into Harare Gardens, a recreational park on the outskirts of the CBD, and inquired at the satellite police booth stationed there. The poor boy’s mother had passed through earlier looking for him. The police refused to take custody of Tatenda and instructed me to leave him at the Fife Avenue police station. As we continued on our way to the Fife Avenue police station, we inquired with every vendor we could,hoping the child’s mother was in close vicinity. People mostlyacknowledged his mother had stopped to ask them yet no one thought she was serious or had taken her seriously.
‘These street children always know the way back to their mothers’
‘If you ask him the direction back home, he will show you.’
I wanted to scream. When I asked Tatenda, he’d reply that he lived in Joina City Mall which wasn’t possible, given the heavy presence of security and security measures at the Mall. I was told I was wasting my time and to check my valuables. In loud whispers, some rebuked me for being the smart lady holding ashoeless, filthy boy’s hand. The more apathy and indifference I received, the more I felt convicted to leave this child in safe hands. It took us more than two and a half hours to cover four blocks and six roads.
I guess I am sharing this because Zimbabwe is a lot like my experience with Tatenda. His mother loved him. She combed the corners of the CBD looking for this child who had slipped from her hands and was gone in seconds. In his defence, Tatenda was looking at something. When he looked up and could not find his mother, he ran in the direction he thought he would find her. It is easy to be orphaned by a system that considers you only as a statistic. It overrides the warmth of the bosom of your mother, those that love you and the ones you love. One can feel forsaken despite the millions of people a stone throw away. People willsee the dirt life has rolled you in and in one glance, erase thevalue your loved ones place upon you. The system will never realise that despite their poverty, your loved ones are rich because of you.
Tatenda’s just a child. I feel he’s a child the system has forgotten by normalising his existence in abject poverty, easier ignored than fixed. I have often asked myself if people would have beenkinder had it been my son, lost and dirty, as boys can perennially be due to daily adventures,. Does my son deserve more kindness because I am not homeless and on the streets? I am ashamed by the answers, not spoken, but acted out. Do the impoverishedhave less of a right to be loved and protected, even as we look aside and close our eyes, pretending they do not exist or matter? Every life under the sun matters because it is ordained and sanctioned by God. If our country got this fundamental correct, many mountains will be moved.
I saw Tatenda one day and I smiled. I had struggled as to why he was so familiar, but my heart leapt when I realised that was him, his mother, brother, and baby sibling by the side of the road. That day, I finally left him in the hands of the Fife Avenue police after exhausting all corners I thought we would find his mother. They wanted me to take him to the central police station but I refused. As we made our way to Fife Avenue, I had told everyone I could to tell his mother that I would leave him at the police station there. As Tatenda’s name suggests, I am truly thankful to love my family from a roof over my head with cleanclothes and meals made from scratch, not left over from someone else’s meal. A heart doesn’t hurt any less because it’s not backed materially and financially. Shame on us! God bless Tatenda. God bless you.