Last Wednesday evening, Laura and I were sitting at a restaurant enjoying a cold beer after a hard day's labour. We noticed a young teenage boy come sit at the table next to us. He started to pray not out loud but with extreme hand gestures. Emmason asked him in Swahili 'How are you' but he didn't respond. Instead he stood up and moved to a table behind us. My spidey senses were tingling, something is not right here. I held my bag a bit closer and was making a point to be more aware. The boy ordered tea and started to drink it like a cat. Laura and I both agreed something's not right with that one. He finished his tea and moved to a place where he was in eye contact of the two of us. After a couple of minutes, he caught my eye and started motioning with his hand that he was hungry. So I looked at Laura, "oh man that weird kid is now trying to say he's hungry I think, I don't know what he's doing". Then he did the motion to Laura. Finally, Emmason called the boy over to talk. He came over and they spoke in Swahili for about five minutes.

Emmanual is this young mans name. He doesn't know how old he is. He has no family and can't remember a time when he did. He doesn't like to hang out with the other street children so he does his own thing, and eats food when and where he can find it. Emmason asked what he was doing praying without any food or drink. He said "I just pray that one day I will have a family, I am not religious, I just hope that I can have something".

Laura and I shared a piece of humble pie, instead of the french fries and chicken we usually order. The western world part of us was so easy and quick to pass judgment.

Emmanuel sat with us for the rest of the evening. We ordered him food and Emmason (who knows 80% of the street children in Moshi) talked about his situation and life.
His father left when he was very young. When his mother remarried she chased him away because the new husband didn't want a child not his own. Since then he has been on the streets. At first, he spoke very slowly and awkwardly. He kept holding his ears and was not comfortable in the situation. But, after an hour Emmason got him laughing and he relaxed a little bit. With my limited Swahili I leaned in and whispered "I have an extremely large nose". I think he liked it, I got my first laugh out of him. He spent the rest of the night trying to steal glimpses of my big, red, Mzungu nose.

We noticed a drawing on his pants. Because it was dark we had to wait for the opportune time to see what it was. Sure enough he had drawn a small house surrounded by a fence with a flower bed in front.

He ate so slowly and drank his Coca Cola even slower. He fell asleep when he was finished.  When it was time to go, we put some warm chicken in a plastic bag under his sweater and made a time to meet the following evening.

I spent all day wondering how will he know what time it is to meet us. But Emmanuel was there with two minutes to spare. He was so happy, talkative, and much more comfortable around Emmason and the two Mzungu's.  He was very happy and excited. Skipping, laughing easy, talking fast, normal behavior for someone around his unknown age. We shared a meal and made arrangements to meet again to discuss his situation.

This past weekend we met with Emmasons father, who is doing social work in a small village. He explained to us there are street children and there are children of the street. The difference being, street children have a home and family but their family has nothing to provide for them so they go on the streets to survive. Children of the street are the ones whose parents have maybe died of AIDS or they've been abandoned by their parents like Emmanuel, and they have nothing.

Can you imagine not knowing your age? I would guess Emmanuel is around 12. The social damage from never having one person to look up to, to learn behaviors from, to talk to, to share material things as well as emotional ones. It's a devastating concept.

Education is always important and crucial to the success of any society. But first and foremost, a child needs food, water, and at least one person to love.

We are fast becoming masters in the art of deep breathing and tear management.

Christan Hiscock
5/31/2011 02:35:39 am

You girls are truly doing great work. Love following your stories.
Christan Hiscock


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